College of Design Category
Kat Robichaud received her degree from NC State in graphic design in 2006 and then spent seven years touring with a glam rock band called The Design. After her band broke up last October, she got a call to audition for NBC’s The Voice.
Since then, her life has been a whirlwind as she flew back and forth from Raleigh to Los Angeles for auditions, then tapings and, finally, live shows. With audience votes and saves from the show’s coaches, she made it to the Top 10, no easy feat. If you want to hear Robichaud sing, she’ll be performing Friday on WUNC-FM’s “The State of Things” at noon (EST). (If you’re outside the listening area, you can hear the live stream by going to the show’s website.)
We sat down with Robichaud this week to talk about her experiences and her plans for the future.
What would surprise people most about the inner workings of the show? The way that it’s shot is pretty much how it is….Once you get to the live shows, though, time is really of the essence. We’d get a group song the day before the performance; it was like crunch time. We would have to go up there, learn our lyrics, do a good job, learn the choreography. … And you’re not sleeping very much. They’re constantly reminding you to take care of yourself, to get enough rest, to keep yourself hydrated, to take Vitamin C.
You wore some interesting costumes, from leather pants for Alanis Morrissette’s “You Oughta Know” to a flamenco-inspired dress for Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.” Did you pick out the clothes or did the show choose? Each person put together a “look book” of outfits we liked. I put pictures of David Bowie, Florence and the Machine, the Rocky Horror Picture Show… The head of the wardrobe department would go out shopping and come back with racks of clothing. I would say, “I don’t like this,’’ or “Oh, my god, I love this so much.” She really got me. And then the wardrobe fittings took four or five hours.
What were some of best coaching tips you received? There were two vocal coaches that we worked with….They are legends, they are fantastic. I learned — relearned, really — a lot of stuff that I’d forgotten. Proper warm-up techniques, loosening your jaw…. pushing from your diaphragm. CeeLo [Green, Robichaud’s celebrity coach] really wanted to be myself, which became harder and harder – but not because of the show. The show was always extremely supportive. It was like, “Kat wants to crowd surf? Let her do it.” …. The show was supportive; America wasn’t as supportive at times.
If you had stayed on the show, what would your next song have been? “Applause” by Lady Gaga. It would have been awesome.
Do people in Raleigh recognize you? We were at the flea market. Some lady jumped out, “I know you — you did a great job on The Voice! ” and then she disappeared back into the circle. Some people don’t realize I’m not really like that famous, and they think they can’t talk to you…We had a waitress the other night, and at the very end of the meal, she’s like, “I hope I’m not bothering you…” We’re like, “Dude do you want to sit down with us? Do you want a glass of wine?” Because this is actually super enjoyable for me.
What’s next? Are you going to be The Voice finale show? I am leaving Monday for L.A. to prepare for the reunion show Dec. 17. The Top 20 will all be performing… And I am writing a new album. I’ve got some great material. I’m going to go on tour. So it’s write, tour, be happy.
—Sylvia Adcock ’81
Jessica Roush, a 2010 NC State graduate living in Milwaukee, Wis., has been listening to public radio for as long as she can remember.
“My parents are pretty avid NPR listeners. Growing up we would listen in the car and on road trips,” says Roush, who works as a textile designer for Kohl’s department stores.
So when Roush heard about the My Sound World competition on Threadless, an online site that designs and sells clothing, she jumped at the chance to design the official T-shirt for NPR.
Roush’s design, “NPR: Plugged In,” features a pair of over-the-ear headphones topped with urban, suburban and rural landscapes and the cord spelling out NPR below. It was inspired by how Roush listens at work.
A few weeks later, her design was selected out of more than 150 submissions as the winner. She was at work when she received the email.
“It was fantastic, I was completely flabbergasted,” Roush says. “I totally screamed at work and everybody kind of gathered around my desk. I assumed I wasn’t going to win anything, so it came as a huge surprise.”
In addition to having her design sold as the official NPR T-shirt, Roush won a cash prize, Threadless gift credit, a special edition iPod dock, an autographed copy of “This is NPR” and a private tour of NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Roush plans to take the trip over her Christmas vacation and is looking forward to visiting the NPR music office, home of the Tiny Desk Concert series, and putting faces with the names of some of her favorite radio personalities.
“I really lucked out,” Roush says. “A lot of people I know that have entered on Threadless have dozens of entries that don’t win and sometimes you just luck out, so I was really fortunate.”
Though Roush designed for NC State’s Art2Wear in 2009 and double-majored in art and design and textile technology, she says designing the shirt was different than any of the work she did at State, where she was an Anni Albers Scholar.
“In school it was more print pattern-based and more dying and weaving and things like that,” Roush says. “It wasn’t until after I graduated that I started to do more graphics.”
She says designing a T-shirt for a Threadless competition was also different than the work she does at Kohl’s.
“It’s a younger audience and a younger buyer versus Kohl’s,” Roush says. “I don’t get to do as many younger or kid-friendly designs.”
Roush says entering design competitions on Threadless is a way for her to do some “work outside of work” and broaden her portfolio.
Though she had only entered a few times before winning the NPR contest, Roush says she plans to enter many more in the future.
Roush’s “NPR: Plugged In” T-shirt is available online in the NPR shop.
A little over a year ago, Susannah Brinkley and a friend launched an experiment. They hoped that it would help them — and others — learn a lot more about all the cool places and amazing people that can be found in the Triangle. All they needed was a smart phone, an Instagram account and the help of hundreds of strangers.
And guess what? It worked.
Susannah Brinkley, with some of the photos (below) she shared from her recent day with the baton.
Brinkley, a 2011 graduate of NC State’s College of Design, and her friend, Brittany Iery, recently celebrated the first anniversary of RDU Baton. Brinkley and Iery describe RDU Baton as a collaborative photo project in which strangers with only one thing in common — their love of the Triangle — spend a day taking photos of places and people that make Raleigh, Durham or Chapel Hill special to them. They then use Instagram to share those photos with the 2,000 people who follow RDU Baton online before handing off the virtual baton to someone else to do the same thing the next day.
“It’s a neat way to discover new parts of where you live,” says Brinkley, a freelance graphic designer. “I had lived in Raleigh for six years, and had my own little corner. It’s really nice to be opened up to other people’s little corner.”
When Brinkley took the baton recently to celebrate RDU Baton’s first anniversary, she shared photos of the “Listening Vessels” near the Brickyard, a cup of coffee she enjoyed at Scratch Bakery in Durham, a view of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens and the pizza she enjoyed at Lilly’s Pizza in Raleigh’s Five Points for lunch.
Others have recently shared photos of an alley in downtown Raleigh, a scene from the Kings & Queens Bowling League and the insides of a gym in Seaboard Station. One recent “runner” proudly posted a photo of an NC State cup. “Gotta show some pack pride,” she wrote. “I’m so glad to be part of this wonderful community of Raleigh. I have met some truly amazing people here!”
About 250 people took turns holding the baton during the first year. Brinkley and Iery manage the project in their spare time, so they only hand the baton out on weekdays. They also ask that those holding the batons steer clear of an Instagram staple – the selfie (or self portrait, for those not familiar with the term).
“We want people to enjoy their day with the baton,” Brinkley says. “We want to see a normal day in their life, showcasing the things they like to do.”
There are a few other rules — post only photos you took during your day with the baton, don’t post more than 6 to 8 photos during your day, and write captions to let others know what they are seeing — but Brinkley and Iery otherwise leave it up to each day’s photographer to decide what to shoot and share.
“Personally, I like to hear their stories,” Brinkley says.
Brinkley and Iery got the idea from a similar project in New York known, appropriately enough, as NYCbaton. They got permission to start a similar site in the Triangle, and have been surprised and pleased with the results so far.
“We like to watch where the baton is going,” Brinkley says. “One time we were out to eat together, and we looked on Instagram and someone had posted from the same restaurant where we were. That’s so awesome.”
RDU Baton has tilted toward Raleigh, Brinkley says, with few submissions from people in Durham and Chapel Hill. Brinkley says she hopes that changes, and that they welcome “runners” from anywhere in the Triangle. Slots in November have already been assigned and there are about 30-40 people are on a list waiting their turn with the baton.
Brinkley moved to Charlotte, N.C., earlier this year. But she has no plans to abandon RDU Baton, at least for the foreseeable future. She enjoys being known as a “baton girl.”
“It’s cool,” she says, “that people are excited about it.”
Bill Sears grew up near the intersection of High House Road and Davis Drive in Cary, N.C. But when he was a kid, Davis Drive was a dirt road known as Stone Road and High House Road was a dirt road without a name. The land was a farm, part of some 1,000 acres that had been in his mother’s family for eight generations.
“It was very much part of the country,” says Sears, who went on to become an architect after earning his degree from NC State’s College of Design in 1967.
Sears says it was a working farm that grew tobacco, but only enough to keep him and his siblings busy during the summer. The family’s main business was tobacco warehousing.
Sears’ parents intended to live on the land their entire lives. But as Cary expanded, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the land as a farm. The widening of Davis Drive around 2003 took out the farm house that Sears’ parents had lived in, leaving Sears’ son as the only family member remaining on the property.
But Sears’ parents are moving back to the property, as one of the first residents in a new continuing care retirement community built by Sears. His father, John, is 91 years old and his mother, Maggie Belle, is 90 years old.
“My parents told their children that they intended to live on this farm all their life,” Sears says. “The only was to keep them on the farm was to create an environment to allow them to live there.”
And so SearStone was created. The community, which is owned by the nonprofit Samaritan Housing Foundation, welcomed its first residents on Nov. 1 and 90 percent of the residences have already been sold.
“This is a whole new attitude toward retirement communities,” Sears says. “We are now the standard by which retirement communities of the future will be measured. We’ve definitely raised the bar.”
Before launching SearStone, Sears spent four years studying existing retirement communities along the East Coast. He learned what to avoid and saw features that he wanted to include when he built SearStone. One of his primary goals was to create a community that would give residents a chance to remain active while staying engaged with the larger community around them.
To that end, SearStone is built around a four-and-a-half acre, man-made lake that includes waterfalls, a large fountain and peninsulas and islands for pedestrians. Across the lake from the residences sits a red barn that has been on the land for over 100 years. It will eventually be restored and turned into a maintenance facility.
Sears also has plans to build a botanical conservatory in the middle of the project. He says the College of Design has agreed to manage the facility, which it will use to exhibit plants and landscapes.
Sears and his wife will be moving to SearStone by the end of the year, and he says there will be much more to come as the second and third phases of the project come on line in the coming years.
But he has already completed the most important part of the project.
“SearStone was literally born,” he says, “to put my parents back on the farm.”
A year before architect and NC State alumnus Frank Lee Craig succumbed to his six-year battle with a malignant brain tumor in 2009, the part-time musician laid down six tracks for the album The Disance Is So Near. That release came out in 2011 (and we did a story about that release).
But last month, Margret Kentgens-Craig, Craig’s widow, released a second posthumous CD. Crack in the Sky is a collection of nine songs, ranging in styles from Americana to folk rock to blues, that Craig never got to record professionally in a studio.
Kentgens-Craig says she took the recordings, most of them from casette tapes, to a Raleigh studio for production. But she says the studio said the recording quality didn’t meet industry standards. So the studio offered to cut the nine songs from scratch with studio musicians.
That’s when she was steadfast in her refusal to have anyone but Craig play his songs. “I was afraid we’d lose Frank’s voice,” she says.
The CD, which is available at Quail Ridge Books, is a testament to Craig’s creative side that stretched far beyond his work designing buildings for a Raleigh architect firm, says Kentgens-Craig, an adjunct associate professor at NC State’s College of Design. He also made jewelry, produced art and was an avid photographer.
“Konzert,” a multi-media collage by Frank Lee Craig is the inset to the liner notes in “Crack in the Sky.”
“He was a maker,” she says, adding that Craig flourished because of his training at the College of Design in the late 1970s. “A lot of his creativity came to development at this school. He really belonged here. This is where Frank got his real training in fundamental design.”
Crack in the Sky is a project Kentgens-Craig believes would have pleased her late husband, especially since she employed some help to get it released in the songs’ organic, original forms. She contacted Mickey Raphael, Willie Nelson’s harmonca player, who agreed to play harmonica over the title track. And she enlisted German bassist Many Miketta to add his bassline to the songs.
“It was quite an international project,” she says. “Frank would smile and be happy that his music got out to the world as he wanted it.”
NC State’s Kat Robichaud showed her softer side on a live broadcast of the The Voice last night, singing Mary Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm.” It was a bit of a change-up for the glam rocker who previously belted out songs like “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette.
Robichaud, who received a degree in graphic design at NC State in 2006, is one of 20 vocal artists aiming for the top spot on the NBC reality show, which will come with a $100,000 recording contract.
Last night, dozens of supporters crowded into The OC Bar & Grill in Raleigh to watch her take the stage, some carrying “Vote for Kat” and “Katpack” signs and stickers.
At this point in the show, viewers get to have their say — but we won’t know the results until Thursday.
There are four teams of contestants on The Voice, and the three contestants on each team who receive the lowest number of votes will be out of the competition—but the celebrity judges will have the opportunity to save one of those three. Robichaud is one of five vocalists on CeeLo Green’s team.
You can vote for Robichaud until 11 a.m. EST Wednesday. Here’s how: Call 877-553-3704 or go to the show’s website. You can vote up to 10 times per email and phone number. Thursday night’s episode airs at 8 p.m. EST.
– Sylvia Adcock ’81
Justin LeBlanc was not only a finalist on Lifetime’s Project Runway reality show, he’s also been selected as the grand marshal for the Raleigh Christmas Parade. But life is beginning to settle down a bit for LeBlanc, who received a degree from the College of Design and is now an assistant professor there. We had a chance to catch up with him in his office in Leazar Hall this week in between student conferences.
Justin LeBlanc addresses the crowd at showing of the final episode of Project Runway at the Hunt Library
How long were you in New York for the filming of Project Runway? We were there for six weeks. The filming of every episode took two to three days. When Tim [Gunn] would announce the challenge, we’d have a day to do it, but that was 10 hours, not 24 hours. We had to eat and sleep, too – they forced us to eat and sleep! I was so glad when I got home and I could cook my own food.
How much sleep did you get? About four hours a night….I would think of it more as a power nap. We were up at 5 a.m., and sometimes filming past midnight. Some days we were lucky and could sleep in a little. We had K-cup machines everywhere and we used, abused them, a lot.
What was it like having Tim Gunn to dinner at your family’s house in Raleigh? My father fixed him North Carolina barbecue. My father is an amazing cook. Tim loved it, ate all of it. After that he went to The Pit and had more barbecue.
Your collection for the finale at New York Fashion Week included accessories made with 3-D printing, earning a lot of praise from the judges. How did you come up with the idea? When Heidi [Klum] announced that three of us were going back home to design a collection – that was when I had the idea. It just came to me. I knew we had 3-D printing technology at the College of Design. It’s expensive to use, but I had a budget of $9,000…..Of course there were a lot of errors; the machine has a mind of its own.
The showstopper in your collection was a white gown made with tiny pipettes. How long did it take to make that? Well, when Tim came here, he looked at it and told me I would need to bring some people in to help. So I did. It took three days with no sleep ….We had to drill holes in the top of each pipette and then sew them each onto nonslip carpet backing. Then added nail polish to make sure they wouldn’t come untied.
Do you get stopped on the street by people who recognize you? What’s that been like? When I was in Chicago three weeks ago…..a woman was driving and I was walking down the sidewalk. She backed her car up, then got out of the car while it was still running to get a picture. I was like, OK….I have learned the behavior of fans. I know the body language, I can see when someone recognizes me and they freeze up and don’t know how to approach me. Sometimes people take my picture without even asking……People should just come up to me and ask, that’s all, I love striking up a conversation with fans and seeing their insight.
You’re teaching a textiles studio class. What do you like best about teaching? I teach at the College of Design and I expect creative people. I want to know what they would like to do, what media they want to use, I like to see what story they want to tell. They constantly surprise me ….I never know what is coming next.
LeBlanc signs autographs at the Hunt Library
How did you manage to stay clear of a lot of the drama on the show? I was alert for it. I knew everything we do is going to be on TV. I am a teacher, and I knew students would be watching ….Overall I think the producers did a good job, but at the same time, it’s a reality TV show. Something is going to happen. For me, it was about being in the right mindset.
Other than teaching, what’s next for you? I’m in the process of putting together a fall-winter 2014 collection, hoping to show it in the spring.
—Sylvia Adcock ’81
NC State alumna Kat Robichaud’s powerful rendition of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” on The Voice last night won her a place in the so-called “knockout rounds” of the NBC reality show.
Kat Robichaud, left, on last night’s episode of The Voice
Robichaud, who received her degree from the College of Design in 2006, is a seasoned performer who played with a glam rock band based in Raleigh for seven years.
Last night, she competed against a gospel singer from Tampa, Fla., and in the end, there was no contest. All the judges raved about Robichaud, and her celebrity coach, CeeLo Green, called her a “dynamo.”
“I need a natural disaster, a storm, like you,” he said.
Robichaud is expected to be seen next in an episode to be broadcast later this month when she’ll face off against another performer. If she wins there, she’ll be in the finale. The winner gets a $100,000 recording contract.
– Sylvia Adcock ’81
The upcoming fall issue of NC State magazine includes articles on two alums — Vivian Howard and Vansana Nolintha — who have had tremendous success with restaurants that harken back to the cultures of their childhoods.
Howard, a 2000 NC State graduate, is the chef and co-owner of Chef & the Farmer, a seasonal, farm-to-table restaurant in downtown Kinston, N.C., not far from the farm in Deep Run, N.C., where Howard grew up.
Nolintha is the owner of Bida Manda, a Laotian restaurant in downtown Raleigh that pays homage to his parents and his native land.
We asked them to share recipes for our readers who wanted to try their hand at some of their culinary creations. Enjoy!
Howard’s Grilled Corn with Bacon Lime Mayo and Parmigiano Reggiano
To grill the corn…
Brush each ear of corn with olive oil. Over a medium grill, brown the corn on three sides. Remove from the grill, season each ear with salt and roll it around in the mayo. To serve, grate fresh parmigiano reggiano over the ears like snow. Serve with lime wedges.
Lime and Bacon Mayo
1 egg yolk
zest of 2 limes (removed with a microplane)
1/3 cup lime juice
1/2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. hot sauce (we use siracha)
1 garlic clove
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup bacon fat (melted)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Blend the first 8 ingredients until smooth in a food processor. Start streaming in the bacon fat slowly to emulsify and finish with the vegetable oil until nice and thick. Adjust seasoning with salt and lemon juice to taste.
Bida Manda’s Crispy Rice Lettuce Wrap
2 cups cooked jasmine rice
1 teaspoon curry spice
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/3 cup chopped mint
1/3 cup chopped green onion
1 tablespoon crispy fried garlic
3 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 cup crushed peanuts
Mix jasmine rice, curry, salt, and sugar in a small bowl. Mold the mixture into thick patties. Fry the patties until golden brown. In another bowl, break the patties into small pieces, and add cilantro, mint, green onion, fried garlic, peanuts, and lime juice. Toss until fully mixed. Wrap the mixture with fresh lettuce leaves.
Bida Manda, a Laotian restaurant in downtown Raleigh, is often full with diners enjoying crispy pork belly soup or caramelized ginger pork ribs. It is a place buzzing with conversation, and its bar has become a popular late night spot.
The restaurant has been so successful that it’s hard to imagine how difficult the first day was for Vansana Nolintha, the NC State alum who owns Bida Manda. Nolintha and his restaurant are featured in the upcoming fall issue of NC State magazine.
“It did not go well,” Nolintha says of the first day last year. “We spilled wine on one customer. We dropped a lot of plates and glasses. Food came out the wrong temperature and food took forever to come out. Some of the dishes were too salty, the ice machine wasn’t working right, the music kept cutting off and some of the staff did not show up.”
It was so difficult, in fact, that Nolintha finally couldn’t take it. He left the restaurant midway through dinner service. He walked to the nearby bus station and sat down and cried.
“What am I getting myself in to?” Nolintha says he asked himself. “I can’t do it. I’ve never operated a restaurant. This is not what I do.”
But Bida Manda was Nolintha’s dream, one that he arrived at after traveling the world following his graduation from NC State in 2009. Nolintha, who was a Caldwell Fellow at NC State, decided that he wanted to run a restaurant that honored the culture and traditions of his native Laos. And he wanted to do it in Raleigh, close to the friends he had made during his years at NC State.
So after catching his breath for about five minutes, Nolintha willed himself to head back to his restaurant.
“I had no choice,” he says. “When you’re in a situation that could impact so many people, it’s not a choice anymore. You just react. You just know that’s what you have to do. You have to be a good role model for the people who work for you.”
Nolintha said he took some lessons from his time at the College of Design, and broke the challenge of running a restaurant down to a series of small steps.
“It was the simple act of, the shift is over, the next day we do it again,” he says. “The next day we do it again, and again and again. We just learn to do a better job of doing it again.”
It also helped that Nolintha had the support of a community, many of them friends from his days at NC State, that wanted to see him and his restaurant do well.
“One thing that was so important that first couple of months — that I think really carried us through — we knew that people in this community wanted us to succeed,” he says. “We knew it didn’t matter how many mistakes we made. We were already forgiven and we were already loved. Once we reminded ourselves of that truth, the problems were no longer problems. They were just things we needed to address and get resolved.”
And now, more than a year later, Bida Manda is a thriving part of the Raleigh restaurant scene.
“I think people in Raleigh are genuinely curious about our story, about this cuisine they have never heard of,” he says. “We have been busy since day one.”