Move over American Idol &mdash Hillel seeks a Superstar

atlanta (jta) | Inside the frame of a mock TV set, three African Americans, an Asian American and a Jew squeezed each other’s hands nervously as they stood on stage before 1,000 people.

The group of Georgia college students braced to hear which of the five finalists would be crowned “Campus Superstar,” capping a nearly two-month vocal competition run by Hillels of Georgia.

The fund-raiser, simulating the hit show “American Idol,” was an attempt to not only brand a concept but to refashion an organization that caters almost exclusively to Jewish students.

The novel approach was a way to raise Hillel’s profile on campus and update its image among college students — and attract unaffiliated Jewish students in the process.

Hundreds turned out to watch or try out for the competition, which awarded the winner — Andra London, the Jewish finalist and a Hillel activist at Atlanta’s Emory University — $5,000. She also will get to sing this spring at “Music Midtown,” Atlanta’s premier pop music festival, and to perform the national anthem at an Atlanta Falcons football game.

Hillel expects to make more than $100,000 from the contest, more than three times as much as it has earned from any other special event in recent years.

“Join the Jewish Bulldog nation!” urged Missy Ball, referring to the mascot of the University of Georgia, where she is Hillel president.

Hakim Ziyad, a Georgia State University senior who wowed the audience with his stage presence and responsive singing, said Hillel encouraged him and made him feel comfortable.

“Everyone was having so much fun backstage,” said London, who performed Celine Dion’s “I Surrender.”

“It didn’t feel like a competition. It felt like a performance,” she said.

Asked whether being Jewish added any pressure to the situation, she said religion wasn’t discussed. In fact, said the marketing major, who hopes to be signed as a professional singer, she wasn’t sure anyone even knew she was Jewish.