Singer-songwriter Marina Strah gets the Seacrest bump

Marina Strah

Marina Strah

Mark Oprea

A September 2012 YouTube video shows Marina Strah, a then-sophomore at Kent State, sitting on her zebra-sheeted bed in McDowell Hall singing Taylor Swift’s “Ronan.” Her braided hair hides most of her face and she shies away from the camera, looking down at her red guitar. A poster of Swift hangs on the wall behind her. It was one of her first music videos. 

On Monday, Oct. 20, Strah’s recording of Swift’s “Shake it Off” got first place in a web contest hosted by Although no tangible reward was given, the result from the voting poll is, for her, all about recognition. 

“It’s pretty much as big as a reward that you’re going to get,” she said.

The senior applied communication major has had a pretty good year so far. In September, she won the Ohio’s Got Talent contest, and now is featured all over the current American Idol host’s website. Her video, posted Aug. 21, just passed the 25,000 view mark Friday, and so did her 2012 shoot of “Ronan.” Strah said that she’s had online followers send her praise, which means the world to her as a college musician. When her “Shake it Off” got the Seacrest bump, new and old fans lept to congratulate her. 

“This is why I keep listening to you,” a YouTube user commented on her Swift cover. “You’re moving on up! Keep it up and always strive.”

Others had potential gigs on their minds.

“Good work on winning the contest,” said Kevin Otubu, director of programming for Kent State’s Undergraduate Student Government, via Twitter. “We’re going to have to get you out there to perform for Flashfest now!”

Some Strah fans, like YouTube user Hastin, have been keeping tabs on the up-and-coming singer since she began her video posting two years ago. Although Strah doesn’t know more than a name and avatar, she said the online admirers that reach out and give feedback is just as valuable as the real thing.

“They feel like they know me,” Strah said. “And I feel like I know them. And that’s huge for me, that someone has stuck around that long.”

And Strah, as grateful as she is, makes sure to respond to all, a habit she developed when playing her first bar gigs in Cleveland. She labels herself a people-person and says it’s an indispensable quality for a singer-songwriter to have. Even at small tavern shows, Strah said that she’ll stick around after her set, shake the hands of those that listened to her play. Gratitude is just a part of Strah’s repertoire.

In the fall of 2012, Strah went digital. Based off a pressuring friend, she recorded an acoustic version of English musician Jessie-J’s 2011 track “Pricetag,” then a Strah favorite. Now that thousands are flooding her YouTube channel at the effect of Seacrest’s reward, she’s glad to have hid it from public eyes.

Very glad, in fact.

“It’s because it was that bad,” she said. “It was one of those things that I personally never watched, as I just cringe through the whole thing. I can’t help but think how people watched that video and unfortunately heard my struggling.”

At the time her confidence was nil, she said, and she needed the encouragement of friends to record – and even more to play open mics. Busy with school, Strah turned to making YouTube videos of pop songs that stuck in her head, mostly for close friends and family. And since those early days, she has stuck to a “super raw” approach to recording, “stripped down to its basics,” without much post-production. She wants her music to simply say Marina.

Even as her amount of Twitter followers begins to climb and YouTubers add a new subscription, the Kent State singer-songwriter makes sure to highlight the importance of those who are close to her, along with her music.

“And that’s really important, even more so than social media,” Strah said. “I know social media is the big thing and all, but I will always value the in-person connection.”

With the recent Seacrest bump, Strah is still on cloud nine. Winning contests back-to-back, she is even more eager to record her first album, “Broken Record,” and play more gigs around town. All this excitement, she said, has increased her level of confidence tenfold.

“I never thought that someone with this kind of power would reach out to me,” she said. “It’s good to know that I’m really achieving all this.”

Strah said the reaction from her friends and family is just another confidence boost. The same goes for the reaction from her classmates. When Strah walked into her Multimedia Techniques class Monday morning, she was taken aback from the response she received: after hearing about Strah’s reward, her professor and about 200 classmates gave her a round of applause.

Yet her latest recording is its own example. Comparing her “Shake it Off” video to those in 2012, we see a whole different performer. Strah stands assuredly in front of the camera, smiles and waves hello to her audience as she starts strumming the chords to Swift’s song. Her face glows, her eyes never lose their focus. She smiles when she sings, “It’s gonna be alright.”

Contact Mark Oprea at [email protected].