Five Burbank Area Students Advance To Spotlight Arts Competition Semifinals

John Burroughs High School senior Sage McNeely performs as a finalist in the Non-Classical Voice category at the 31st Annual Grand Finale Performance of The Music Cetner's Spotlight at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, CA on June 4, 2019. (Photo By John McCoy, Courtesy of The Music Center)

Five Burbank area high school students have advanced to the semifinal round of the popular student arts competition Spotlight, presented by The Music Center, located in downtown Los Angeles.

Three seniors from John Burroughs High School, Aria Gunn, Sophie Pollono and Brooke Bailey, have all advanced to the semifinals for the Non-Classical Voice category. René Harris, a senior from Burbank High School, has also advanced to the Non-Classical Voice semifinals. Junior Akina Bolhuis, a student at the California School of the Arts, San Gabriel Valley, has advanced in the competition in the Jazz Instrumental category.

Brooke Bailey, a John Burroughs High School senior, advances to The Music Center’s Spotlight semifinals. (Photo Courtesy The Music Center)

They join 107 other semi-finalists for the second audition round to be held throughout the month of April. From those auditions, two finalists from each category will be chosen to perform at the annual gala showcase in June. Finalists for each category will be announced in late April.

The Music Center is celebrating 35 years of the Spotlight competition, which recognizes talented high school students in the Southern California region, in several categories: acting, ballet, dance, classical voice, non-classical voice, classical instrumental and jazz instrumental.

The competition is open to Southern California residents in grades 9 -12, with competitors from Santa Barbara to San Diego submitting audition portfolios annually.

The Spotlight program is a free, nationally acclaimed performing arts competition, scholarship and artistic development program for teens, according to The Music Center’s press release. More than 1,300 teens, representing more than 245 schools, 170 cities and eight counties, auditioned for the prestigious program for 2023.

Keilani Akina Bolhuis, a junior at California School of the Arts, San Gabriel Valley, advances to The Music Center’s Spotlight semifinals. (Photo Courtesy The Music Center)

“Spotlight offers Southern California teens expert advice, coaching, auditions and mastery classes taught by professional artists and arts administrators. The program recognizes and rewards participants throughout the competition with more than $100,000 in cash awards following three rounds of auditions. To date, The Music Center has given over $2.7 million in scholarships.”

“All Spotlight applicants receive written feedback from distinguished panels of judges following each audition round to help them improve and gain insight in their performing arts discipline. An initiative of The Music Center’s fundamental support for arts learning, Spotlight provides students with the opportunity to develop and hone their performance abilities, receive crucial college preparedness skills and gain the confidence to pursue their dreams in the performing arts.”

“Through a supportive environment, students also develop vital life skills, including self-esteem, preparation and perseverance, that benefit them beyond the stage.”

“Every year, our Spotlight judges are wowed by the artistic caliber of hundreds of students, and this year is no exception,” said Jeri Gaile, Fredric Roberts director, The Music Center’s Spotlight.

Sophie Pollono, a John Burroughs High School senior, advances to The Music Center’s Spotlight semifinals. (Photo Courtesy The Music Center)

“The Music Center launched this program 35 years ago because we recognized the enormous potential of young artists that deserved to be discovered and uplifted.”

“Spotlight is not only an exploration of students’ artistic skills but also a vessel to help them develop as valuable contributors to the world.”

The Music Center’s Spotlight program awards more than $100,000 in cash scholarships annually. Semifinalists each receive $500. Grand Prize Finalists will each receive $5,000 scholarships; one Honorable Mention in each category will receive $1,000.

The Music Center also celebrates 10 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.

Numerous Spotlight participants have gone on to successful professional careers, according to The Music Center.

Aria Gunn, a John Burroughs High School senior, advances to The Music Center’s Spotlight semifinals. (Photo Courtesy The Music Center)

Nearly two dozen finalists are Presidential Scholars, and many more have joined or performed with professional companies, such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, Metropolitan Opera, LA Opera, Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.

Notable Spotlight alumni 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, 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 from the television drama All Rise.

Rene Harris, a Burbank High School senior, advances to The Music Center’s Spotlight semifinals. (Photo Courtesy The Music Center)

Spotlight alumni also include 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; and Gerald Clayton, GRAMMY® Award-winning jazz recording artist, among numerous others.

The Grand Prize Finalists will perform in The Music Center’s Spotlight Grand Finale on Thursday, June 8, 2023, at 7:00 p.m., at The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

For more information on The Music Center’s Spotlight competition and awards show, visit

Several Burbank area students have been selected as semifinalists and finalists over the 35 years of The Music Center’s Spotlight awards.