The yellow brick road stopped short of Oz for Greely’s Dorothy hopeful on Nov. 5, when Stephanie La Rochelle lost in the top three finale of CBC’s Over the Rainbow talent contest.
La Rochelle, 17, was one of 10 young women chosen from across Canada to compete on national TV each Sunday for the chance to play Dorothy in the Mirvish production of Wizard of Oz in Toronto this winter.
The St. Mark High School graduate hung on through eight weeks of competition – often heel-clicking back from the brink of elimination – to make it to the final three. Danielle Wade from LaSalle, Ont., was declared the winner on Nov. 5, with La Rochelle the runner up.
“It’s hard, but it was amazing for Danielle to win, she totally deserves it and I’m so proud of her,” La Rochelle said the day after the finale. La Rochelle said the top 10 Dorothys became very close throughout their time on the show and have forged lasting connections.
“We’re life long friends, we’re like sisters,” she said.
La Rochelle said the opportunity to compete and to learn from such large industry names as composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, Broadway actors Thom Allison and Louise Pitre and choreographer Arlene Phillips, helped her grow.
“It’s been such a phenomenal experience and I’ve taken so much out of it personally and as a performer,” she said. “It’s such great publicity for all of our careers and it’s been amazing to work with these people and to be surrounded by all these talented girls.”
The Dorothys didn’t have much say in what they sang each week, La Rochelle said, and the general set-up of each number was already mapped out ahead of time. But La Rochelle said it helped her become a better performer.
Throughout the eight-week show, the judges repeatedly told La Rochelle that she was the most improved, that she had come further than any other contestant, and that she had clearly grown as a performer.
La Rochelle said she worked hard to implement their suggestions each week.
“I tried to take away everything I could and put everything I had into my performances,” she said, noting that the number one lesson she learned was making her songs believable. “It’s really key to find the truth in the song, not just to sing, but to really emote.”
The aspiring star was accepted to Sheridan College’s performing arts program this year, but once she made Over the Rainbow’s top 10 roster in early September, she put her college plans on hold. La Rochelle said she’ll likely take a year off and look for auditions now that Over the Rainbow has helped her make a national name for herself.
La Rochelle said the community’s ongoing support on her journey to Oz was inspiring while she competed for the top spot.
“It means the world to me and a thank you really isn’t enough,” she said. “I’m so thankful for everybody and their support, so thank you, thank you, thank you.”
St. Mark High School in Manotick, where La Rochelle studied until last June, held a rally for her on Oct. 21, when La Rochelle made it to the top five. Teacher-librarian Janice O’Neill said they wanted to celebrate the former student who had been a big part of the school community.
“She was involved in our school plays and Greely Players, and she was also involved in the Cappies (high school theatre awards) program. I remember when she played Dorothy in an elementary school play,” O’Neill said. “We thought it would be a good idea to get the school community together for her.”
Enthusiastic students, community members and even some of La Rochelle’s family gathered in the school gym that Sunday to watch the live show on a big screen.
Later rallies were held at the Parkway Pentecostal Church and hosted by the Greely Players.
O’Neill said La Rochelle’s success was an inspiration for other students interested in the arts.
“It’s helpful to promote the arts and see that, yes, some students do go on to do great things,” she said.