After a 44-day emotional roller-coaster ride and 1,419 “like” votes on Facebook, UNF Music Department Director of Public Relations Ashley Earles-Bennett and her family got the news they’d been so anxiously awaiting: their creative rap video starring Earles-Bennett’s 11-year-old sister Tori beat out 40 other contestants in the O’Steen VW Jetta Jam 2011 Jetta Giveaway and O’Steen Volkswagen would be awarding them a brand new Volkswagen Jetta. The news came two weeks after her old car caught on fire, so the timing couldn’t have been better.
Earles-Bennett had heard about the music video contest from Music Department Chair Dr. Gordon Brock, who encouraged all music faculty, staff and students to enter. Desperately needing a new car to replace their run-down secondhand Jetta, she, her husband, Josh, and her two younger sisters teamed up and produced a catchy video in only two days.
“Entrants had to create a music video describing why they needed a new car, within a two-minute limit,” Earles-Bennett said. “I wrote the lyrics to the song, my sisters Tori and Bella put a spin on them and my hubby Josh and I did the music on our computer. We used a 35 mm camera with HD capabilities to shoot it and Avid to edit it.”
While the creative endeavor was a team effort, Tori was unquestionably the star of the one-minute-seven-second video. A natural performer on camera, the spunky 5th-grader oozed personality, exhibiting three parts Madonna, one part Punky Brewster and showing off some robot dance moves that would impress the likes of James Brown and Michael Jackson.
The lyrics for the song Earles-Bennett wrote say it all:
My sister’s had her cool green Jetta since 2003
and now it’s falling apart and it’s all because of me.
I scratched my name on the door,
I put my feet on the seat,
I pulled the ceiling down,
I dumped some soda on the floor.
I left some trash in the back,
I piled some food in the front,
With all the damage I’ve done
My sister’s car is looking bunk.
O’Steen Volkswagen, please help my sister.
She’s been my guardian for more than five years.
She works real hard taking care of our family,
Driving me to school, her to work and them to the vet.
If she wins the new Jetta it’ll be the best present yet.
With its large trunk space, heated seats and touch-screen navigation,
Driving down the road will seem like a family vacation.
To view the video, click here.
After creating the video masterpiece, the Earles-Bennett crew posted it on the O’Steen Volkswagen fan page on Facebook and encouraged their Facebook friends (and friends of friends) to “like” it. “At first, there were only a couple of submissions, but as the contest neared the close, tons of videos were submitted,” Earles-Bennett said.
The three videos with the most votes would be in the running for the grand prize (with the final decision up to the folks at the car dealership), so the pressure was on. With dozens of professional-quality videos submitted, competition was fierce.
“The initial Facebook round of the competition seemed tough, as I think one her competitors had an entire elementary school (plus parents, staff, etc.) voting for it,” said Dr. Erin Bennett, UNF assistant professor of music. “But Ashley is a great PR director, both for the department and for this competition – people came out of the woodwork to vote for it. And with the power of social media, I had former students in Cincinnati, colleagues in Kansas City and Princeton and even my great aunt in California voting for Ashley’s video! Our music students were also very involved in the process as well.”
The following posts on Earles-Bennett’s Facebook wall illustrate the highs and lows she and her family experienced from the day their video was posted until they took home the grand prize:
In 2003 I bought my first O'Steen Jetta from my friend who was moving to India. I love my car, but after years of driving my little sisters around, driving back and forth from college to work, driving our doggies to the vet, my Jetta has taken a beating. I need a new car desperately. Please "like" our video on the "O'Steen VW Jetta Jam" Facebook page so that we have a chance to win a new car. Thanks in advance. Take care. (Good luck to the other contestants!)
Totally bummed because I don't have anyone else left to ask to like our commercial and still need 200 more votes to make top 3. Tragic. Goodbye car that I really need. I'll miss you.
We still need about 150 "likes" to be in the top 3. If you have already voted, can you talk one more person into liking us (maybe your lady or fella)?
My car caught on fire on the way home today. Awesome.
We only need 90 more "likes" to be in the top 3. Just click the link and like the video. Easy peesy.
Okay folks. We have exactly 14 days to get into the top 3! We are at #5 now. I want to win the new Jetta so that I can give my old car to my younger sister. Please ask at least one person to like our link.
We just need 200 more to catch up with the 3rd place guy!
With more than 1,400 people voting for us, the nightmare is finally over! Thanks to every person that endured our non-stop posts and begging. Sadly, we did not make the top 3; however, some people may get disqualified for not following the rules, so we'll see. Mental note, never enter online voting contest again. Ever. Take care.
Holy Cow! A friend of mine just told me that we made the TOP 3! I didn't even know. Yeah us and yeah you! Thanks everyone for harassing your friends and family for us. I am in total shock.
Just got back from the O'Steen dealership. They let us upgrade to an automatic, pick the color exterior and interior we wanted, gave Tori a ton of free gear from the VW shop, and said they want to use her in commercials. How rad! Go buy a car there. Now.
On Jan. 21, Tori appeared on the Channel 4 Morning Show, along with the other two runners-up, to find out who would win the grand prize. Earles-Bennett and Bella remained off-camera as Mark O’Steen handed an oversized cardboard $500 check to second runner-up Donald Blocker, and then another one to first runner-up Diane Nguyen. It was at that moment that Earles-Bennett and her sisters realized they were the big winners and would be driving home a sparkling new vehicle.
Sitting in the driver’s seat of her new car for the first time — and just seconds after finding out O’Steen Volkswagen would also be paying the taxes on the vehicle — Earles-Bennett unleashed all the pent-up emotion and let her excitement show. “This is awesome. I never thought we’d make the top three and I think all the contestants were really awesome and so we came here thinking whoever won, it would be great, and I’m glad we won. It’s awesome!”
Probably the most heartwarming part of this fairytale ending is the story behind the story: due to unusual circumstances involving her immediate family, Earles-Bennett and her husband have served as parental guardians for her two younger sisters for more than five years. Many of the comments on Earles-Bennett’s Facebook page focus on the fact that this fantasy couldn’t have happened to nicer, more deserving people.
“The video is absolutely first-rate and truly captures Tori’s life force and energy,” Brock said. “Couldn’t happen to a more deserving family. We are very fond of them all and we were so privileged to play a small part in their success.”
“I wanted Ashley to win this car very badly. She supports an entire family and is guardian for her two sisters,” said Dr. Nick Curry, assistant professor of cello at UNF. “I knew if we got the students involved, then she had a chance. I announced to them in performance lab that if they voted for her video and helped her win, I’d sing in performance hour.” Although he has never performed a vocal work in public and is adamant that he’s not a singer, Curry plans to live up to his promise and is currently practicing for his solo performance.
The Earles-Bennett clan is still on Cloud 9, having picked up their new car Jan. 29. Earles-Bennett is the primary driver of the new vehicle, while Bella, who’s a freshman at UNF, will take over driving the older, recently repaired Jetta.
The whole experience has been larger-than-life for video superstar Tori, who’s been getting a lot of attention as a result of all the publicity. “I was really happy to get to be on the news so all my friends could see me,” she said. “The kids at school are congratulating me and all the teachers watched it live in the front office, which was really cool.” It should come as no surprise that Tori aspires to become a professional actress someday.
Even though it’s been more than a month since the end of the contest, the excitement lives on.
“To be honest, I think there’s still a buzz from the competition around the [Fine Arts Center] building,” Bennett said. “As recently as a week or two ago I heard one of our students walking down the hall and singing to himself some of the lyrics from the video.”
… I scratched my name on the door, I put my feet on the seat, I pulled the ceiling down, I dumped some soda on the floor …