Vanderbilt Hosts First Songwriter Competition to Benefit Next Steps at Vanderbilt

The first annual Vanderbilt Star songwriting competition was held Thursday night. Nearly 200 people attended the competition at Ingram Music Hall on Vanderbilt’s Campus in Nashville.

The event was held to benefit Next Steps at Vanderbilt, a division of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. The organization is a two year certificate program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, providing independent living skills and career development, and a unique college experience. The Next Steps at Vanderbilt students were a part of the event as well, serving as greeters, ushers, and even co-hosting.

Several of Nashville’s most esteemed songwriters served as the celebrity judging panel, offering praise and constructive criticism for the contestants. Kelleigh Bannen was recently named one of CMT’s “Next Women of Country.” Gary Harrison has had songs recorded by George Strait, Tim McGraw, and Trisha Yearwood. He received the CMA Song of the Year Award and a Grammy Award for “Strawberry Wine.” Lauren Lucas is a Tony and ACM nominated singer/songwriter. Her latest EP, “On With The Show” has been praised by critics and is gaining momentum with fans. Michael White has had his work recorded since his teenaged years. His credits include “The Baby” recorded by Blake Shelton and “That’s Just Me” recorded by Billy Currington. All of the judges were impressed with the level of talent in Vanderbilt’s student songwriters.

Seven talented Vanderbilt students were selected from all the submissions to perform their original material before the panel. The judge’s choose the three finalists, who were sophomore Julia Cole, sophomore Jillian Stein, and graduate student Sarah Jennings. After an audience poll via text messages, Sarah Jennings came out on top with her songs “Addicted to You” as the inaugural Vanderbilt Star.

Sarah was awarded the grand prize of a recording contract by Lamon Records President, Grammy-nominated and Dove Award-winning artist producer Dave Moody, who will produce and release the winning song through the label’s international distribution.

“We were really impressed with the level of songwriting by all the students,” says Moody. “And our staff is excited to work with Sarah Jennings who won the hearts of the audience with her unique style and humility.”

Special thanks to sponsors William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, Nashville Songwriters Association International, the Next Steps Ambassadores Student Organization, and Next Steps at Vanderbilt Advisory Council for helping to make the event possible.

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