Winners Crowned at 2019 Pacific Palisades Teen Talent Contest

14 Contestants Took the Stage to Compete in This Year’s Show

Palisades Charter High School’s Mercer Hall was packed to capacity on Friday, April 12, for the 2019 Pacific Palisades Teen Talent Contest.

Students, parents, siblings, friends and teachers waited in anticipation for the curtains to part, sipping on beverages provided by This Girl Walks Into A Bar, nodding to the music supplied by Special Event Djz, and enjoying bake sale items prepared by Pali High Leadership and snacks courtesy of Hello Honey.

Judges Ted McGinley, Cindy Simon, Andi Wagner and Marissa Hermer took their seats and the show was ready to begin.

This year’s event, also made possible by Arnie Wishnick and the Cathie Wishnick Scholarship Foundation, Ralphs and The Optimist Club Pacific Palisades, began with a performance from Fancy Feet Dance Studio choreographed to MKTO’s hit song “Classic.”

Hosts Pali High senior Cole Suárez and last year’s Teen Talent Contest winner Valentina Silardi smoothly navigated the evening, segueing between performances and introducing contestants.

“I’m thrilled to be here tonight … we’re so excited to celebrate these wildly talented teens from our community,” Silardi said at the event.

“This contest celebrates the character, achievements and talents of young people,” Suárez added.

The hosts: Valentina and Cole

The stakes were high for this year’s contest, with the grand prize of a $1,000 cash scholarship, one year of free food at Palisades Garden Café and tickets to the Renaissance Fair awarded to the top two contestants.

The 14 talented teens who vied for this year’s haul of prizes were each welcomed to the stage to answer a question before beginning their performance.

The first contestants were Romy Van Roosbroeck and Lisa Vandenheuvel who kicked it off with a duet performance of “Shallow” from the Oscar-winning film “A Star is Born.” Van Roosbroeck spoke about her childhood in Bali while Vandenheuvel spoke about her participation in Kiwanis, a community service club that helps feed the needy.

The duo shared great vocal chemistry with Van Roosbroeck impressing on the piano and Vandenheuvel nailing the toughest notes.

Sophomore Mk Mitchell was next to perform, first fielding a question about her interest in aerospace engineering.

“There’s just something about looking up at the night sky that makes me want to go out and learn as much about it as I possibly can,” Mitchell said before breaking into her performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” sung with soulful, golden inflection and hip-swaying choreography.

Freshman Julia von Goetz took the stage next, speaking about her upcoming internship at a high-end fashion company.

“I’m very excited to learn about the process of the internship—how the drawings become actual clothing,” von Goetz said before taking a seat at the piano, stunning the crowd with her performance of “Burn” from hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.”

Junior Alyssa Velky shook things up with a self-directed and edited video about her experience being the only girl on the Pali High mountain biking team.

“It definitely is a male-dominated sport but … I kept at it and I got a lot faster, and I did make it to state championships,” Velky shared. “Now I’m able to keep up with them—sometimes pass them, too.”

Set to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” the footage exhibited Velky’s skill both behind the camera and on her bike.

Sophomore Makena Gichuru followed next, speaking about her plans to visit Kenya to learn more about Kenyan culture.

“I think going somewhere as far and as different as Kenya will be a great learning experience for me and it’ll provide me with an opportunity to … learn new things about myself and my heritage … and give back to my Kenyan community.”

Gichuru’s performance of Daniel Caesar’s “Best Part” was bright and velvety smooth, prompting the audience to sway to its breezy, songbird quality.

Senior Shelbe Zanders was next and spoke about her experience balancing school with being the Pali High basketball team manager.

“The coaches and the team and managers really help me manage everything … home games or away games, I’m able to get it done.”

Zanders sang a rendition of Etta James’ “All I Could Do Was Cry” with a rich, resonant voice that gracefully filled the room and had some audience members crying themselves.

Next up was junior Matthew Polovinchik, a returning contestant who spoke about his commitment to studying and playing classical piano.

“Classical music has always been a part of my life,” Polovinchik said. “Around ninth grade I realized I had a passion for it, so I want to keep that a thing for the rest of my life.”

Polovinchik played the first movement of Edvard Grieg’s “Piano Sonata in E Minor, Opus 7.” A virtuoso talent, his performance was a feat of dexterity, nuance and fervor that delighted the audience.

Junior Hunter Barnett stepped up next, speaking poignantly about her favorite community service experience singing with Pali High’s Concert Choir at the American Legion.

Hunter Barnett

“I always make it a point to look at every face that I’m performing to,” Barnett said. “As I was looking around and looking into the eyes of all these veterans, I was hit with this insane sense of history and knowing that these people have seen so much with the same two eyes that are watching me perform was really special.”

Her commanding performance of Ariana Grande’s “Give It Away” brought down the house, a playful-but-professional combination of her intoxicating voice with an expertly syncopated dance routine full of twists, twirls and taps to rival Grande herself.

Sophomore Mellese Simmons took the stage next and talked about her interest in pursuing a career in the arts.

“I’ve been thinking about being a special effects artist or maybe a writer; I just know that in the future I want to take a more creative route,” Simmons said. Her performance of Danity Kane’s “Stay With Me” was moving, stormy and candid, performed with evident vocal chops.

Junior Juliet Burks followed next and discussed her founding of Knit for the Needy, a community service club at Pali High where members knit baby hats and sweaters for St. John’s Hospital.

“I really wanted to share my love for knitting with everyone else at the school,” Burks said. “What inspires me to keep going is the passion everyone in the club has for knitting and the fact that we’re doing great for our community.”

Burks performed “Someone Like You” from the musical “Jekyll and Hyde,” a breathtaking display of her Broadway-ready voice, which floated from pitch-perfect falsettos down to soothing croons.

Juliet Burks

Next was junior Sydney Small, who spoke about her experience at Teen Line, a crisis hotline for teens, where she logged over 400 hours of community service.

“I basically became a new person,” Small shared. “I improved my listening skills, I improved my communication skills and it was basically life changing.”

Small then, for the second year in a row, broke into a performance of an original song, this time playing “Don’t Tell Me,” a raw, fiery and haunting song composed with sophistication and performed with star-like artistry and candor.

Last but not least was the duet of sophomore Chelsea Trotti and freshman SummerAnne Wadleigh. Trotti spoke about her experience with Theatre for Change, a community service club that performs shows for children and the elderly, and Wadleigh spoke about her passion for musical theater beginning at an early age.

The two performed “Defying Gravity” from the musical “Wicked,” with Wadleigh as Elphaba and Trotti as Glinda, expertly commanding the stage with a performance that would give Menzel and Chenoweth a run for their money.

As the final contestants left the stage, the audience was treated to another dance routine from Fancy Feet while the judges weighed in and the audience choice ballots were totaled.

Though every performance was spectacular—and the decision hard to make—Burks and Barnett were selected as the two 2019 winners.

The crowd erupted as the two received their awards and bouquets courtesy of Serendipity Event and Floral Design Studio.

After the hosts bid farewell to the audience, the performers were swarmed outside Mercer Hall by their adoring fans, all now even more eagerly awaiting next year’s Teen Talent Contest.