Radio contest reunites Rice alumna and professor

Cole Porter’s iconic song “You’re the Top” got a bit of a makeover recently, thanks to a new radio contest and a Rice alumna, and it led to an unexpected reunion between the alumna and one of her former professors.

NANCY TAUBENSLAG

Nancy Taubenslag ’77, who lives in Westchester County, just north of New York City, is an avid National Public Radio listener and heard about a new show called “Ask Me Another” through one of the show’s writers. The show features puzzles, word games and trivia played in front of a live audience.

She decided to visit Brooklyn and attend a taping of the show, which hosted the “Pen It Like Porter” challenge. The contest dared participants to create modern lyrics for the 1934 Cole Porter hit “You’re the Top.”

“The program’s producers sent an email describing the lyric-writing challenge and inviting audience members to submit an entry,” Taubenslag said. “I thought it sounded fun, so I wrote the lyrics and was invited to go onstage.”

Although Taubenslag doesn’t write song lyrics for a living – she’s a freelance consultant and runs a dance website — she ended up winning the challenge with her unique twist on the original lyrics:

You’re the top! You’re the iPhone’s Siri.
You’re the top! You’re “The Big Bang Theory.”
You’re the mega-dough earned from J.K. Rowling’s words
You’re Blue Ivy’s mama, 2008 Obama,
You’re “Angry Birds”!

You’re elite; you’re Cy Twombly’s scribble.
You’re the heat in Jer’my Lin’s dribble
I’m a budget bill stuck on Cap’tol Hill — I’ll flop!
But if baby I’m the bottom, you’re the top!

An added perk? Singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton, a favorite of Taubenslag’s, sang her updated lyrics on the show.

“It was a heady experience standing in front of an audience and having my lyrics performed by one of my favorite musicians,” she said.

For her winning parody, Taubenslag received an NPR tote bag. But she also received a bonus prize from Rice via an email.

SARAH BURNETT

One of Taubenslag’s former psychology professors at Rice, Sarah Burnett, happened to be listening when the show aired. Burnett retired in May and had been shredding old class rosters just two days earlier. She recognized the name of her former student and advisee, found Taubenslag’s email address and exchanged messages with her.

“What an amazing coincidence,” said Burnett, who called Taubenslag’s updated version of the song “hilarious.”

Taubenslag met Burnett when the professor allowed her, as a freshman, to take her graduate psychology seminar. Taubenslag said it was a very pleasant surprise to receive the email from her former professor, whom she called “a terrific teacher and a terrific person.”

“I ended up majoring in psych largely because I thought she and many of the other professors at Rice were outstanding,” Taubenslag said.

Burnett said she enjoyed the chance to reconnect with her former student. “It was great fun hearing a very clever former student winning a contest on NPR and connecting with her after all these years.”

About Amy Hodges

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.