Meet the 2018 Teen Talent Contest Winners



“I want to be an artist who can really speak to people,” Valentina Silardi said on a phone call with the Palisadian-Post. It’s fitting that she seems remarkably good at translating elements of her own life and expressing them musically.

Her winning song, “Filtered Fatality,” is a perfect example, as it proves that we can all rise above nasty judgment—particularly the kind that lurks in the schoolyard. Before attending Palisades Charter High School, Silardi was a student at Topanga Mountain School. She emphasized how jarring it was to go from a school of 40 kids to a classroom of 40 kids. There was suddenly pressure to be pretty and perfect … 100 percent of the time.

Social media perpetuates that. “It’s a vicious cycle of posed fun,” Silardi said, wise beyond her 15 years. For this reason, she doesn’t follow any “inspirational” figures on Instagram.

After experiencing a bout of insecurity, Silardi realized that the first person she must impress is herself. Her song demonstrates that it’s critically important to be true to oneself, and such truth will be rewarding in the end.

With the help of music teacher Shevy Smith, Silardi is currently recording five original songs. Her goal with the project is to express ideas and themes people can relate to, and the tentative album title is “Real.” Many of the tracks will strike a personal note, such as her dual citizenship between the United States and Italy.

Silardi is the first to admit that she has lived a privileged life, complete with world travel and supportive parents, though she is keen to take a gap year after high school and visit intriguing corners of the world like Africa, Jamaica and Cuba. It makes sense that one of her favorite school subjects is history. “I like learning about what came before us,” she said.

For another burst of inventiveness, Silardi loves creative writing. In fact, that’s how she often picks up new words to incorporate into her song lyrics. “Animosity” was a recent addition.

Her school friends would describe her as “approachable, accepting of everything, pretty loud and not afraid to be up front with my opinions.” They are actually quite ideal characteristics for someone pursuing a career in entertainment.

Silardi’s life really is all about the music. She listens to every genre except country and favors songs with significance. The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley and The Beatles are all in her iTunes playlist. At the time of this interview, the last song Silardi listened to was “Lover Boy” by Thai folk singer Phum Viphurit. And she can’t get enough of Sam Smith.

Silardi falls asleep to the soft sounds of Kodaline, an Irish indie band. She experienced her first concert just three months ago: Rex Orange County. (He’s a young British recording artist who we should all apparently know).

When quizzed about the artist whom Silardi wouldn’t mind being for a day, she responded quickly: “Birdy.” (While the Post prides itself on being hip and in the know, we had to Google this person.) Birdy is the moniker of British musician Jasmine Lucilla Elizabeth Jennifer van den Bogaerde, a 22-year-old pop singer already on her third studio album. Silardi’s reasoning for desiring Birdy’s shoes is that she’s a well-rounded person who writes her own music. Both Birdy and Silardi play piano and write songs that are meaningful and challenge others to consider the world around them.

The best thing about being a teenager, according to Silardi, is having the freedom to learn, make mistakes and learn from her mistakes. In her spare time, she enjoys another creative outlet: drawing. “I draw eyes. If you look into someone’s eyes, you can see so many different colors.”

She loves playing volleyball, which she has been doing since sixth grade. Silardi also runs twice a week. “We spend so much time in the classroom, running helps me think and get outside and see things.”

While there’s no need for college plans just yet, Silardi expressed interest in continuing her education after high school. She’d also like to attend a music school and learn about theory. Her musical project will be ready at the end of the summer.


“Don’t interrupt Steely Dan!” That was a rule in Taylor Schonbuch’s house, enforced by her father who understood the importance of music appreciation. He would sing lullaby versions of the Metallica songbook to her as she slept and quiz her on how many instruments she could identify in a piece of music. Musical enthusiasm gushed so spectacularly from both parents (who are lawyers) that they named Taylor after James Taylor and her brother Dylan after Bob Dylan.

Schonbuch was brought up on classic rock, including Led Zeppelin, Guns & Roses, Janis Joplin and especially Heart (with Palisadian guitarist Nancy Wilson). At age 5, Schonbuch wrote her first song. “It was about Johnny Depp buying lipstick for his wife,” she told the Palisadian-Post.

She has seen Heart live in concert multiple times, looks up to Ann Wilson as a vocal trailblazer and learned how to sing their track “Barracuda” while participating in a School of Rock program as a preteen.

Schonbuch’s current music is about self-empowerment and strength. “I like to start in a darker place, but the end message is always: ‘Get up and do it again.’” The song she performed at the Teen Talent Contest was “Little Old Me,” which expresses the need to let go of one’s inhibitions. “It’s a reminder to myself, in a way,” Schonbuch said.

She has experienced anxieties over performing well in school and doing the right thing all the time, and recognizes how important it is to relax and gain perspective. She said she seeks an emotional connection in the music she consumes and is committed to providing one in the music she makes.

Schonbuch is in the midst of recording songs with producer Shea Welsh. She has written hundreds of songs written since she was 10, but only five she is proud of. They tell stories merging observation and imagination. One such track is called “Momma,” about a character that has sacrificed everything to be in a relationship. Another song is called “Forgive Me,” about a woman in a fight with her significant other. The last line is, “And now I’ve won.” Schonbuch described her music as having a rock and blues-y element.

It was a rough transition when Schonbuch moved from Crossroads School to Pali High for ninth grade. “But then I found jazz band and concert choir.” She also found a rotation of six songs that lifted her spirits: “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain, “Second Chance” by Shinedown, “Mercy” by Dave Matthews, “Gravity” by John Mayer, “Not Over You” by Gavin DeGraw and “Baby, I Love Your Way” by Peter Frampton and Chris Kimsey. They remain on her Spotify shuffle playlist.

During Schonbuch’s tenure with School of Rock, she was fortunate enough to perform alongside one of her idols, Jackson Browne, at the Troubadour. She also performed at a Battle of the Bands Summer Fest show in Milwaukee.

“My biggest thrills in life are live performances.” She also loves musical theatre, having been cast as Annie with her local theater company at age 7. She went on to play Rusty in “Footloose,” Ilse in “Spring Awakening” and a jazz singer in “The Great Gatsby” at Pali High.

If Schonbuch could be any musician for a day, she would be Robert Plant. “Led Zeppelin IV” is one of her top albums of all time, along with “Eat a Peach” by The Allman Brothers and “Aja” by Steely Dan. She devours music by soul/R&B singer Alan Stone. His song “Unaware” is one of her favorites. “I look up to him songwriting-wise, because he doesn’t follow the traditional pop format,” Schonbuch said.

At school, Schonbuch said she enjoys AP History, especially the Renaissance period. She has studied Spanish, Latin and Italian at various points during her education. It all comes down to a fascination with words. “People call me the human dictionary,” she said. It may help when she travels to her ancestral lands of France, Germany, Russia and Italy.

Asked what the best thing about being a teen is, Schonbuch said, “I’ve got my whole life ahead of me … anything could happen.” Indeed, anything could.

Just don’t interrupt the music.