By JENNIKA INGRAM and SARAH SHMERLING
With Safer at Home orders in place, the Palisadian-Post shifted the Pacific Palisades Teen Talent Contest from spring to summer with a virtual show in 2020—with 16 talented students in eighth through 12th grade vying for two winning spots.
After calculating a community vote and judge ballots filled out by Marissa Hermer, Ted McGinley and Bill Skinner, Palisades Charter High School students Jack Essner and Rose Sutton were announced the winners of this year’s contest, representing a long-honored tradition in the community.
This year, students who live or go to school in the Palisades between the ages of 15 and 18 submitted videos of their talents plus a completed application detailing their achievements and commitment to community service.
The contest, sponsored in part by the Pacific Palisades Optimist Club, is designed to seek motivated youth who are leaders, creators, artists, inventors and volunteers who are socially engaged in the community.
The two selected winners are awarded a cash prize, free food from Palisades Garden Cafe, a feature in the Post, and accolades from friends and the community all year long.
“It feels amazing,” Essner, 17, shared when he got the news he was selected as one of the two contest winners. “I was a little nervous because I had seen all the other contestants and I knew that everyone else was very, very talented.”
Essner believed he had an edge because he was able to show-off multiple talents in his video submission. He shared that he put a lot of work into his video—including filming with masks and social distance in mind during the pandemic.
His submission was a short film titled “The Necklace,” which allowed Essner to highlight his acting, singing and filmmaking.
Essner said he is looking forward to applying to performing arts programs for college, taking a look at schools on the East Coast in particular.
In order to keep up with his craft despite the pandemic, Essner participated in a summer intensive two-week performing arts program, Southeastern Summer Theater Institute run by Ben Wolfe, and has been taking Zoom acting classes online each week with his teacher, Amy Ruskin with the Ruskin School of Acting.
This year, Essner directed a varsity division scene for Pali High at the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California that won fifth place out of approximately 60 schools. He’s also been on the academic honor roll for the past three years.
“This feels honestly amazing,” Sutton, 18, shared when she received the news. “I’m honestly so happy.”
Sutton, a filmmaker who just finished her senior year at Pali High, said that winning feels like an honor to all of the hard work she put in during the course of high school. Her talent submission was a music video for the song “Hunger.”
She shared that she has grown in a lot of ways through programming at the school, which she described as unmatched. She attributed some of her growth to teacher Nancy Fracchiolla.
Sutton recently wrapped a project completed with social distancing measures, which included dancers sending her footage that was shot in their own homes. She said that she has been busy painting, taking photos and playing piano.
The Teen Contest has grown and changed over the years, beginning as Miss Palisades in 1959. In 1990, it evolved to add a both a young man and woman to represent the teens in the community as Mr. and Miss Palisades.
As of 2018, the tradition transformed again into a Teen Talent Contest by eliminating the gender selection to create a youth contest without gender boundaries.
And now, in 2020, to adapt to the pandemic, the contest went virtual for the first time in its history. The virtual talent show accepted entries until July 17, and voting took place until July 31.
This year overflowed with talented individuals, including Barrett Eastman who was set to sing during the Pacific Palisades Baseball Association’s Opening Day in March until COVID-19 concerns indefinitely postponed the season.
The multi-talented Michael Francoeur showed he not only has piano and harmonica skills, but he sang along at the same time in a performance of “Piano Man.”
Savannah Scott, who attends Pacifica Christian High School, shared that she began dancing and singing at a very young age, and went on to perform in a plethora of school plays and musicals. She volunteers at her church’s youth group and leads religious discussions, as well as other volunteer pursuits to help the community.
Pali High rising sophomore Sierra Sugarman dazzled with a performance of “Prelude in C-Sharp Minor” by Rachmaninoff on the piano. She passed level 8 of the Certificate of Merit last February where she received branch and statewide honors, and has placed in prestigious competitions.
What is typically an in-person event, held on the Pali High campus for the past few years, these talented teenagers had to think outside of the box and showcase their skills without the support of an audience and describe the role they are playing to promote unity within our community in a virtual setting.
Each contestant rose to the occasion, creating a memorable and enthralling 2020 show.
For those who missed meeting the contestants and watching video submissions of their talents, visit palipost.com to catch up.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.