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Magnificat’s Calista Zajac wins fifth annual Shining Star CLE

Posted August 30, 2021 in Articles


Calista Zajac, a junior at Magnificat High School in Rocky River, won Shining Star CLE’s fifth annual singing competition Aug. 29 with her rendition of “Being Alive” from the musical, “Company.”

Calista and nine other Northeast Ohio high school students competed virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic for a chance to win the grand prize of a $10,000 college scholarship, $2,500 for their school’s music department and an opportunity to perform with the Cleveland Pops Orchestra at Severance Hall in Cleveland.

The competition served as an opportunity for Menorah Park in Beachwood, the producer of the event, to fundraise, perform community outreach and engage youth in Menorah Park and Montefiore’s memory care work. This year’s competition raised over $430,000 for Menorah Park’s memory care services, the evening’s host, WKYC senior health correspondent and Cleveland Jewish News health columnist Monica Robins, announced near the end of the event.

Calista started her three-year journey with Shining Star CLE as a freshman. She finished fourth in her first year in 2019 and then third as a sophomore in 2020. With the phrase “the third time’s the charm” in her favor, Calista finally scored the coveted first-place award.

“Shining Star has meant so much to me over these years,” Calista said in between tears upon discovering her competition win. “I’ve learned so much from Montefiore. ... They’re just an amazing organization, and they’ve really helped me so much. ... Just being able to be a part of this for the past three years has been insane.”

Olivia Nelson, a senior at Chardon High School, placed second and earned a $5,000 college scholarship.

Alexandra Newman, a freshman at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, earned third place and received a $2,500 college scholarship.

Emelia Aceto, a junior at Highland High School in Medina, earned fourth place and was awarded a $1,000 college scholarship.

The final four contestants were decided upon by the event’s judges: Jim Brickman, an award-winning songwriter and pianist formerly of Shaker Heights; Rashad V. Chambers, the founder and president of Esquire Entertainment; Telly Leung, an actor, singer and songwriter; Trisha O’Brien, a contemporary jazz singer from Cleveland; Carl Topilow, founder and music director of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra; and Gina M. Vernaci, president and CEO of Playhouse Square.

The placement of the final four was determined by viewers of the competition who voted via text message or online poll.

The other competitors included: senior Daniel Blum of Mayfield High School, senior Gabi Ilg of Medina High School, junior Kate Liang of Aurora High School, senior Amir Smith of Cleveland School of the Arts, senior Kennedy “Pete” Smith of Andrews Osborne Academy in Willoughby and junior Leah Spacek of Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School.

The final 10 teens of the competition were decided after three rounds of auditions. This year’s contest saw teens from over 60 schools and 10 counties.

Menorah Park CEO and President Jim Newbrough expressed his thanks to the show’s many years of contestants, stressing that music opportunities stand at the forefront of Menorah Park’s programming at its three memory care centers. In years prior to COVID-19, Shining Star CLE participants sang at Montefiore and engaged with residents.

“I couldn’t be more proud of Shining Star CLE and the benefit it brings to so many,” Newbrough said during the show. “We further appreciate that (the contestants) lend their voices to a very important cause: support for people facing the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss.

“... Knowing that music is the last remaining memory for those living with dementia makes it especially important to have excellent music opportunities and programs within our memory care centers.”

The Cleveland Jewish News was a media sponsor of the event.

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