“Ev’ry so often a man has a day he can truly call his,” goes a lyric from “Extraordinary,” a song from the musical “Pippin” that Ben Ross performed during a recent audition.
And perhaps his day is coming.
The Santa Monica High School senior was recently named a semifinalist in the Spotlight program, a competitive arts training and scholarship initiative organized by The Music Center.
Ross and fellow Samohi senior Rhenzy Feliz are among the 111 remaining contestants in seven combined categories in the 28th annual edition of Spotlight, which aims to support Southern California teenagers in their pursuit of careers in a variety of performing arts endeavors.
Crossroads School students Julia del Barrio, Anna Yeh, Alec Schulman and Luca Mendoza were also chosen as semifinalists.
Selected from a pool of more than 1,100 talented actors, dancers, singers and musicians, the semifinalists will attend workshops in the coming weeks before returning to the stage for more auditions with the goal of earning a finalist spot and performing at Walt Disney Concert Hall in June.
“With Spotlight, young people have the opportunity to see what it is like to take risks and learn how to prepare for the important transitions in life,” program director Jeri Gaile said in a news release. “While students compete in this program, they are mostly competing with themselves as they build self-esteem and learn how to persevere to achieve their goals.”
The program’s list of past finalists includes premier professionals like Misty Copeland, the first African-American woman to be named principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre. But organizers believe Spotlight is beneficial all students in the competition because they receive constructive feedback from judges and coaching to develop their skills.
“The Music Center is committed to helping all students gain outstanding arts learning experiences, regardless of whether they ultimately become performing arts professionals, and our Spotlight program is an important part of that effort,” Rachel Moore, president and CEO of The Music Center, said in a news release.
For Ross, participation in Spotlight marks the extension of a performing arts career that began when he was a 6-year-old in a children’s musical theater in Culver City.
An entrant in the non-classical voice category, he is hoping to break into the final round after reaching the semifinals last year. He performed “Extraordinary” from “Pippin” and “Something’s Coming” from “West Side Story” for the audition that landed him a spot in this year’s semifinals. He said he feels like he’s on the right track.
“It would be everything to me,” said Ross, who has applied to seven post-secondary theater conservatories. “It would solidify my ambition in this profession. Every year I’ve gotten closer and closer. The first year I didn’t get a call back, but every year I’ve gotten closer.
“Now, as a senior, I feel like if I were to win, it would tell me that I’m doing something right with my craft. I’ve put in so much time into this art. It would tell me that it’s all worthwhile and I should continue with what I’m doing.”
Feliz, a semifinalist in the acting category, said he’s proud of the distinction considering he’s only been involved in acting for a year. Since quitting baseball to pursue his longtime interest in the field, he has performed in Samohi’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” and worked to improve his skills.
Feliz said he was considering several colleges but recently put his education plans on hold because he hired an agent and landed a gig on a television series.
As for the Spotlight competition, he said he only applied after hearing about it from a family friend.
“It’s really surprising to me,” he said of reaching the semifinals. “I’m really grateful.”