Six IA Spotlight Semi-finalists

Li-An Tsai, an IA semi-finalist

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Out of the thousands of Southern California students who entered the Music Center Spotlight Awards this year, six Idyllwild Arts students have made it to the semifinals. Besides an opportunity to win thousands in scholarship money, Spotlight winners are also invited to summer music festivals, meet influential people and perform before large audiences. In short, it’s a big deal.

For more than two decades, the Spotlight Awards have been providing meaningful recognition, encouragement and advancement for high school students studying music and visual arts. The categories include: ballet, non-classical dance, classical voice, non-classical voice, classical instrumental, jazz instrumental, photography and two-dimensional art.

The six Idyllwild Arts semi-finalists for 2010 include: Martin Peh, Ru Guo “William” Wang and Shen Liu, classical instrumental; Caleb Hensinger, jazz instrumental; Kayla Tuggle, non-classical dance; and Li-An Tsai, for two-dimensional art. Some, like the dancers were eliminated earlier, while the four music students will find out if they made the finals today, Saturday, March 13.

Caleb Hensinger, jazz semi-finalist

“I’m happy, but it’s hard when you’re up against your best friends,” said Martin Peh, who plays the violin. His friends, William and Shen, both play the clarinet, and are just as stoic.

When William was congratulated recently, he smiled and looked down. “He’s happy, but he’s holding back his emotions,” said his girlfriend, Ai-Ching Huang, an Idyllwild Arts violist.

Last year, two Idyllwild Arts students made it to the Spotlight Finals: Tian-Peng “Timmy” Yu, a sophomore pianist, who won his classical instrumental category and Samuel Chan, a junior, who took second place in classical voice.

Timmy, who won his category, agreed that it could be nerve wrecking. “When they announced the two finalists (from the classical instrumental category) last year, they put us all in the same room,” he said. “Everyone was looking at me. It was kind of awkward.”

“But when you’re one of the two finalists, you’re already won,” Timmy added. For first place in the classical instrumental, he earned a $5,000 scholarship, while Samuel got a $4,000 scholarship. They both have been invited to attend the Aspen Summer Music Program this summer on scholarship.

Timmy Yu beams as Spotlight Winner 2009

Timmy said it was exciting to be a finalist. “A Hollywood director takes a video of you, and you get to talk to the media,” he said.

At last year’s Spotlight Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in LA, many Idyllwild Arts students and faculty showed up to support Timmy and Samuel. The short videos depicted their life at Idyllwild Arts with interviews with their music teachers, family and friends. It’s a memento they will treasure for a lifetime, Timmy said, and was later posted on You Tube for all to see.

After the videos were shown, each of the finalists got to perform before the large audience at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

“I can’t wait to find out who made the finals this year,” said Samuel. “I want to pass on the torch.”

There were no Idyllwild Arts students in Sam’s classical voice category, but one visual artist made it to the Spotlight semi-finals this year, Li-An Tsai. She said her small watercolor depicts two people listening to music, she said.

When she received her congratulatory letter this year, Li-An didn’t celebrate for at least two hours. She had entered the Spotlight Awards last year and got a rejection letter. She was sure it was the same thing, but she waited to show her roommate, Geneva Winters, just to be sure.

“She knows English better than I do, and she said that I made it,” Li-An said. By making the semi-finals, Li-An also received $500 towards summer arts classes.

As part of the Spotlight semi-finals process, Li-An was invited to the Bergamot Station Arts Center in Santa Monica with the other finalists from the 2-D art and photography categories on March 6. For two hours, she and her IA friend, Sana Liu, toured four galleries, and talked about art with their sponsor.

“He asked us questions like, ‘What message do you want others to walk away with?’” Li-An said. “It makes you think about what you want your art to say to people.”

Li-An & Sana Touring Galleries

On March 20, Li-An will know if she made the Spotlight Finals at a gala the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, in which they’ll showcase all of the arts student’s entries.

“When I told my mom that I made it to the Spotlight Semi-finals, she said, ‘Oh good!’” added Li-An. “I don’t think she knows what an honor it is yet.”

For more information on the Music Center Spotlight Awards, visit

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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