Top Cougar 2015


Tyler Smith plays the guitar during his talent portion.

This year, Vernon Hills High School’s SNL-themed Top Cougar competition featured twelve senior boys, the Love Notes choir, and the savviest dancing grandmother this school has ever seen. Brian McDonough took home the crown, with Eli Schuster, Colin Alexander, Tucker Rayl, and Michael Rieke joining him in the top five. John Powell (11) and Morgan McDonough (11) hosted, and VHHS faculty members Mr. O’Brien, Mrs. Aucutt, and Mr. Stilling judged.

“Honestly, I was pretty shocked [when I won],” said Brian. “The other guys had awesome acts. It was really just a fun experience overall.” Brian entertained the crowd with his rendition of “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars and his Hogwarts-themed introduction, which was read by his brother, Morgan.

“I’ve never seen Brian be so courageous and outgoing on stage before,” said Morgan. “He always comes to my performances and supports me, so I’m happy for him and I’m happy I was able to share that moment with him. It’s something we will remember for a long time.”

This year’s competition was the first year that girls were able to participate, which was a decision made by Student Activities Director Mrs. Beagle and coordinator Mrs. Wilson. “When we had the first sign ups for Mr. Cougar we only had three people sign up, so we put an announcement in –trying it, what the heck–saying it was open to everybody, and then we had more people sign up, including a girl,” explained Mrs. Beagle. “We decided it was more about the senior class as a whole having fun and getting up on stage together.”

The first female Top Cougar participant, Mia Candocia, put on a multi-faceted talent portion where she danced with several other students, threw Cosmic Brownies into the audience, and finally, stripped down to a unitard and played the drums blindfolded.  Although Mia expected the audience to feel “scared” after watching her perform, she hoped that they felt empowered due to her act’s uniqueness.

Mia’s fellow competitor Tucker Rayl also hoped people got something out of his act. When asked how he hoped people would feel after watching him perform, Tucker responded with “A little sick to their stomachs….I hope they’re laughing so hard but I also hope they realize something about themselves.” Tucker, barefoot, performed a comedy-laced talent routine in which he enacted several characters (including, but not limited to, “Basic girl” and “The guy who doesn’t know how to be a bigot”) while playing the bongos.

Marc Edler, known as DJ MERC to some, showed a live mix of DJ-ing and playing the trombone (and of course, dancing with his grandmother Phyllis). He used a guitar effects pedal, which essentially transformed his trombone into a guitar, while he played to “Uptown Funk.” He hoped the individualism of his act helped him stand out: “I feel that doing something that’s really unique to you is important, especially with a lot of the people who will just be singing up there and doing something that everyone else is doing,” said Marc. “This [was] more my own thing, so I think if you have your own thing in life, you should go with it.”

The show had a diverse array of acts that beyond surpassed the usual span of singing and dancing–even the contestants who did sing and dance still introduced a refreshing element to their act. “All of the contestants have a wide variety of talents,” said show coordinator Mrs. Wilson. “I think a lot of kids are showing a different side of them that they wouldn’t have been able to was it not for this show and this opportunity.”

For contestant Eli Schuster, he was able to use this opportunity to perform standup comedy for the first time. “Since I’d never done stand-up before, it was hard to think of jokes that I could go out and tell that people would find funny,” explained Eli. “There were several drafts that each joke went through, and I took several out and added several in.” However, the audience seemed to appreciate his hard work: “When I went out and started with the audience, their reaction was amazing and they enjoyed it so much more than I thought they would. Just to be up there and make everyone laugh as much as I did in the short span of five minutes was all I ever wanted out of the experience,” he continued.

The diversity of the acts was so impressive that Mrs. Beagle and Mrs. Wilson were a little unsure that they personally could have been in such a competition in high school. “I’d probably have to do some type of skit, because I played three sports in high school so I don’t really have any particular stage talents,” said Mrs. Beagle, who ran track, cross country, and played basketball as a high school athlete. “I guess I could run really fast while dribbling a basketball.”

“I was a soccer player all through high school, so maybe I could juggle or something, but that seems kind of lame and boring.” said Mrs. Wilson. “I like to cook, so maybe I could make something, but that might be in violation of fire code…I don’t know if Mrs. Beagle and I would be really great contestants to be honest with you. But we can put on a great show!”

The 2015 Top Cougar performances certainly did make for a great show. This year went down in history as the first co-ed performance, and all of the acts left a memorable legacy on the senior class. Congratulations to everyone who participated and special congrats to Brian on the win!