George Washington Today talks with inaugural Battle of the Voices winner Lillian Dawit.
By Brittney Dunkins
George Washington University junior Lillian Dawit was named the winner of the first annual Battle of the Voices: Washington Metropolitan Collegiate Singing Competition last month.
Ms. Dawit, who is a student in the seven-year B.A./M.D. program, a joint degree with the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, competed against four vocalists representing Georgetown University, Trinity Washington University, Howard University and the University of Maryland to win the top title in the competition hosted by the Georgetown University’s Black Student Alliance in partnership with Grammy U.
Proceeds from the event were donated to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.
George Washington Today spoke with Ms. Dawit about her love of singing and what it felt like to be in the spotlight.
Q: When did you begin singing and performing?
A: I started singing when I was 8 years old, or at least that is what my mom tells me. I took piano lessons for many years, and my teacher in the third grade suggested to my mom that I try singing. I don’t know if you would call my first time on stage a live performance, but my elementary and middle school held Christmas pageants every year, and I sang “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” during the play. Coincidentally, I actually did not have my two front teeth at the time, so it was very fitting and pretty adorable.
Q: Did you plan to pursue music once you began attending GW?
A: I was nervous coming to college, because I really did not know how I was going to keep music, from singing to playing instruments, in my life. I always thought that I would major or minor in music, but things did not work out that way. Fortunately, the first week of school I found out about auditions for a cappella groups on campus. I had never heard these kinds of groups before, but at the last minute I decided to try out! Thank goodness I did, because I am now in my third year of singing with the GW Vibes, and I could not have asked for a better family to share my love for music and singing with.
So many opportunities have arisen from this group including singing at the White House, meeting President Obama and opening for Childish Gambino at Spring Fling 2012. We are even performing at the National Cherry Blossom Festival on April 12! I also sing the national anthem every now and then for the basketball games and performed in a musical cabaret for Forbidden Planet Productions .
Q: How did you prepare for the final competition?
A: I practiced as often as I could. I’m pretty sure my roommates heard my songs at least 50 times. One of my friends, Floyd, told me to stop focusing on how to sing the song and start focusing on what the song means. He said to ask, “what is the message the song is sending?” then, relate it to something or someone in my life. That was the best piece of advice I could have been given. It really changed my performance completely.
Q: What was it like to work with the other competitors?
A: After all of the finalists were announced, we met for a photo shoot and rehearsal in the beginning of February. The finalists, along with our liaisons, went to the Jefferson Memorial and Botanical Gardens to take photos. After that, we met at Georgetown University to go over our group song. I can’t tell you how blessed I feel to have met such wonderful, talented and sweet girls! We all instantly clicked and got along so well. Each one of them was so unique and brought so much energy to the group. I honestly loved every minute I spent with them. There was no competitive tension in the air at all.
Q: What was the night of the final performance like? What were you feeling?
A: First, I sang “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston, and in the second round I sang “Who You Are” by Jessie J, which are two very big songs. The way I thought about it was that I was not just trying to sound amazing, but touch people’s hearts with inspiring and relatable messages.
When I was younger, I dealt with bullying because of my weight, and it really hurt. I remembered how it felt to worry so much about fitting in and being good enough all of the time, so in the moments that I was singing, I forgot I was singing to hundreds of people and instead I sang to the younger me. By the end, my hands were shaking and I definitely shed a tear or two. It was an unbelievable feeling to see all of the people in the audience, not just from GW, but from all schools and families, standing and clapping for me—giving me a standing ovation. I was speechless. The best part was seeing my mom in that crowd with the biggest smile on her face. Her expression clearly said, “Lily, I am so proud of you.” I was overfilled with joy and thanks to God.
Q: How did it feel to win?
A: A million thoughts rushed through my head as they announced me as the first-ever champion of the Battle of the Voices. I was filled with joy, thanks, disbelief, excitement and pride. I was so humbled and felt so blessed to have won the award. I would say that the best “prize” I received was being able to share this moment with my family and friends, including my mom who flew in from California, and people from GW like my roommates and friends.
Q: Do you plan to continue to pursue music?
A: I am planning to attend medical school next year, but if I have the opportunity and time to pursue music, I would love to do so! I will definitely continue performing with the GW Vibes until I graduate and, hopefully, compete and participate in various other performances in the future. I leave everything to God, so I will go with whatever He has planned for me!