Mary Grace Langhorne has the happy face of a 12-year-old girl, the voice of a 30-year-old blues singer, and the resilience and outlook of a 40 year old. She’s one of ten finalists this year in Joe Lambert’s Teen Star talent competition, happening tomorrow night at The Granada. The “American Idol”-style show features ten teens (and two alternatives) from Santa Barbara County, performing together and individually in front of celebrity judges, a packed audience of family, friends and supporters, and an ever-increasing internet audience.
Last year’s competition (its third annual) was a much larger event than previous years. It sold out The Granada and the winner, Allie Nixon was awarded a $1,000 scholarship, a chance to record at Santa Barbara Sound Design, and since then she’s had radio and TV appearances, as well as opportunities to appear at various entertainment events around the country.
It was a long two days at Santa Barbara High School this weekend as judges weighed in on the wealth of young talent auditioning for the Teen Star singing competition. Around 70 students from seventh to 12th grade tried out for the coveted February performance at the Granada.
Add to that the 20 seen on Thursday in the North County auditions, and that’s a lot of singers to experience. But as of 8 p.m. Sunday, the 10 finalists (and two alternates) were announced.
The winners, in no particular order are: Jason Paras (Dos Pueblos High, 12th grade); Karlie Mack (San Marcos High, 12th grade); Zoe Burritt (Cabrillo High, 10th grade); Nathaniel Neumann (Dos Pueblos High, 11th grade), Grant Bower (Santa Barbara High, 10th grade); Mary-Grace Langhorne (Goleta Valley Junior High, seventh grade); Brandi Rose Lentini (Santa Barbara High, ninth grade); Luana Psaros (Dos Pueblos High, 11th grade); Sulema Mejia (Pioneer Valley High, 12th grade); and Dylan Ortega (Santa Ynez Valley High, 10th grade). Two alternates also were chosen. They are Olivia Huffman (Solvang School, eighth grade) and Sydney Shalhoob (La Colina Junior High, eighth grade).
‘Jason Mraz was very popular,” said Joe Lambert. Teen Star’s executive director, of the song choices made by the contestants. ‘As was Christina Aguilera and Maroon 5. What was surprising was that we got two songs from ‘Frozen’ which only just came out in theaters.”
The panel of judges was the same from Thursday. Doing the honors were singer-songwriter Patti Castillo, KTYD’s Lin Aubuchon and the News-Press’ own Don Katich, director of news operations. To make sure the judges keep their ears fresh and unbiased, Erik Stein, casting director of PCPA at Allan Hancock College, came in after the contestants had been whittled down to 20, and he gave them all a fresh listen.
Contacted by phone, the finalists were relaxing Sunday night.
Jason Paras auditioned with Michael Buble’s ‘I Haven’t Met You Yet” a selection he felt really matched his own personality and the way he feels. ‘It really portrays who I am and also, I just really love singing.” He wasn’t nervous, he says, because this February will mark his return performance at the Granada – he was a finalist last year, too.
‘Don’t sing songs you think other people want to hear you sing,” he advised. ‘Just focus on delivering the best performance you can so you’re happy with what you do.” Mr. Paras has his sights on being a singer-songwriter, but at the moment he’s also the editor-in-chief of Dos Pueblos’ newspaper and plays water polo.
Zoe Burritt got her chance to sing two country songs in her audition, and that’s good because she wants to head in that direction in her career. This Lompoc resident sings every chance she gets at various events, including local fairs, and this is her third time auditioning and her first to earn her a final spot. She chose ‘Blown Away” by Carrie Underwood (who Zoe’s dad says she bears a vocal resemblance to) and ‘Tim McGraw” by Taylor Swift.
‘These songs are a good match for me, and I can sing them really well, she says.” Miss Burritt has recently picked up guitar and piano, and said that she’s not too worried about her stage presence, but ‘I need to work on my vocal strength,” a tip she picked up from her three years auditioning.
‘It was more comfortable this year,” said Nathaniel Neumann, who was also a finalist last year. ‘There was a lot less stress and a lot more fun.”
Mr. Neumann auditioned with Phillip Phillips’ ‘Drive Me,” a singer who won 2012’s American Idol.
‘The panel is very attentive to you being stressed out and nervous,” he said. ‘So they mention before the audition that they’re there for you to succeed and not make you feel pressured, or if I don’t make it I’m not a good singer. They want you to win. If you don’t make it they’ll give you pointers and tell you they’ll see you next year!”
Twenty aspiring teen singers arrived ready to belt it out in the first round of auditions for this year’s Teen Star competition Thursday at Santa Maria’s Pioneer Valley High School.
The popular event drew singers from seventh to 12th grades. The contestants sang a cappella in front of a panel of judges, including singer-songwriter Patti Castillo, KTYD’s Lin Aubuchon, and Don Katich, director of news operations at the News-Press.
Five years in, Santa Barbara County’s Teen Star talent competition keeps rising. Joe Lambert’s nonprofit has gone from a small show at Santa Barbara High School to a major event at the Granada Theatre, and the winners have gone on to recording contracts and industry interest.
As thanks to the media and to announce this year’s competition, Teen Star threw a music-filled press conference Tuesday night at Santa Barbara Sound Design on Haley Street, the studio owned by Dom Camardella that has recorded Depeche Mode, Ottmar Liebert and Olivia-Newton John, among others.