The Music Center has named 14 Grand Prize finalists from nearly 1,500 applicants in The Music Center’s 33rd annual Spotlight (Spotlight) program, a free nationally acclaimed arts training and scholarship program for Southern California teens. The Music Center re-imagined Spotlight’s offerings for the 2020–2021 year to be entirely digital and COVID safe. For the second year in a row, The Music Center’s Spotlight Virtual Grand Finale Performance will take place as a virtual event, premiering on May 22, at 7 p.m. on musiccenter.org via The Music Center Offstage digital platform as well as Facebook Live @musiccenterla. Spotlight alum and major recording artist Josh Groban will host the hour long program featuring the 14 finalists as the stars of the show.
In addition to showcasing their individual performances, the Grand Finale puts the “spotlight” on the talented teens with an inside look at each finalist’s Spotlight experience, including how they persevered through multiple rounds of virtual auditions, improved their technical skills based on detailed feedback by industry experts and learned about their craft by attending classes with world-renowned experts in their discipline. The performance begins with the 14 finalists performing together in a show-stopping song-and-dance number, designed by film, television and music video choreographer Phillip Chbeeb. Directed by Nicole Alexander and produced in association with Hashtag, You’re It, The Music Center’s 33rd annual Spotlight Virtual Grand Finale Performance will also be broadcast once again on KCET as part of its weekly arts and culture series, SOUTHLAND SESSIONS, and on its sister station PBS SoCal (KOCE) later this summer; broadcast dates to be announced.
The 14 Spotlight Grand Prize winners include two finalists in each of seven categories: acting, ballet, dance, classical voice, non-classical voice, classical instrumental and jazz instrumental. In addition to performing in the finale event, each student will receive a $5,000 scholarship. The Spotlight Grand Prize
- Acting: Jordan Anderson, 18, a senior at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (Los Angeles), and Hannah Nordberg, 16, a junior at Campbell Hall (Los Angeles);
- Ballet: Mia Schlosser, 15, a freshman at Westlake High School (Thousand Oaks), and Natalie Steele, 14, a freshman at JSerra Catholic High School (San Juan Capistrano);
- Dance: Emmy Cheung, 17, a junior at Orange County School of the Arts (Santa Ana), and Selena Hamilton, 16, a home-schooled junior (Los Angeles);
- Classical Voice: Catherine Johnston, 17, a senior at Orange County School of the Arts (Santa Ana), and Ava Kuntz, 17, a senior at Orange County School of the Arts (Santa Ana);
- Non-Classical Voice: Megan Colton, 17, a senior at Rancho Learning Center (Arcadia), and Christian Tyler Dorey, 17, a senior at California School of the Arts – San Gabriel Valley (Duarte);
- Classical Instrumental: Fengyang Ju (oboe), 16, a junior at Colburn Music Academy (Los Angeles), and Daniel Bae (violin), 18, a senior at IQ Academy California (Simi Valley); and
- Jazz Instrumental: Santiago Lopez (saxophone), 18, a senior at Los Alamitos High School (Los Alamitos), and JJ Lybbert (drums), 16, a sophomore at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (Los Angeles).
“Each year, we are astonished by the level of talent we see come through the Spotlight program, and this year is no exception. We truly believe these students are stars in the making and are proud to have contributed to the development of their artistry and confidence as aspiring performers and young adults,” said Rachel S. Moore president and CEO of The Music Center. “The Spotlight Grand Finale is a chance for the finalists to shine before a large audience and we’re very grateful to all of the Spotlight sponsors and benefactors who believe as we do in providing the opportunity and access for students to explore their craft and cultivate their artistic abilities.”
Two local students are the finalists in the Jazz Instrumental category. After advancing to the semifinals, Los Alamitos High student Santiago Lopez expressed how much he was learning. Lopez said that he felt good about the audition process after having plenty of time to practice over the past year. He also added that he is excited to learn more in the next phase.
“I hope to gain information from the judges to make me a better player. The judges always give a feedback letter that is always helpful,” Lopez said prior to the finals.
Lopez and Lybbert will both be part of the Grand Finale performance.
“Spotlight is a tight knit family and community where the adults support the participants, and the kids themselves root and pull for each other. Performing in front of others and being critiqued, especially by highly recognized experts, is not an easy thing to do, but we create a nurturing and empowering environment for kids to believe in themselves, because we believe in them,” added Jeri Gaile, director of The Music Center’s Spotlight program. “Josh Groban made a special appearance in last year’s virtual Grand Finale performance, and we’re thrilled to have him host the show this year. We know it means a lot to the kids to see Spotlight alumni come back to support the program, and he sets the perfect example that dreams really can come true.”
In addition to the Grand Prize Finalists, The Music Center also named an Honorable Mention in each category, awarding each student with a $1,000 scholarship. The Honorable Mentions include: Acting: Kaylah Copeland, 17, Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (Los Angeles); Ballet: Chase Rogers, 16, San Juan Hills High School (San Juan Capistrano); Dance: Francine Mae Peji, 17, Valencia High School (Valencia); Classical Voice: Kevin Corrigan, 17, Woodbridge High School (Irvine); Non-Classical Voice: Akira Sky, 17, Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (Los Angeles); Classical Instrumental: Allison Park (violin), 18, Harvard-Westlake Upper School (Studio City); and Jazz Instrumental: Declan Houlihan (vibraphone), 18, Hamilton High School (Los Angeles). The Music Center’s Spotlight program awards more than $100,000 in cash scholarships annually.
An important part of The Music Center’s fundamental support for arts learning, Spotlight is a TMC Arts program that offers valuable performance opportunities, audition experiences and mentorship, plus technical and artistic insights taught by professional artists and arts administrators. Spotlight is completely free with no financial barriers for participants, which gives equal footing to all aspiring artists no matter their talent level. This year, nearly 1,500 teens auditioned for the prestigious program, representing more than 275 schools, 194 cities and eight counties. All Spotlight applicants receive written feedback from distinguished panels of judges following each audition round to help students improve and gain knowledge in their particular performance discipline. Since its launch in 1988, Spotlight has transformed the lives of 51,000 high school students from Santa Barbara to San Diego by being more than just a competition.
Spotlight provides students the opportunity to develop their performance abilities, receive valuable college preparedness skills and gain confidence to pursue their dreams in the performing arts. Through a supportive environment, students also develop important life skills, including building self?esteem, preparation and perseverance, that benefit the participants beyond the stage.
Numerous Spotlight participants have gone on to successful professional careers. Twenty-three finalists are Presidential Scholars, and many more have joined or performed with professional companies including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, Metropolitan Opera, LA Opera, Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, among others. They include Misty Copeland, who made history in the dance world as the first African American principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre; Adam Lambert and Josh Groban, GRAMMY®-nominated recording artists; Kris Bowers, Emmy® Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated composer whose work includes the scores for Bridgerton, Green Book and Dear White People; Lindsay Mendez, Tony Award® winner for her role in the Broadway revival of Carousel and now starring in CBS’s television drama All Rise; Erin Mackey, star of Broadway’s Wicked, Sondheim on Sondheim, Anything Goes, Chaplin, and Amazing Grace; Matthew Rushing, associate artistic director for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Yao Guang Zhai, associate principal clarinet of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Gerald Clayton, GRAMMY® Award-winning jazz recording artist; and many others.
The Music Center’s Spotlight Virtual Grand Finale is sponsored by Terri and Jerry Kohl. Major support for The Music Center’s Spotlight program is provided by Helen and Peter Bing, Terri and Jerry Kohl, Dr. Martin Balser, Marie Song and an anonymous donor. This year’s Spotlight co-chairs are Pamela and Dennis Beck and Terri and Jerry Kohl. Fredric Roberts is founding chairman of Spotlight. The late Walter E. Grauman is the creator.
For more information about The Music Center’s Spotlight program, visit musiccenter.org/spotlight or join the conversation on facebook.com/MusicCenterSpotlight/.