All in good fun: Big crowd celebrates ‘Mr. GCU’

April 13, 2017 / by / 0 Comment

Story by Mark Heller
Photos by Johnny Jaffe
GCU News Bureau

For a backup plan that was put together in less than a day, without his two accompanists and with only an hour to rehearse, Caleb Raney nailed it.

For four minutes, the Grand Canyon University Arena was his, and the junior Christian Studies major and “Mr. GCU” contestant rapped, rhymed, riffed and one-lined his way to laughs and cheers Wednesday night. 

Junior Caleb Raney’s rap routine was part of a night full of memorable performances during the 2017 Mr. GCU.

Without his planned “backups” because of scheduling conflicts, with precious little time to prepare because of school and his work in “West Side Story” last week — not to mention that his first talent idea was kiboshed, so he had to start anew — the “Raney Rap” featured him and his microphone (no lip syncing here) as he flawlessly segued between 13 snippets of rap songs (DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Biz Markie, Eminem, etc.) with some GCU-centric lyrics inter-spliced as he changed songs every 10-15 seconds.

The cheers and laughs were constant as it kept up with his cardio workout on stage. Appreciation reached its crescendo after his final line: “Can we please get a Taco Bell on Lopes Way?”

“That was the very first time I did the whole routine by myself,” he said afterward. “My stomach was in knots.”

Raney’s rap kicked off the heart and soul of “Mr. GCU,” which featured nearly two hours of music and dance skits to go with a lot of laughs for the estimated 8,000 students who made it feel like a GCU basketball game.

The 15th edition of “Mr. GCU” was put together by the Canyon Activities Board (CAB) and co-hosted by Jonny Van Ommering and 2016 finalist Parker Shipe. Each had plenty of one-liners for the other about each’s past failures to win the “Mr. GCU” title.

The program featured two significant changes from past years. The number of finalists was reduced from 12 to seven, and there was no panel of judges. Instead, students inside the Arena voted via text message, and Spencer Maier won the crown, presented by 2016 winner Joshua Braun.

Donning his signature hats and with a little help from his friends, Spencer Maier (left) used a country music dance routine to help him win “Mr. GCU” Wednesday night.

Maier’s country line-dancing show, set to the Big and Rich hit “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,” helped him win the big prize, but there were plenty of other moments to remember:

Ryan Sanborn ate an onion as if it were an apple.

Dustin Yoder, whose parents grew up in Amish country, told the story of how he was trampled by goats at his aunt’s farm as a first-grader.

Sean Loving declared that his crowning achievement at GCU to date was being in the background on the screen that was inside the actual photo of the March edition of GCU Magazine.

And, notably, there was Akil Omari’s musical wizardry, which was greeted enthusiastically by the crowd.

“This is what I love,” said Omari, a senior and lifelong musician who played some guitar, piano and sang and whose music can be found on iTunes and Spotify. “This is what I live for.”

“Mr. GCU” finalist Akil Omari was a crowd favorite thanks to his personality, smooth moves and musical talent.

Comedy skits included the “dad bods” physique craze and plenty of New Mexico State jokes. Matt Shinn’s “dad bod workout” featured sitting on the couch with the TV remote and eating doughnuts.

“We’re built for comfort, not speed,” he said. “Take your time, saunter around. If you do anything, athletic people are amazed.”

Loving was teased for giving out his phone number to an estimated 5,000 people during last October’s Lip-Sync contest. He later did a comedic mock rendition of “My Heart Will Go On” from “Titanic” featuring vocals, some backup “dancers” and a recorder accompaniment that might have made Celine Dion faint.

Yoder and a friend did a creative and comedic dance routine with plungers.

It was a night to “let it go” before finals.

“It’s about being a representative of GCU and showing God all that we’ve done,” Raney said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Contact Mark Heller at (602) 639-7516 or

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