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Los Angeles Music Center 'Spotlight Awards' Highlight Teenage Talent

The Los Angeles Music Center features some of the world's top entertainers, and once a year, it also hosts some talented young performers in its Spotlight Awards. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the teenaged singers, musicians, dancers and visual artists who get their chance to appear on stage at the Music Center.

They were part of a competition that started with 2,200 students. That number was winnowed down to just 16 finalists, who appeared at the Music Center in an evening performance hosted by actor Tony Danza.

Athena Sterig, 17 years old, did a lyrical modern dance. She says she is in her own world when she is dancing. "I love being on stage and performing because I feel so free. And it's like time-stopping, and like nobody can touch me. And I just feel so alive," he said.

Sixteen-year-old Bryn Gilbert, who has danced ballet since the age of five, gets the same feeling when she performs. "You just feel like you're in another world and you forget everything and dance for yourself and for everyone watching you and you want to show who you are," she said.

The music uplifted the audience when 17-year-old violinist Rieho Yu played a piece by Bach.

Rieho started playing at age three, and says she loves music because of its power to move people.

Pianist Vijay Venkatesh, 17, played a composition by Rachmaninoff.

Vijay, who says he practices five hours a day, hopes to become a concert pianist.

Caleb Barnes, who is 16, may pursue a career in music education. He says music takes a day-to-day commitment. "Of course, you practice every day, except for sporadic breaks to give your voice a rest. Make sure you have a good warm-up, and then work on your songs," he said. He says practice is hard work, but can also be fun.

Fifteen-year-old Phillip Golub has fun with jazz piano. "I kind of like how it's very much about the performer, not about he composer, and how really you don't know what's coming next. Anything can happen."

Trijean Wilkins started singing gospel as a toddler, and finds creative freedom in jazz vocals.

Eighteen-year-old Kelsey Porter has the same love of music, and wants to share it. "I think when you love something, it's all you do. So I'm the shower singing, I'm in the car singing, I'm always singing. You can never get me to shut up," he said.

Mark Slavkin, vice president for education at the Music Center, says that for the young performers, appearing on stage in this professional venue is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

"The energy in the theater is really palpable. It's unlike any other performance that happens throughout the year at the Music Center. Between the passion of these kids and their friends and family in the audience, it's really a magical experience," he said.

This was the 20th anniversary of the Spotlight Awards, and judges included earlier finalists who have gone on to work and perform professionally with the Los Angeles Opera, the American Ballet Theatre, the Boston Conservatory and in Broadway shows.

These young contestants say that after many years of practice, they love the thrill of the spotlight. They also received cash awards of $5,000 for first-place finishers and $4,000 for the runners-up.