Putting Pasco County’s Talented Youth Center Stage
History of Spotlight on Talent
The Spotlight on Talent Competition began in 1983 as a production of the newly formed Heritage Arts Center Association. It began under the leadership of Sally Blackwood who envisioned an arts organization that would encourage the development of budding young and talented students in the performing arts. Producers through the years were Susan Noblitt, Linda Whitman, and Barbara Friedman. As the competition expanded, Associate Producers joined the team – Alicia Polk Guanio, Rebecca Friedman Groomes, Michael Roberts, Faith Pridmore and Laurel Weightman. The 2023 Executive Producer is Barbara Friedman with Associate Producer Team of Laurel Weightman, Michelle Twitmyer, Michael Roberts and Lauretta Brown. The first several years, the contest was held at the Dade City fairgrounds during the county fair. As it grew, it was held at the high school gym, and then for many years at the Pasco Middle School Auditorium.
The success of Spotlight on Talent has been astounding to the community. The experience for the students is joyful and each year the opportunity to perform builds their confidence. In time it became quite clear that the event needed to take place at a first-rate facility – not only for the audiences, but for the talent. Nineteen years ago, Spotlight was first held and now continues to be held at the Center for the Arts at Wesley Chapel High School.
Because of the large number and the quality of applicants over the years, Spotlight now has two shows. The preliminary tryouts are in early spring when we audition from 150 to over 200 students onstage during a very long day. Contestants come from all over Pasco, as well as other communities in the west central Florida area. Most recently more than 40 different schools were represented and 100 acts, solos and groups participated in the preliminaries. They were judged by a panel of five paid professionals, each an expert in the many types of musical performances. The judges give each contestant their critique which includes complimenting their strengths and giving valuable suggestions for future development. Those receiving top scores are named a finalist. They then have the opportunity to perform onstage in front of an appreciative audience of hundreds and are again judged by another panel of five experts.
In addition to over $4,000 in cash prizes, trophies and ribbons given in different age categories, a $1,000 Pasco Heritage Scholarship to the talented graduating senior from Pasco County is given for the student who receives the highest judges’ scores from both the auditions and finals.
This entire project is a huge undertaking and production costs are now over $16,000. Some of the costs are covered by entrance fees and ticket prices (which we try to keep low for the sake of families). As you can appreciate, support from the community is vital to make it all possible. We have levels of sponsorship from $50 to $500 or more with benefits for each level. Check it out on the “Support” tab.
Because the audition and performance experience is just what is needed for serious students of the arts to move forward, it is not surprising that the accomplishments of former Spotlight on Talent performers is exceptional. Many have attended college on dance or music scholarships and gone on to perform professionally – even on Broadway and television, making a career of their talent. Heritage Arts Center Association is proud of these young people and appreciates the positive and creative work that they produce.
It is also exciting to see how the competition has come “full circle,” with Spotlight alums who were annual contestants now in positions of responsibility for the production. Some are Associate Producers and others volunteer each year to support Spotlight on Talent. Through the generosity of time, talent, and financial resources from our sponsors and volunteers, Spotlight is made possible. Together we are able to change lives and for many children provide special awards and recognition for their hard work in developing their talents.
This uplifting and exciting day of entertainment is one of the highlights of the year for our community, and many gifted young people eagerly look forward each spring for a chance to shine! It is indeed a rewarding event for all – sponsors, audience, producers, and performers.