Students from CdM and H.B. among finalists in Music Center program

Three Orange County students are moving on to the semifinal round of The Music Center's 29th annual Spotlight Program in Los Angeles.

Fourteen finalists selected will win a $5,000 scholarship and a space in the highly regarded program's final performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in May.

Emily Eckert, 15, of Corona del Mar High School will perform Saturday for a spot as a finalist; Eila Neuroth, 18, of Pacific Coast High School in Tustin will audition March 25; and Adrian Villegas, 18, of the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts will perform his semifinal audition April 9.

They are among thousands of students who applied by submitting video auditions. Only 111 students were selected as semifinalists in ballet, acting, non-classical dance, non-classical voice, classical instrumental and jazz instrumental.

The Spotlight Program is known for jump-starting the careers of notable performers, including Misty Copeland, the first African American ballerina to become a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre.

The program also offers students an opportunity to work in master classes with experienced instructors who critique and help improve the artists.

The three O.C. semifinalists raved about the program, saying it has helped them grow as performers.

Eckert, who auditioned in 2016, is making her second attempt to make it past the semifinals. She credits her newly honed ballet skills, which helped improve her expertise in contemporary dance, the category in which she qualified.

Gymnastics and varsity track also paid off.

"It's so crazy to think I've made it this far," Eckert said. "I held back last year, but now I've fully immersed myself in it."

If she were to make it as a finalist, she would save the scholarship money in hopes of one day joining a Los Angeles or San Francisco ballet company, she said.

Neuroth, who qualified in ballet, said the program "helped me make connections with my characters and pushed me to be more in touch with my art."

Neuroth, who graduated early from high school, dances for Orange County's Festival Ballet Theatre.

Villegas, whose performing-arts teacher encouraged him to apply for the program, qualified in non-classical voice. He will perform a song each from "Kinky Boots" and "Violet."

Villegas hasn't been singing as long as many of the semifinalists but said he has gained confidence in his artistic abilities.

"They've given me so much support," Villegas said. "I now think of what and why I'm singing. I think about what it means to give an honest performance."

If he were to be a finalist in the competition, Villegas said, he would save the scholarship money toward his goal of attending New York University.

Finalists earn $5,000 each in scholarships. An honorable mention in each category garners $1,000. Semifinalists earn $300 and those who show promise $100.

The grand finale performance will be May 23 at the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

priscella.vega@latimes.com

Twitter: @VegaPriscella

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