When it came time for West Islip High School’s annual talent competition to crown the homecoming king and queen, seniors Lisa Esposito and Jake Dieli were up to the task. At the school's homecoming parade on Saturday, they reflected on their victory.
Dieli, 17, took the stage with a loop pedal and his guitar and started playing a melody that he began working on a few years ago.
“So I played that, laid down a drum line by hitting my guitar and making it sound like a drum set, and then I just improvised over a scale that I know,” he said.
With a chord progression in the back of his mind, he riffed over his own music for a chance to win the crown. Dieli has been playing guitar since elementary school, but this was only his second time performing solo in front of his peers. The first time was last year, during “West Islip’s Got Talent.”
There were only four students competing for the Mr. West Islip title this year, and while the others sang and one even played the cello, Dieli said, “I was a little bit of an odd one out.”
Esposito, 17, can relate to that. The classically trained opera singer decided to dust off a piece that she performed at her NYSSMA All-State audition two years ago, just for homecoming season.
“I just brought it back up, went over it a bunch of times with my vocal teacher, and had it all set and ready to go for the performance,” she said.
Esposito said she was the only competitor to sing operatically. Other singers opted for hits by Lady Gaga, Adele and Justin Bieber.
“I felt pretty alone, yeah,” she said with a laugh. “It was pretty weird. It was my first time actually singing like that in front of a whole group of people from my school, so it was really different and a new step for me to take.”
However, Esposito — who is a member of West Islip’s color guard team and show choir — conquered stage fright long ago. She started her vocal training when she was in eighth grade.
“It’s kind of like I transform into a different person when I’m singing [opera], so it’s not me, it’s my opera-me,” Esposito said.
She sang “Per pieta, bell'idol mio” by composer Vincenzo Bellini for her shot at the Miss West Islip title. Esposito said she was surprised to hear her name announced as the winner later that evening.
“I didn’t think that I was going to win at all,” she said. “I thought one of my friends was going to win because she did really well… There’s a picture of me, and my face is like…” She imitated her starry-eyed, open-mouthed expression with a giggle.
Dieli said that he was excited to win, especially since he had been on the fence about competing.
“I wasn’t going to do it at first, but I was happy that I ended up doing it,” he said. “I just wasn’t really sure if it was something I was interested in… As I heard more about it, people were like, ‘You should probably try out.’ ”
In addition to his guitar stylings and songwriting expertise, Dieli is the president of Tri-M Music Honor Society and captain of the varsity volleyball team. He is also a drum major, which means he got the chance to conduct the band’s field performance during halftime at the homecoming game. Esposito also performed with the color guard team at halftime.
Mr. and Miss West Islip actually have a lot in common. They both play bass clarinet in the wind ensemble, and they agreed that what they were looking forward to most out of all the homecoming activities was riding in a convertible together, instead of walking in the parade.
As for next year, the seniors will pursue their musical passions. Dieli’s top school is New York University, and he plans to study music production and composition. Esposito will continue to study the art of opera and has applied to Temple University in Pennsylvania and Mannes School of Music at The New School in Manhattan.
Esposito said she suspects people “didn’t really know” about her operatic abilities until Mr. and Miss West Islip came along, giving her a moment to shine.
“I was told that a lot of people were gasping,” she grinned. “I hope that was a good gasp!”