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The Music Center selects 112 semifinalists for 33rd annual ‘Spotlight’ program

'Spotlight' participants receive detailed feedback during Mastery Classes. Photo courtesy of The Music Center.
'Spotlight' participants receive detailed feedback during Mastery Classes. Photo courtesy of The Music Center.

Following two rounds of virtual auditions, The Music Center has selected 112 of southern California’s most talented high school students as semifinalists in The Music Center’s 33rd annual Spotlight program, a free nationally acclaimed arts training and scholarship program for teens. 

'Spotlight' dance semifinalists.
‘Spotlight’ dance semifinalists.

A TMC Arts program, Spotlight offers valuable performance opportunities, audition experiences and mentorship, plus technical and artistic insights taught by professional artists and arts administrators, and awards more than $100,000 in scholarships each year. TMC Arts re-imagined the program’s offerings to be entirely digital and COVID safe for the 2020-21 year. The Music Center named 16 semifinalists in each of seven categories — acting, ballet, dance, classical voice, non-classical voice, classical instrumental and jazz instrumental. This year, nearly 1,500 teens representing more than 275 schools, 194 cities and eight counties auditioned for the prestigious program. 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. An important part of The Music Center’s fundamental support for arts learning, the program 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. 

Notable Spotlight alumni include Tony Award winner Lindsay Mendez, American Ballet Theatre (ABT) Principal dancer Misty Copeland, Emmy Award-winning composer Kris Bowers, and major recording artists Josh Groban and Adam Lambert, among many others. Recent Spotlight finalists appeared as guest performers during Groban’s first livestream holiday concert in December 2020, which was viewed by an international audience.

'Spotlight' semifinalists attend mastery classes with industry experts to advance their skills. Photo courtesy of The Music Center.
‘Spotlight’ semifinalists attend
mastery classes with industry experts
to advance their skills.
Photo courtesy of The Music Center.

“While arts learning remains under pressure in school budgets, The Music Center’s Spotlight is a vibrant program that serves an essential need. Spotlight participants receive multiple opportunities to perform in front of professional experts who provide personalized and precise feedback that other free programs just don’t offer,” said Rachel S. Moore, president and CEO of The Music Center. “Spotlight is a year-long journey with a lifetime of benefits for these young students. We’re very proud that our program offers a comprehensive learning experience that nurtures young artists’ aspirations and supports the next generation of performers and arts professionals.” 

Spotlight is completely free with no financial barriers to participate, which gives equal footing to kids looking to make their dreams come true, no matter their talent level,” added Jeri Gaile, director of The Music Center’s Spotlight program. “Each round in the audition process is a little different so the knowledge and connections each participant makes compound, especially as the semifinalists attend mastery classes. Spotlight is very much an exploration of artistic skills and the students’ capacity to grow as individuals. We absolutely love seeing them shine throughout the process and over the years that they participate.”

Spotlight semifinalists have the rare opportunity to attend a special mastery class in their discipline with highly regarded artists, who share their expertise on performance technique, training and professional life. Experts provide students with highly valuable feedback on their performances, offering them a rich learning experience. Each semifinalist will audition virtually again before a new panel of judges, who will then select the top two finalist performers in each category for a total of 14 Grand Prize Finalists. Judges will also name an Honorable Mention in each category. The Grand Prize Finalists will perform in The Music Center’s Spotlight Virtual Grand Finale Performance on May 22, premiering on The Music Center Offstage digital platform at 7pm. 

'Spotlight' ballet semifinalists.
‘Spotlight’ ballet semifinalists.

The Music Center’s Spotlight program awards more than $100,000 in cash scholarships annually. Semifinalists each receive $300. The eventual Grand Prize Finalists will each receive $5,000 scholarships, plus one Honorable Mention in each category will receive $1,000. The Music Center also celebrates five students in each category with the Merit Award, which acknowledges students who inspire the judges by their commitment and dedication to their art form; Spotlight Merit Award recipients each receive $100.

To help students interested in applying to the Spotlight program, The Music Center launched The Spotlight Academy last summer as an episodic series of online videos and tutorials. Designed for young artists, parents and educators, The Spotlight Academy features 15 webisodes that focus on subjects related to applying for the Spotlight program, as well as advice for anyone considering a career in the arts, both on or off stage. The videos provide a deep dive into the program’s seven categories and discuss curated topics featuring alumni and experts in the field, including Superstore actress Carla Renata, opera singer Suzanna Guzmán and New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck, among others.

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, ABT, 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 ABT; Adam Lambert and Josh Groban, pop recording artists; Kris Bowers, Emmy Award-winning 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 Toronto Symphony; Gerald Clayton, GRAMMY Award-winning jazz recording artist; and many others. 

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.

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