SIGNAL PEAK — When Xela Mercado, 19, takes the stage at the Rocktacular concert at Central Arizona College on Nov. 30, she plans to sing a few songs straight from the heart.
A singer and songwriter, Mercado is a fan of romantic pop music.
“I’ve been singing since I was young,” she said. “As a child, I sang in choirs and in school plays. I hope to become a professional singer some day.”
Mercado is a student in CAC’s Entertainment Industry Technology program, and on Nov. 30 she will be one of nine students taking the stage in a concert that aims to showcase student talents.
For the audience, the Rocktacular concert is a time to watch a lineup of local performers. For the students, the show is a final exam, and they will be graded on their performance.
“The audience also gets to submit their feedback via a web-based survey on their phone that they can fill out after each artists performs. We use this feedback for critiques,” said Dan Bush, CAC Entertainment Industry Technology program coordinator and a professor in the school’s Recording Engineering Department.
Other performers in the Rocktacular concert are:
- Jesus “Seus” Lopez performing hip-hop
- Amanda Berthiaume, a rhythm and blues singer
- Nick Teti, performing ‘80s-inspired synth pop
- Bobbi “DANEEN” Davis, singing rhythm and blues and soul
- Hailey Scow, performing acoustic and soft pop music
- Jiselle Diaz, a singer and songwriter
- Selah Noel, performing Christian contemporary music
- Raquelle Altamirano, performing indie-Americana and
- Lucila Villarreal and Shea Tafoya, a modern pop rock duo
“Everyone has nerves,” Mercado said. “Even though I’ve been performing for a while, I still get nervous. But I’ve also been honing my skills in this program and I’ve been practicing, so I’m confident too.”
Mercado is a lifelong Casa Grande resident and a 2021 graduate of Vista Grande High School. She’s performed in several school-based musical theater productions.
CAC’s EIT program has given her a chance to take her performance skills to the next level, she said.
“I’ve learned so many tools for making my own music and perfecting my performances,” she said. “And there’s so much support in this program. It’s a lot of hard work and I’ve really had to come out of my shell.”
The program, she said, has given her a new outlook on what it means to be a successful performer.
“It isn’t about how many people listen to your music,” she said. “The art of performing is much more significant than the numbers.”
After she graduates from CAC, Mercado hopes to continue her education and start recording her own songs.
“My goal is to go pro, but with a focus on my music,” she said.
The “Rocktacular” student showcase was started in 2010 as a way to assess EIT students on what they’ve learned in the program.
“The class aims to help these students become comfortable stage performers and provide them with an opportunity each semester to improve their ‘Three C’s’ — confidence, comfortability and charisma — which are the required traits of any performer who intends to captivate a live audience in a concert setting,” Bush said.
Rocktacular is generally held twice a year, at the end of each semester.
Each student will perform a four-song set that they’ve rehearsed since the start of the semester. They can perform either originals or cover songs.
“These Rocktacular concerts serve as an assessment tool in which students receive a grade using an established rubric that aims to improve the student’s performance quality over the duration of four semesters,” Bush said. “It is a real joy to see how much the students improve from one semester to the next, and then compare how they started to when they graduate.”
Students tend to be introverted, timid and shy on stage when they start the program but by the end, they tend to “find their voice,” Bush said. As they learn the skills to be successful, their confidence grows.
The performance skills class is fun for students, he said, because they make music and practice various elements of being on stage.
As well as vocals, the students work on stamina, breath control, choreography and writing engaging dialog between songs to maintain the flow of the performance as well as audience interaction, designing light shows, using props and stage antics that keep an audience transfixed on the performance.
“We put a lot of thought into song selection, and even song order to ensure we keep the audience’s attention and maintain the emotional journey by choosing the right songs in the right order for optimal delivery,” Bush said. “It takes a village to put on a successful show, and everyone is assessed and graded on their contribution. If one person doesn’t pull their weight, the whole production suffers. This is one of the many lessons to learn in the entertainment industry and our Rocktacular concert performances are no different.”
The concert begins at 7 p.m. on Nov. 30 in the blackbox theater behind the Pence Center on the Signal Peak Campus, 8470 N. Overfield Road. There is no cost to attend.