Meet The Over 18 HLAG Winners

Meet The Over 18 HLAG Winners

The fifth annual edition of the Hit Like A Girl contest resulted in another outstanding exhibition of female drummers. Following six weeks of video submissions online, votes for the video entries were counted. Then judges chose six winners after reviewing the 46 finalists. The contest culminated with a live announcement of the winners during the Hit Like A Girl Awards Show on Drumchannel earlier this year.

Cohosted by Mona Tavakoli (Raining Jane, Jason Mraz) and past HLAG contestant Jordan West, the awards show proved to be an upbeat and community-oriented celebration of women. "I loved how much diversity there was in the participants this year," Tavakoli says. "Women and girls from all over the world with different skill sets, playing different styles and rocking creative setups. It is so inspiring to see what the drumming community is up to around the globe."

Spearheaded by David Levine of TRX Cymbals, Phil Hood of DRUM!, and Mindy Abovitz of Tom Tom, Hit Like A Girl got its start in 2012 with a goal of showcasing female drummers and encouraging more girls and women to play drums. This year, former Rhythm magazine editor Louise King joined the production team. In spite of the fact that we're living in the 21st century, less than ten percent of drummers were women when the contest began.

The founders of the contest also aimed to empower women to break social barriers and achieve their musical aspirations. Past competitors have gone on to great things. For example, first-year contestants Venzella Joy and De'Arcus have gone on to play for Beyoncé and T-Pain, respectively. HLAG is also supported by an elite group of gear companies that sponsor the contest.

The six-week 2016 HLAG entry period yielded hundreds of video submissions from women and girls of all ages from nearly 50 countries. The videos saw 430,000 visitors, with 2.2 million impressions. Ultimately, 80,000 votes were cast to choose this year's 46 finalists. Then a panel of top professional drummers reviewed the videos and picked the six winners — a champion, first runnerup, and second runner-up in Under 18 and Over 18 categories. Along with hostess Tavakoli, the judges included 2016 Hit Like A Girl cospokespersons Hannah Welton and Anika Nilles along with Kimberly Thompson, Emily Dolan-Davies, Emmanuelle Caplette, Jess Bowen, Karin Gandhi, Yissy Garcia, Terri Lyne Carrington, Senri Kawaguchi, Nia Lovelis, Allison Miller, Didi Negron, Venzella Joy, Alicia Warrington, Gina Schock, Cherisse Osei, Samantha Maloney, Val Sepulveda, and special guest judges Steve Smith, Aaron Spears, and Chad Smith.

Under 18 champion Rebecca Webster won a 5-piece Mapex Mars drum kit, along with assorted other prizes. Over 18 champion Helen De La Rosa scored a Mapex Mydentity user-designed 6-piece kit, and a slew of other prizes as well. All first and second runner-ups received prize packages of instruments and hardware. The entertaining awards show featured 90 minutes of performances, video clips, live calls to winners, and visits by past contest winners. Tavakoli, Beyoncé drummer Kimberly Thompson, and past HLAG contestants Rie sha Fayson and Melanie DiLorenzo (who accompanied ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons during his solo tour earlier this year) all performed, to the delight of the very supportive hosts and in-studio guests.

"We have such an awesome community of female drummers! I feel grateful that we have places like the Hit Like A Girl contest and Tom Tom Magazine to see and celebrate each other," says Tavakoli. Tavakoli's favorite moment of the show was when they called the Over 18 champ Helen De La Rosa to tell her she had won. "I asked her what made her submit a video into the contest," Tavakoli remembers. "She replied with, 'Music is everything but a competition, it's all about expressing. I just decided to try because I want to inspire girls not to be afraid of pursuing their dreams in drumming.' I was so inspired by her words and my heart just about exploded with a 'Yes, exactly!' I am absolutely inspired."

We are proud to introduce the cream of this year's crop. You can check out their winning videos at hitlikeagirlcontest.com.

Over 18 Category

Helen De La Rosa
Champion

Dominican Republic

Not only does Helen De La Rosa love playing music, she also thinks it's something that can unite all kinds of people.

"It's a powerful tool for us, but it comes with a huge responsibility! I take music very seriously because of that and that's why my main focus as a drummer is [to] serve the music and not myself," she says.

Her passion came through in her winning HLAG entry, where she tackled Lido's hip-hop-style track "Lost" with an air of intensity, joy, and humility. Now 25, De La Rosa first started playing the drums back in the Dominican Republic around age eight. She had been playing guitar and her brother had been playing drums, but they both were drawn to each other's instruments, so they swapped. Having played so long, it came as a shock when she arrived at Berklee College Of Music that instructor Marko Djorjevic told her she was being limited by her own technique. "That was a tough one because that meant I had to unlearn and relearn from scratch," she says. "I can't thank him enough. It really made it better."

De La Rosa learned another life changing lesson when a different instructor, the legendary Terri Lyne Carrington, told her, "Helen, you've got to play with commitment!" De La Rosa was in a recording session when Carrington's words clicked. "What she meant is that I have to be intentional while playing. I have to mean it," she says.

Her lessons at Berklee have paid off. De La Rosa began her dream of becoming a touring drummer when she toured with jazz saxophonist Donny McCaslin last spring. Having just finished up her degree over the summer, she plans to throw herself into a future of touring and session work in Los Angeles.

Although she thinks of music as anything but a competition, she decided to enter HLAG because she wanted to inspire other women. "I think it's beautiful to see how in the whole musician community we all inspire each other to be better at what we do."

Theresa Stark
First Runner-Up

Germany

When you watch Theresa Stark calmly and skillfully perform her jazz entry in this year's HLAG contest, it's hard to believe she was once a wild child. She says she started playing drums at age eight because, "I was too hyperactive for my family members, especially my mom. So my cousin came up with the idea of getting me to try the drums out."

Stark quickly became fascinated by the instrument and it turned into a passion. Fortunately, teachers saw her determination and encouraged her along the way. At age 26, Stark is working as a drummer for a diverse range of musical projects, from European jazz to experimental singersongwriters to major label acts.

She doesn't really have a label for her style of playing. "What I do know is that I always focus on the details and nuances," she says. "Technique and groove take the most important part when it comes down to developing my musical ideas. I also mess around a lot with independence and am always looking for ways to push myself."

In addition to a slew of Germany-based drummers, Stark says Robert "Sput" Searight and Chris "Daddy" Dave have had a deep influence on her playing over the years. As for the years to come, she looks most forward to continuing to "push boundaries." Not one to obsess over awards and honors, when Stark found out she was HLAG's first runnerup, "Of course I was really overwhelmed," she says. "It's such a huge platform for female drummers around the globe who are still underestimated. I feel really blessed."

Bianca Richardson
Second Runner-Up

U.S.

Long before she ever entered the HLAG contest, Bianca Richardson already proved that she was a winner. Back in seventh grade, her band teacher didn't want a girl on the drum line, so she fought back. She went straight to the principal and soon enough, she was on the line. "If you want something done, you gotta do it," she says.

Richardson showed off how serious she is about the groove in her HLAG entry, a performance of the funky electronic duo Knower's song "Let Go." She kept letting smiles slip in throughout, though, which shouldn't be surprising since she freely admits, "I love making people dance!"

Currently, Richardson attends the Musicians Institute and plays in a couple bands. In addition, "My main thing is doing video projects with people," she says. "I enjoy that most." She adds, "Also, I'm practicing a lot to prepare myself for a really [big] gig — like Beyoncé!" When it comes to drumming idols, Richardson looks to Mark Guiliana, Benny Greb, Adam Deitch, and Chris Coleman. "I would love to get one lesson from him! He's awesome," she says of Coleman.

Although she was merely hoping for people to watch her HLAG video, she says winning means the world to her. "I was shocked because I [just] wanted for people to see my video. But I'm very grateful that this happened." As for the future, Richardson is excited about more video projects. But most of all, "The Beyoncé gig," she laughs.

Dream big, Bianca.

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