‘American Idol,’ humbug. Music Center’s Spotlight Awards have the real goods

This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

‘American Idol’ may have the ratings, but when it comes to talent competitions staged at prominent Los Angeles venues, the Music Center’s Spotlight Awards for Southern California high school singers, instrumentalists, dancers and visual artists are an early warning system for incoming creative talent.

Sixteen winners and runners-up (out of 2,315 applicants) received their honors in ceremonies Saturday at the Ahmanson Theatre.

Yes, ‘Idol’ had Fantasia Barrino, Jennifer Hudson and Kelly Clarkson.

But Spotlight had Liang Wang, Michelle Kim and Matthew Rushing. They are, respectively, principal oboist of the New York Philharmonic, assistant concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic and longtime dancer for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. We’ll let readers debate which contest’s alumni might rank higher in terms of performing chops, if not celebrity. Well, you say, ‘Idol’ had Adam Lambert.


But Spotlight had him first.

That’s his picture from the 2000 Spotlight Awards -- nine years before Simon Cowell and company lauded his later incarnation as a glam-rocker-by-way-of-musical-theater. And just like on ‘Idol,’ Lambert, then of Mt. Carmel High School in San Diego, came in second at the Spotlight Awards. The winner that year in the non-classical voice category was Lindsay Mendez of Orange County High School of the Arts. She appeared in the 2007 Broadway revival of ‘Grease’ -- and opens Thursday night on Broadway as one of the three performers playing opposite Sherie Rene Scott in her autobiographical musical, ‘Everyday Rapture.’

As far as judging, who are you going to trust as arbiters of creative talent: Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul/Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi applying an ethos that harangues contenders to ‘be more commercial,’ as if that had anything to do with ability and creativity? Or a contest whose most recent judges included actress/playwright Charlayne Woodard (pictured), A-list jazz bassist Alphonso Johnson, Los Angeles Philharmonic concertmaster Martin Chalifour and Mac Davis, the country singer-songwriter who wrote Elvis Presley’s hit, ‘In the Ghetto’?

By the way, for the Adam Lambert fans among you asking ‘Lindsay who?’ -- the judges who picked her over Adam Lambert were Hal David, Lainie Kazan and the late Peter Matz, arranger-conductor of Barbra Streisand’s career-launching early albums.

‘Idol’ and Spotlight achieved another common note this year: Choreographer Nigel Lythgoe, who produced ‘American Idol’ and its British precursor, ‘Pop Idol,’ before branching off to launch ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ was one of the judges in Spotlight’s non-classical dance category.

With all that in mind, here are the young performers, artists and photographers who took home Spotlight Awards over the weekend -- $5,000 scholarships for the winners, $4,000 for the runners-up. It won’t be that big a surprise if you hear and see more from some of them.

Non-classical dance: Scott Myrick, Esperanza High School; Justin Duke, Susan H. Nelson High School.

Ballet: Natalie Krakirian, Options for Youth Charter Schools; Emily Entingh, San Clemente High School.

Classical instrumental: Tim Callobre, Polytechnic High School; Eleanor Dunbar, Gorman Learning Center.

Jazz instrumental: Chase Morrin, Canyon Crest Academy; Andrew Freedman, Los Angeles High School for the Arts.

Non-classical voice: Kyle Selig, Huntington Beach High School’s Academy for the Performing Arts; Rachel Eskenazi-Gold, Crossroads School.

Classical voice: Johnathan Ryan McCullough, Notre Dame High School; Emily Ruth Dyer, Valley Christian High School.

Two-dimensional art: Jennifer Chen-Su Huang, Orange County High School of the Arts; Alexis Sinchongco, Orange County High School of the Arts.

Photography: Benito Rojas, Central Los Angeles High School No. 9; Brenna Collins, John Burroughs High School.

--Mike Boehm

For the record: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Liang Wang is New York Philharmonic assistant concertmaster and Michelle Kim is principal oboist. Wang is principal oboist; Kim is assistant concertmaster. (4:00 p.m., April 29)

Related stories:

Adam Lambert: Before he was an American Idol