By ERIKA MARTIN | Reporter
In front of an audience of more than 200 people, Palisadians Evan Epstein and Casey Longstreet won the titles of Mr. and Miss Palisades at the 2016 Mr. & Miss Palisades Teen Contest on Wednesday, May 18 at Palisades Charter High School.
The winners each received a $1,000 Cathie Wishnick Scholarship Fund scholarship, a year of free food at Palisades Garden Café and the opportunity to ride with Station 69 in the Fourth of July parade.
Runners-up were Connor Smith and Emma Sims of Pali High.
“The feeling is indescribable,” said Brentwood School sophomore Epstein as his nerves thawed following his win.
Adding to his list of titles in the Palisades, Epstein was also First Baby of the Year in 2000.
Longstreet echoed his sentiment. “It’s really exciting and I definitely had an amazing time doing it,” said the Pali High student. “It’s really cool to be able to say I’m Miss Palisades.”
Both honorees celebrated by going home to confront their homework.
A total of 13 teens participated in the contest designed to celebrate the character, achievements and talents of young people in the Palisades. Friends, family and community members gathered for the event in Mercer Hall, which had been transformed by Events by Fabulous into a youthful, club-like setting with light displays, mirrored tables and plush couches.
The event kicked off with a captivating a cappella performance by AcaPali, a vocal group composed of Pali High students and led by the school’s performing arts teacher, Joshua Elson. The singers, including outgoing 2015 Miss Palisades Danika Masi, wowed the crowed with unaccompanied renditions of “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5 and Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On.”
“I know a couple of the girls performing and it’s always fun to watch community members,” said Maude Tipton, a Pali High sophomore and AcaPali member. “This event brings the community together, and you can watch talented kids from your neighborhood who you maybe didn’t know could do that.”
“We are thrilled to be here tonight to celebrate the teens in our community,” said Frances Sharpe, editor-in-chief of the Palisadian-Post, which presented the event with the Pacific Palisades Chamber of Commerce.
Palisadian Lee Calvert, who has been attending the Teen Contest every year for more than a decade, said the event presents a rare chance to experience the town’s young talent before students move on to bigger opportunities.
“There’s a lot of talent in the Palisades. It’s very unique,” she said. “I love seeing young people get involved in the community, and seeing them before they become who they’re going to be.”
Event host Daniel Gottesman, Mr. Palisades 2015, introduced judges Pamela Ann Magee, executive director and principal of Pali High, producer/actress Denise Crosby, Nadine Zylstra of YouTube Originals, Scott Gibson of Gibson International Realty, Matthew Unger of Lexus Santa Monica and 1983 Miss Palisades contestant and winner of Miss Congeniality Pamela Lynn Tayler.
Janet Han, a Pali High sophomore who was recently crowned Miss Beach Cities Outstanding Teen 2016, was on hand to present the winners and expressed her appreciation for the opportunities created by the competition.
“The scholarship really helps out a lot of students,” Han told the Post. “I think it’s cool we have something like this on our campus. It gives students an opportunity to get out there that they might not have otherwise.”
During the talent portion of the evening, winner Epstein stunned the crowd with an emotive and powerful rendition of Franz Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz” on piano. Epstein, who has been playing for 12 years, later said that hard work and fundamentals have been the keys to his success.
Winner Longstreet commanded the stage with a lyrical, contemporary dance performance choreographed to Lana Del Rey’s “Old Money.”
Runner-up Smith gave the audience a change of pace with his woodworking presentation. Smith has been woodworking since the age of 12 and displayed some of his creations, including a canoe, skateboard and skis he used himself on a High Sierra excursion.
Runner-up Sims dazzled the crowd with a collection of her photography, featuring thoughtful and polished shots sharing her unique perspective of life in the Palisades. She has already spun her talent into a job at teen clothing company Brandy Melville.
Jack Berglas shared a presentation on his YouTube channel, “Talk Automotive,” through which he has jockeyed his passion for cars into a media venture that has allowed him to interview the likes of famed racer Mario Andretti and hobnob with the creators of the new Bentley Bentayga.
Pali High junior Sophia Eberlein and Campbell Hall senior Jackson Hamm both impressed with original compositions they performed with guitar and vocals.
Post junior reporter and Pali High sophomore Morgan Singer displayed her larger-than-life stage presence with a series of three monologues. She later said the backstage camaraderie was just as big a part of the experience as the competition itself.
“I love performing because I’m an actress, but also the people who I was performing with were so nice and it was fun to hang out with them backstage,” Singer gushed.
Daniel Allen, who goes to Pali High, brought the audience to the edge of its seats with a video demonstrating his martial arts skills that ended with a live battle between him and one of his martial arts students.
Katie Duke, a Pali High freshman, closed the show with a stirring performance of Jean-Baptiste Accolay’s Concert No. 1 in A Minor on the violin.
“I was really a nervous wreck backstage but I think once I actually got out there it felt natural to me,” she said. “The Palisades is a great community and everyone’s really nice together, so everyone was really supportive.”
Other contestants sang, played instruments or even demonstrated vegan cooking.
Voting was based both on the judges’ evaluation of contestants’ character, talent, communication and overall presentation as well as audience votes submitted via text. Scott Groza of Groza Learning Center served as the score tabulator.
Fancy Feet Dance Studio performed for the audience and 2015 Mr. and Miss Palisades Gottesman and Masi gave their final farewell before Chamber Executive Director Arnie Wishnick and Ramis Sadrieh, a former Mr. Palisades and founder of Technology For You!, took the stage to commend the teens for their bravery and share their admiration for the range of talent displayed.
Before and after the event, audience members enjoyed cappuccinos, café lattes and more courtesy of Urban Espresso and nibbled on cookies from Bake Sale Palisades, a Palisadian-owned business.