Meet the Talent

The 2019 Pacific Palisades Teen Talent Contest is shaping up to be a great show—featuring new and returning talent. Here is a look at those who have thrown their hat into the ring.

Julia Abbott | Color Guard/Dance Routine

A freshman at Pali High, Julia Abbott enjoys playing piano, gardening, skiing, dancing, running, and participating in the school’s band, color guard, marching band and academic decathlon team.

Abbott has been a member of CJSF for three years and has won the Fair Yashar Academic Excellence Award, Perfect AEE Award, and departmental awards in English, history, and physical education.

“I also enjoy volunteering with literacy programs for children, which I’ve been doing for five years,” Abbott shared. “I’ve been working with different gardening outreach programs since the third grade, including one here at Pali, and community and school gardens.”

Sienna Arnopole | Dancing

Sienna Arnopole, a sophomore at Pali High, dances every day after school at her home for a couple of hours.

“I am a self-taught dancer,” she explained. “I have been dancing for three years now. I also post dance videos on my Instagram.”

When Arnopole was rejected from the Pali High dance team, she used it as an opportunity for learning and growth. She is now in third period dance, which is her favorite part of her odd days.

“In third grade, I tried out for my school’s talent show,” Arnopole explained. “I had created my own choreography to the song ‘Fireflies’ by Owl City.”

Camila Archer | Singing

Camila Archer, a sophomore at Pali High, splits her time up between choir, Theater for Chance, Friday Night Lights and the BSU showcase.

“I write and produce my own music,” Archer explained, adding that she has gained more than 300,000 followers on an app that allows her to post her singing and comedy videos. “My videos have gone viral in the past, and I have just released my first single.”

When not performing, Archer volunteers at Petco and spent a summer fostering kittens.

Hunter Barnett | Singing/Dancing

Hunter Barnett shared that she is always doing something with the arts—including taking three ADV electives within the performing arts: dance, drama and choir. She participates in all of the school musicals, which require daily rehearsals, followed by dance class for one to three hours.

“The arts have changed my life,” Barnett said. “Since I was a young girl I have always had this fire that fueled me to explore my capabilities, and since then, I have discovered so much about myself and how my work can change things in other people.”

Barnett, a member of the Fancy Feet Performance Group and Pali’s Concert Choir, has participated in many community performances.

Juliet Burks Singing

Juliet Burks, a junior at Pali High, is president and founder of the Knit for the Needy Club—a community service organization in which members knit baby hats and sweaters for St. Johns Hospital. Burks is also a part of Envirothon, an environmental science competition club, and Concert Choir as a soprano.

Burks has been involved in several productions at the Morgan Wixson Theatre, which is a nonprofit organization that puts on book-based shows for elementary school children to promote reading.

“In addition, I spend Fridays volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club in Santa Monica, where I will soon begin teaching a knitting class,” Burks added.

Milly Hopkins | Writing/Performance

Pali High sophomore Milly Hopkins loves theater and performing, and is a part of “Friday Night Lights” as well as all of the musicals on the main stage. Hopkins is also president of HeforShe, a club for feminism and activism on women’s issues.

“I have Type One Diabetes, which is a debilitating chronic illness that affects hundreds of thousands of children—and later adults—around the world,” Hopkins explained. “I’ve struggled with a very tumultuous journey with my body, and have become an activist and speaker for research and affordable care for this condition.”

Hopkins shared that community service is one of her most important values—she works with the Alexandria House and raises funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Planned Parenthood and more.

Nadia Ghanem Singing

Fourteen-year-old Nadia Ghanem is a freshman at Pali High, competing in the Teen Talent Contest for the first time. Her extracurricular activities include volleyball.


Makena Gichuru Singing

Sixteen-year-old Pali High sophomore Makena Gichuru has been a member of the school’s girls golf team for the past two years. She graduated from Paul Revere with five awards in 2017, including the Five Semester Honor Roll, AEE, History and President’s Award for Educational Excellence.

“An interesting fact about me is that I am half Kenyan,” Gichuru explained. “My mom is an immigrant from Kenya and most of my family on her side lives in Kenya.”

Gichuru, a member of the Mindfulness Messengers club, plans to move back to Kenya with her family for her 11th year of school so that she can travel and learn about Kenyan culture.

Samantha Guzman Singing

When she is not practicing singing, Pali High sophomore Samantha Guzman participates in color guard and this year’s musical production at Pali High, “Chicago.”

“Color guard is not commonly known but it’s basically the visual part of the marching band,” Guzman explained. “We have our own season second semester that is called winter guard.”

Guzman shared that she loves to perform music and that she was on the honor roll during her freshman year at Pali High. She explained that color guard has helped shape who she is today: “a hard-working person, a much better dancer and a much better performer.”

Her volunteer work includes time at a public library and tutoring students at Pali Elementary.

Nikki Johnson Singing

Nikki Johnson, a junior at Pali High, serves as historian for a community service club on campus.

“I take pictures of our events and run the social media page to keep all members up to date,” Johnson explained.

When Johnson is not at school, she is riding horses and working on a cattle ranch. This is the second year in a row Johnson, who performed a cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” in 2018, has applied for the Teen Contest to show off her singing skills.

Mk Mitchell Singing

“I absolutely adore anything pertaining to the arts—music, dance, writing, photography, sculpture, painting, film production—I love it all,” Pali High sophomore Mk Mitchell explained. “I’m also a sugar addict, I love baking so much and even cooking in general.”

Mitchell, a self-described Lego nerd, wants to study aerospace engineering in college, with the goal of one day becoming an astronaut and making it to space like her hero, Mae Jemison.

Mitchell is also a proud member of Girl Scout Troop 1535 since the fourth grade, which has allowed her to donate various necessities to communities, raise money for charity and provide a space for other young ladies to teach them life skills. Her troop additionally volunteers time doing beach cleanups and serving breakfast at a local church every other Sunday.

Savannah Newell | Singing

When not singing, Savannah Newell wrestles on the Pali High team.

“When I grow up, I want to become famous so I can donate and help others in need, and I just have so many ambitions and things I want to do,” Newell explained.

Newell helps feed homeless people and animals where she lives—the inner city/South LA. “There is so much work to be done there and I really want to start my journey helping out around where I live,” Newell added.

Diana Ovod Improvising Songs

Originally from Moscow, Diana Ovod moved to the U.S. with her family about a year-and-a-half ago after living in Germany for a year.

Immersing herself in Pali High, Ovod is performing in the school musical this semester as a member of pit choir and is also participating in dance class where students teach their own dances.

“I practice my piano and learn new pieces by myself for the past two years after graduating from a music school,” Ovod explained. “I am trying to not forget German by practicing it and some other languages online.”

Matthew Polovinchik Piano

Matthew Polovinchik returns to the 2019 Teen Talent Contest as a sophomore at Pali High.

“Classical music is my passion and everything I do,” Polovinchik explained. “I have been playing classical piano for about nine years. I listen to classical music every single day and practice piano from one to three hours a day.”

Polovinchik has an advanced level Certificate of Merit, was a winner of the regional Southern California Junior Bach Festival and achieved a 5 on the AP Music Theory exam.

Polovinchick also enjoys skiing and table tennis.

Mellese Simmons Singing

Pali High sophomore Mellese Simmons “loves to draw and write and video games are a must.” For volunteer time, Simmons cleans a church every Saturday and used to help out at a local library.

Simmons does not participate in extracurricular activities, as she is focused more on her studies.

Sydney Small | Singing

Sydney Small, who attends Pali High, has been doing musical theater ever since she was in kindergarten. Small explained that music is her passion, which brought her to Pali.

The junior serves as president of Women’s Choir and she participates in two musicals per year. In addition, Small is also involved in youth and government, and an ambassador for Pali.

“I love Pali and I couldn’t ask for anything better than to represent my school,” Small shared.

Last year, Small took the stage to perform Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You,” accompanied by Zach Eastland.

Ariel Tan | Singing/Songwriting

Ariel Tan is a returning contestant who wowed the audience with a performance of her original piece “Velvet” in 2018. Tan, now a senior at Pali High, is a member of the school’s theater improv group and serves as co-president of Arts of Color, a club that raises money for underprivileged students to have access to the arts.

“When people tell me that my lyrics moved them, it makes me feel like I have a purpose and that I can create positive change,” the songwriter shared. Tan is also a journalist for Global Girl Media, a feminist journalism program.

Chelsea Trotti Singing

In her first year at Pali High, Chelsea Trotti is very active in the theatre department, including a performance in last fall’s “Sister Act.” She is currently working on the school’s spring musical, “Chicago,” and a member of the choir program, practicing her skills inside and outside of school.

Trotti is a member of Pali High’s Theatre for Change, a community service club that has put on a few showcases and plans to have more.

Trotti will perform a duet with her friend, SummerAnne Wadleigh.

SummerAnne Wadleigh | Singing

SummerAnne Wadleigh, a freshman at Pali High, is gearing up to perform a duet with Chelsea Trotti as part of the 2019 Teen Talent Contest.

An active member in the theater department and choir, Wadleigh also plays the ukulele, piano and writes original songs from time to time. She visits senior centers and teaches improv, as well as visiting preschools to play theater-based games with the kids.

Wadleigh played a role in the Pali High fall musical, “Sister Act,” and has a role in the current production, “Chicago.”

Alexis Westland | Shuffling

After a one-year break, Alexis Westland is returning to the Teen Talent Contest as a senior. Westland participated in the 2017 show with a video showing off her sailing skills: This year, she has a new talent.

Westland has participated in Pali High’s Model UN team for all four years of high school, as well as running on the cross-country team, competitively sailing and running a small photography business.

“I taught myself to dance after 14 years without dance lessons over the last couple months, practicing whenever I have a free moment,” Westland added.

Westland also volunteers with National Charity League and The Boys and Girls Club.

Lisa Vandenheuvel | Singing

Pali High sophomore Lisa Vandenheuvel “loves to sing and go to the beach.” She also goes to the gym every week.

Vandenheuvel shared that she used to do guitar and piano recitals.

“I volunteer every winter break to help give food to those who need it during the holidays,” she explained. “On the weekends, I volunteer to watch little kids. I am part of a community service proud called Kiwanis.”

Romy Van Roosbroeck | Piano/Singing

Romy Van Roosbroeck shared that her extracurricular activities mostly consist of playing tennis for the Pali school tennis team, as well as horse riding on Sundays. Van Roosbroeck takes piano and singing lessons throughout the week.

“I grew up on a tropical island in Indonesia throughout most of my childhood,” Van Roosbroeck shared. “I lived in Bali for about eight years and there, I had the opportunity to participate in Balinese cultural traditions.”

In Bali, Van Roosbroeck did weekly beach cleanups and was a part of the Bye Bye Plastic Bags organization, which had a goal of freeing Balinese villages of plastic. In LA, Van Roosbroeck volunteers at a horse rescue center in Chino Hills where she participates in fundraisers and care for abused horses.

Alyssa Velky | Mountain Biking/Filmmaking

Alyssa Velky, from the Pali High mountain biking team, bikes around 10 hours per week and attends races with her teammates in their interscholastic race. Velky placed 13th place in the State Championships for mountain biking last year, and placed second for juniors for the first mountain biking race she participated in this year.

In eighth grade, Velky took home the Presidential Award for Academic Excellence, and has since won four awards in high school for perfect attendance/academic achievement.

The junior also spends time volunteering at the LA Guinea Pig Rescue, where she watches them to make sure they are safe, fed and cleaned up after.

Julia von Goetz Performing Arts

Julia von Goetz, a freshman at Pali High, is a first-time contender in the 2019 Teen Talent Contest. Von Goetz is a member of drumline in addition to playing double bass in the school’s symphony orchestra, which takes place during zero period.

“I am not the best at music or school work, or anything in particular, but I am special because I put my all into everything I do,” von Goetz shared. “When the normal student at my school spends six hours here on a normal Monday spring semester, I am here for 12 hours. I take pride in my dedication.”

Von Goetz has more than 50 hours of community service from last semester alone, spending time volunteering at Pali Elementary and Spooktacular.

Shelbe Zanders | Singing

Pali High senior Shelbe Zanders is vice president of the Black Student Union and participates in several on-campus programs, including Peer Meditation, Justice League, AcaPali and VAPA.

“I was the lead of the fall musical ‘Sister Act’ as Deloris Van Cartier,” Zanders explained. “I am currently participating in the spring musical ‘Chicago’ as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton.”

Zanders has been singing and acting since she was 7 years old, and has been dancing since 2. For the past three years, Zanders has been the head basketball manager for Pali’s freshman/sophomore, junior varsity and varsity basketball teams, attending practices every day after school to fill water bottles, file paperwork, assist the coaches and more.