By TRILBY BERESFORD | Reporter
Following a sensational evening of theatrical entertainment, Palisadians Valentina Silardi and Taylor Schonbuch were crowned winners of the 2018 Pacific Palisades Teen Talent Contest on Wednesday, April 25, at Palisades Charter High School.
In previous years, the winners were referred to as Mr. and Miss. Palisades, but as one can see, the name has been updated to reflect current times. The contest also has a new image, as the winners can be of any gender.
In the words of host Adam Toubian, a senior at Pali High, “This contest celebrates the character, achievements and talents of young people.” Contestants between the ages of 14 and 18 participated, their talents ranging from singing, piano, stand-up comedy, to a dynamic piano/violin duet.
The winners each received a $1,000 cash scholarship, tickets to the Renaissance Fair and the nearly sold-out Candytopia, a year of free food at the Palisades Garden Café, and a ride at the Fourth of July parade. To top it all off, a full feature in the Palisadian-Post.
Pali High’s Mercer Hall was full of energy and enthusiasm as students and parents took their seats in anticipation. Disco lights and upbeat tunes by Special Event Djz transformed the space, as well as a wonderfully colorful pop-up shop from Frankie’s on the Park.
Emerging in sequined blue tops, the Fancy Feet Junior Company took to the stage with high energy choreography to kick things off.
Dressed in suit and tie, charismatic Toubian introduced the three judges: Wyatt Bridges of Desert Daze Music Festival and Space Agency Booking, producer, actor and singer Bennett Kogon, and Marki Costello, owner of Creative Management Entertainment Group.
Malibu High School student Elle Baker was up first, performing a cover of “Bright” by Echosmith. During the question and answer portion about community involvement, Baker emphasized her passion for helping others on weekends.
Pali High’s Ariel Tan wowed the audience with an original song called “Velvet.” Tan has been a teen journalist at Global Girl Media, where she conquered her nerves and gained confidence in the supportive environment. “I learned how to speak my truth, and the best way I can do that is through music,” she said in the Q&A. Tan told the Post that she’s an R&B/soul girl all the way.
Pali High brothers David and Aaron Yamin performed a piano/violin duet of “Storm” by Bijan Mortazavi. The audience applause was particularly eager.
Nikki Johnson from Pali High sang “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith. Asked about her experience on a ranch with horses, Johnson said it taught her to be “independent, responsive and responsible.”
Pali High’s classical pianist Kainoa Kanter played “10 Variations on a Theme by Paganini” by Isaac Berkovich, an enormously varied piece of music. At several points he slowed down almost to a stop and the audience started clapping, but then the piece continued humorously and entered a new melodic phase. Speaking to the Post, Kanter explained that his musical pursuit began with violin. The natural next step was piano, which he’s been playing for eight years.
To shake things up, Angel Ogwo from Pali High performed a stand-up comedy routine that began with the sentence, “I’m African. I know you all can’t tell because I look healthy.” In the next few minutes, he shared tales of his trip to Nigeria to bury his grandma, admitting the difficulty in being around coffins. This story was keenly observed, and of course, treated with humor.
For another vocal number, Pali High’s Shaday Diaz sang the well known “I am Telling You” from the musical “Dream Girls.” Diaz has traveled with the National Children’s Chorus and wants to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Madyson Barnett from Louisville High School had something different in store for us. Her talent is filmmaking, and she showed a video inspired by the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, earlier this year. In reference to the 17 students and staff members who died, Barnett’s video suggested that an alternative to protesting against gun violence is making friends with 17 new people. She interviewed many students about what their “17” is, and then asked the audience to go home and come up with their own.
Dressed in an eye-catching red blazer, white pants and red sneakers, Pali High’s Jordan Washington sang “Lay Me Down” by Sam Smith. He gained confidence as the performance went on, working the stage like a pro.
Channeling her inner Alicia Keys, Pali High’s Sydney Small performed “If I Ain’t Got You” with musical accompanist, Zach Eastland. She has been in 16 musicals and appeared very comfortable on stage. Quizzed about how she manages her many extracurricular activities, Small explained that she’s extremely organized and prepares a schedule each week. A future CEO, perhaps?
Pali High winner Silardi dazzled with a self-penned song called “Filtered Fatality.” “I have always been a bit insecure, and this song is about finding inner strength,” Silardi shared with the Post. She expressed frustration with the internet age, how it can be so difficult to find a voice among the sea of personalities and images.
No talent contest is complete without some Michael Jackson, and Pali High’s Sarah Mousavi took it upon herself to channel the King of Pop. Before a word escaped her lips, the audience shouted, “Go Sarah!” And the enthusiasm kept on building, ending in wild and exuberant applause, hurrahs and cheers that brought down the house.
For a second installment of classical piano, Pali High’s Matthew Polovinchik performed Chopin Etude Opus 10 Number 12 “Revolutionary.” A versatile pianist, he recently branched out by playing piano for the musical “Footloose” at the school.
Closing the evening, winner Schonbuch performed an original song called “Little Old Me.” Speaking to the Post, she shared that the song is about letting go of inhibitions. “I like to write songs about love and loss, and I like to add an element of self-empowerment so that people feel empowered when they listen to my songs,” she said during the Q&A portion. Later on, Schonbuch shared her musical tastes with the Post, citing ’80s rock, electro-pop and blues among her favorites. She practices her craft every single day.
As the ballot forms were counted, Fancy Feet Senior Company performed three choreographed dances, including a show stopping, fast-paced mash-up of Britney Spears songs.
Tropical mocktails were provided by This Girl Walks Into A Bar, complementing a delicious snack table from Hello Honey. Flowers throughout the festive hall were provided by Serendipity.
Behind the scenes, Cheri Smith generously volunteered her time to see that a flawless show was put together, along with the help from students of Pali High’s leadership class.
With the results in hand, Post Editor-in-Chief John Harlow and Managing Editor Sarah Shmerling joined all the contestants on stage to announce the winners. “In some ways we don’t have to announce the winners, because you’re all winners,” Harlow said. Shmerling added, “You’re all amazing, so thank you for sharing your gifts with us.”
There may have only been two official winners, but audience members felt every participant should pat themselves on the back. Not only was there a glittering array of talent and style, but, perhaps even more importantly, an enthusiastic audience who enjoyed a night to remember.