Challa declared first female Mr. Wash. U.

| Staff Reporter

Brian Benton

Thirteen candidates compete Thursday, March 28, for the annual title of Mr. Wash. U. on the Edison Theatre main stage. Senior Mamatha Challa (on shoulders) was crowned the first female Mr. Wash. U. in competition history.

In a year of firsts, the annual Mr. Wash. U. competition not only had its coveted crown go to a female winner for the first time, but the group also brought in $35,141.81 for the organization City Faces, a fundraising record for the group.

“It feels incredible; honestly, at the show I was overwhelmed entirely, and it didn’t fully dawn on me. The amount of love and support I’ve received from the Wash. U. community is incredible,” senior Mamatha Challa, who won the show, said. “It makes me so happy to see that so many people were at the show and happy to see me win…it’s incredible, and I’m really thrilled.”

Idil Ali, a 2011 graduate of Washington University, was the first female candidate to participate in Mr. Wash. U., but because of an injury, Ali was unable to participate and compete in the final show. Challa therefore was the first female candidate to take part in the show and is now its first female winner.

She explained that although she did not consider applying seriously at first, she wanted to set a precedent that competing in Mr. Wash. U. was acceptable for female candidates.

“It honestly kind of started out as a joke—I was talking with some friends and thought wouldn’t it be funny to…try to be in Mr. Wash. U. as a girl,” Challa said. “And then I realized that if I was a guy, I would have tried to be in Mr. Wash. U. I think my campus experiences have made it something that’s been on my radar, especially in my work in Student Union. We’ve spoken with Bob Hansman about the City Faces organization, and I thought very highly of the Mr. Wash. U. cause.”

Mr. Wash. U. is a student group that engages in year-long efforts to fundraise for City Faces, an organization started by Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts professor Bob Hansman, that provides after-school art programs for children living in the housing projects of St. Louis.

The group’s efforts culminate in the Mr. Wash. U. show in Edison Theatre. This year, 13 candidates competed and were judged on their performance in group dances, individual talents, fundraising and “sparkle points” that Mr. Wash. U. executive board president and senior Jonathan Merrill described as a measure of candidates’ enthusiasm for Mr. Wash. U.

“I saw a lot of the talents and stuff during tech week, and it was fantastic,” Merrill said. “I was a little worried at first, in the best possible way…but they brought it together and went hard. They really gave it everything, and I think all the candidates should be proud of themselves.”

The audience in Edison Theatre saw two dances featuring all 13 candidates, as well as small group dances featuring three to four candidates. Sophomore Jason Silberman, runner-up and Mr. Congeniality of the show, explained that the dances were some of the most enjoyable parts of the evening.

“The beginning dance was fun because everyone in the crowd was cheering the first time we were on stage. Before the curtains opened up, we were all giving each other pep talks—we were all really nervous, but we knew it was going to be a lot of fun,” Silberman said. “Then the last dance—we just tried to make the most of it. I think at that point none of us were nervous anymore; we were just sad that it was going to be over, but we were so happy with everything we’d done leading up to it that we all were so excited and just had fun.”

Interspersed between small group dances were each candidate’s individual talent displays. They varied in performance type from more choreographed dance numbers to senior Taleef Khan’s water-filled-wine-glasses rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to freshman Nick Okafor’s performance of a monologue from Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra.”

Challa’s talent featured her rapping, singing and dancing in a “girl power”-theme showing. She organized a group of backup dancers for the performance, drawing from multiple dance groups.

“The preparation has gone on nearly a month. The choreography was incredibly complicated, especially during the rap, and the dancers spent many, many days taking time to learn the choreography,” Challa said. “I think a lot of the talent was really about who I knew in the Wash. U. community who were talented in different ways.”

After the dances and talent displays, the candidates were narrowed down from 13 to six finalists. Challa, Silberman, seniors Michael Harries and Brian White and freshmen Jake McNichol and Rhett Koonce all participated in a question-and-answer session. Finally, the masters of ceremonies for the evening announced the show’s awards, including the distinction of top fundraiser, which went to White for raising $11,000.

“Our goal was $32,000…Honestly, it would not have been possible without Brian White. I’m just going to be completely honest about that,” Merrill said. “City Faces isn’t funded by pretty much anyone but us, so it goes to renting out the building, art supplies…the tutors are trying to do more lessons, broadening the experience, trying to get more activities to get the kids there.”

Merrill and many candidates emphasized the camaraderie among the 2012-13 candidates and the new friendships formed by the experience.

“I really liked how I didn’t know everyone coming in—I didn’t know a lot of the freshmen, I didn’t know some seniors, but by the time the show came around, everyone was supporting each other,” Silberman said. “People were watching from the side of the stage because they just really wanted to cheer everyone on…it was really nice because everyone was nervous beforehand, but you knew that people were there to back you up.”

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