Han Xiao “Helen” Lai, an 11th-grade classical music student at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, is one of 111 semifinalists in the Los Angeles Music Center’s 2016 Spotlight Awards. More than 1,100 performing arts students from Southern California auditioned. This year’s semifinalists come from Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties.
The Music Center program, now in its 28th year, invites Southern California high school performing arts students to audition for this nationally-acclaimed scholarship and arts training program. Helen, a pianist, is one of 15 semifinalists in the classical instrumental division and the only Idyllwild Arts semifinalist. She is a native of Shenzhen, China, and studies piano privately with Nelms McKelvain in Palm Springs.
A diminutive and soft-spoken young woman, Helen can be mistaken for years younger than her chronological age of 17 — that is, until she plays. When she plays, her technique, strength and mastery of her instrument, along with her natural grace and beauty, transform her into a mature and seasoned professional.
Only eight Riverside County students are semifinalists in this year’s competition. Semifinalists receive opportunities to attend master classes with highly regarded professionals who discuss performance techniques, training and the demands of careers in the performing arts. Students also receive feedback on their performances.
Each semifinalist then auditions for a new panel of judges who select the top two finalists in each of the seven categories — acting, ballet, classical instrumental, classical voice, jazz, non-classical voice and non-classical dance.
The 14 grand prize finalists, along with one honorable mention student in each category, will perform at Walt Disney Concert Hall in the spotlight grand finale performance on June 11, 2016. Grand prize finalists in each category receive $5,000 scholarships, with one honorable mention in each category receiving $1,000. All semifinalists receive $300.
“The Music Center is committed to helping all students gain outstanding arts learning experiences,” said Rachel Moore, president and CEO of The Music Center. “In this case [with the Spotlight Awards], we are not only helping students advance their journey as they explore their professional goals, but also offering them experiences, coaching and feedback to develop the critically important life skills that help them achieve success.”
Past Spotlight finalists include Misty Copeland, the first African-American principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre in New York; pop recording artists Adam Lambert and Josh Groban; Erin Mackey, Broadway veteran of “Wicked,” “Anything Goes,” “Chaplin” and “Amazing Grace”; Yao Guan Zhai, associate principal clarinet with the Toronto Symphony; and Gerald Clayton, Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist and recording artist.
For more about The Music Center’s Spotlight program, visit www.musiccenter.org/spotlight. For more about Idyllwild Arts, including student junior and senior recital schedules, visit www.idyllwildarts.org.