Say, they can sing!

They came with music in their hearts and lyrics on their lips.

An audition pool of nearly 50 hopefuls from across Orange and Los Angeles counties and the Inland Empire has now been whittled to four.

The finalists of the Pacific Symphony production "OC Can You Sing?" know that it's almost time for a victor to emerge.

Nearing the end of its second run, this is a competition for amateur singers over the age of 18 who filmed themselves singing and submitted video clips between October and November. An initial screening by a panel of Pacific Symphony judges reduced the group to 15 performers, who were invited to Segerstrom Hall for an audition Dec. 15. Public voting ensued between Dec. 17 and Jan. 23.

With nearly 1,500 votes spread almost evenly among the four singers, Richard Kaufman, the principal Pops conductor for Pacific Symphony, decided to send the entire group to the next round. At 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, each finalist, accompanied by an approximately 80-piece orchestra, will belt out Broadway hits during the first half of Pops concerts, which will later star sax star Kenny G. Voters will cast ballots for their favorite, the results of which will be revealed Feb. 18.

Once crowned, the winner will sing a solo spot in an upcoming Pops concert.

The Daily Pilot invited Brooke deRosa, 33, a Burbank-based singer and composer; Monty Linton, 44, of Tustin, a member of the Men Alive Chorus; Amanda Strader, 27, a tutor from Dana Point who enjoys singing show tunes and opera; and Grant Yosenick, an 18-year-old USC music student from Laguna Niguel, to chat about the journey thus far.

Excerpts from those interviews follow.

Why singing? What does it mean to you?

Yosenick: For me, singing has been a way to express myself and channel my energy. Not being very athletic, singing has been my passion and it's given me a voice, an avenue to freely explore my real ability within the arts.

Strader: I think singing is something you have to take personally and enjoy yourself before you share it with others. When you think about instruments, pianos, violins, clarinets and whatnot, they have keys, and you're reading a sequence of notes, playing keys at a very specific time, and there's expression within your air. But your voice is you, your body and your air — it's all you.

Linton: Singing, for me, was something that came naturally, so I didn't have to study it. I stood out compared to the average person, so I took that avenue and it got me into a lot of fun experiences. [I've] been able to travel and meet a lot of interesting people.

DeRosa: I was a really awkward and unpopular person, and singing, for me, no matter what I was singing, was an opportunity to be some other character. I suppose I saw it as an escape from my life and was able to go into the shoes of somebody else for a while.

Who's your all-time music idol, and why?

Yosenick: Even though I haven't heard a ton of his music, Andrea Bocelli has been an inspiration to me. I was born with a chronic visual disability and so was he, but from that he rose to such heights, and his voice is just phenomenal, of course. God gave him this great voice, and he was able to use it to move people.

Strader: I have a series of favorites, but as a musical performer, I think Celine Dion is the current superstar diva. Her show in Vegas is something else, production value aside. She sings a couple numbers in French, and I don't speak French, but when she ends up in tears, I'm in tears right there with her. To suck somebody in that deep when they have no clue what's going on is an immense talent.

Linton: I admire Linda Eder because she is kind of a normal person. She is just like everybody else — she wears plaid shirts and seems like she would grab a beer with you after a show. She always seems to be amazed that the songs are coming out of her mouth. I admire Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand and others too, but they seem so out of reach, whereas Linda Eder seems reachable.

DeRosa: It's a tough one, but I would have to say Julie Andrews. I love her classical and Disney music. She's been in films, consistently worked very, very hard and has had an extremely long career, and that's something any singer should strive for.

Who or what inspired you to sign up for "OC Can You Sing?"

Yosenick: My girlfriend's mother suggested I sign up for the contest. One day I received an email from her saying, "Oh, Grant should enter this because he's 18 and he qualifies." And now I'm here.

Strader: I was in this competition two years ago, which is what inspired me to do it again. It was the most incredible feeling.

Linton: I came and saw it when everybody sang, and I thought it was cool. I got an email from Pacific Symphony and decided to do it.

DeRosa: I actually saw the ad on Lauris List and wasn't going to send anything because I'm in this terrible world where opera people think I do too many musicals to do opera, and musical people think I do too many operas to do musicals. But I looked at the repertoire and all the songs were great soprano songs that I've sung before, and so I thought, "Ah, why not!"

What song did you sing for your audition?

Yosenick: "Bring Him Home," from "Les Misérables."

Strader: "I Dreamed A Dream," from "Les Misérables."

Linton: "This Is The Moment," from "Jekyll and Hyde."

DeRosa: "If I Loved You," from "Carousel."

What was the most nerve-wracking moment of the competition thus far?

Yosenick: The afternoon after the live auditions. It was a day of hopeful anticipation and wondering if I was or wasn't going to make it. I felt good about my audition, but there was one moment in the song where, it wasn't terribly obvious, you can hear a subtle voice crack. The rest of the song was perfect, but I was really nervous if that was going to blow it for me.

Strader: I have sung for Richard before and was nervous to do so again. I didn't know what his expectations of me were going to be — was it that I needed to be better than I was two years ago, or had I done something maybe stupidly, or was it a habit that he didn't like? But then how could I change a habit if I don't know whether or not he likes it?

Linton: The audition was the most nerve-wracking of nerve-wracking moments. My leg shakes every now and then and I don't know why, because I'm not as nervous as it would indicate I would be, and then I get nervous about the leg shaking, about not being nervous. So in my head I'm thinking, "It's going fine, I'm singing the way I want to be," and then your leg starts shaking and then your focus goes to that.

DeRosa: I don't know what planet I was living on that day, but I didn't realize that Lisa Vroman would be in the audition, and I've seen her on Broadway in "Phantom" and I've got great respect for her. As soon as I walked in, I went, "Oh my God, I have to do this in front of another soprano who's amazing," so that was my freak-out moment.

Who have you turned to for support during the competition?

Yosenick: My girlfriend's mom recommended this competition to me, and she helped me make my tape and get everything together. And of course, there's my family who I love and adore, and my girlfriend. Not to put myself down here, but I can be a nervous wreck sometimes, so their support means a lot.

Strader: My family is very different than Grant's — they think that music is a waste of time, money, effort. So I have a network of friends who love music, who I've met through the business and by doing community theater. When you find people who love music just as much as you do, they become your support group.

Linton: Facebook has supported me, and my kids. If you want the truth, you go to a child — I have a 12- and 14-year-old, and when I ask them if something sounded OK, they would say, "No."

DeRosa: All my family is on the East Coast, but [I rely on] my mom, sister and dog Dobby, who I talk to about my day and he seems sympathetic to my plight. And then my colleagues and singer friends are just always pulling for me.

What's your biggest takeaway from this experience?

Yosenick: The real prize is sort of yet to come, but for me this was the first competition I have done on my own. I really have made this competition my own — it's kind of my brainchild. I've gone for it and really been self-motivated, and the exposure is great — it's a good introduction to what the real world is like.

Strader: We all kind of felt like the greatest takeaway would be the 14th, 15th and 16th, which is yet to come. But win or lose that round, the greatest feeling is going to be onstage for us, I think.

Linton: My biggest takeaway is that I should do more stuff like this. I guess I've been really hard on myself. I know I'm not the best singer out there, so I tend not to do anything at all, or stay in a choir or in the background. But I've realized that I can get out there and do more such stuff. It doesn't have to be the greatest thing ever — it's just something to do and enjoy.

DeRosa: Winning would be the biggest takeaway, but I already feel like I've won a lot already. I'm going to get to coach with Lisa Vroman, who I'm a big fan of, I'm going to sing under Richard's baton, and I'm going to sing one of my favorite songs with an 80-piece orchestra to — give or take — 1,800 people. I'm taking that away and very happy with it.

What would victory on this platform mean to you?

Yosenick: It would be a really big achievement for you, especially considering that I'm the youngest one of the group here. It would show that I could do this whole music thing on a professional level. We're all winners here in the sense that we're getting this opportunity. But if I was to win the competition, it would prove to me that I can make it in this industry.

Strader: I think that by winning this and getting to come back and sing in the Fall Pops concert, it would validate that I haven't wasted that time on music that my family thinks I have, that it's not just in my head, and people actually enjoy and want to hear me sing. It's a huge investment when you're working against your family. Everybody tells you to do whatever makes you happy. This really does make me happy. Winning would just really help me self-confidence-wise. It feels good already — victory would just be that next level of great.

Linton: Winning would mean that I can do more of this.

DeRosa: I'm at the stage where a lot of people say that I'm too old, so it would be a huge validation. We spend so much money on lessons, coaching, shoes, auditions, copying music, buying books — I really don't know if people understand how much blood, sweat and tears goes into this.

What is your dream role?

Yosenick: I was Jean Valjean from "Les Miserables" in my high school production, so I've already kind of had my dream role. But, I mean, every role is different, and you can't really compare contemporary music to that which was written in the '40s and '50s. That said, on a musical level, I really admire what Tony in "West Side Story" gets to sing, and from a character standpoint, I like the role of the Russian in the musical, "Chess."

Strader: I think there are some great roles being written, some modern musicals being written. If I were to go to New York right now, being heavier, there are character roles that are phenomenal: I love Paulette in "Legally Blond." In a perfect world, "Wicked" would be wonderful, but it's not necessarily unique. I was thrilled with Jason Robert Brown's "The Last Five Years" — it was a great role for me vocally and a great show. To do that on a bigger stage for a longer run would be ideal at the moment.

Linton: I don't have a dream role because there is a bunch of stuff that I'd like to do. My other problem with picking one is that there isn't a single role in which every song is perfect. Maybe Ryan Seacrest's job.

DeRosa: Hands down, and by a long shot, Christine Daaé in "Phantom of the Opera."

What advice would you offer to other amateur singers considering taking the plunge on this type of contest?

Yosenick: Go for it. If you really want to do this and singing is what you love, go out there and try to make your dreams come true. It's like they say, "Do what you love, and love what you do."

Strader: Yeah, go for it. The worst thing that can happen is they will say, "No." I mean, really, there is no harm or foul. You have to be willing to put yourself out there, but if you want to do it, do it.

Twitter: @RMahbubani

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