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Western Reserve, Highland teens are winners in Shining Star CLE regional singing competition

Posted August 31, 2021 in Articles

Author: Kerry Clawson

Two teens from the Akron area — Alex Newman of Richfield and Emelia Aceto of Hinckley Township — saw one of their singing dreams come true when they placed in the top four for the Shining Star CLE finals competition Sunday night.

Newman, a 16-year-old sophomore at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, received second runner up and Aceto, a 16-year-old junior at Highland High School, was third runner up in the finals, which were held virtually for the second year due to COVID-19.

The finals featured the top 10 high school singers chosen by a panel of professional judges from an original field of more than 200 contestants. The judges were Shaker Heights-born songwriter/pianist Jim Brickman; Broadway producer, talent manager and lawyer Rashad Chambers; Broadway actor Telly Leung; Cleveland native/jazz singer Trisha O'Brien; Cleveland Pops Music Director Carl Topilow and Playhouse Square President and CEO Gina Vernaci.

The singing competition, presented by Menorah Park of Beachwood and hosted by Monica Robins, was in its fifth year. Shining Star CLE was created to further the artistic development of talented area high schoolers and raise funds for Menorah Park's memory care services.

Newman, who has been dancing and acting since she was 4, has in recent years studied musical theater at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. The soprano has studied voice with Sarah Bailey in Akron for five years.

The teen, who received a $2,500 college scholarship as second runner up in Shining Star CLE, plans to study musical theater in college and named New York University Tisch School of the Arts as one of her top choices.

Newman, the daughter of Ed Newman and Judy Hassink-Newman, was competing for her first year in Shining Star CLE. She chose the song "Astonishing" from "Little Women."

"I feel like it's a really powerful song," she said. "She [character Jo March] goes from not feeling totally confident about herself and her life to just going to this whole different person, just a totally different perspective on life and her character.

"She just realizes she's gonna have faith in herself and trust herself."

The top 10 finalists, whom the judges chose after three rounds of competition, recorded live at Clockwork 9 studio in Cleveland July 24 and 25 for the virtual finals broadcast last weekend. In that process, the 10 finalists rehearsed the group number "Fight Song" together and then individually recorded the piece, which was edited together for the online show.

Each top 10 finalist also recorded his or her full solo for the last round of competition.

"It was just really amazing to meet more people that love to do what I love to do," Newman said of meeting the other finalists live in July.

During the virtual finals Sunday, the judges narrowed the finalists down to the top 4. Both the judges and online audience voted for the $10,000 grand prize winner, junior Calista Zajac of Magnificat High School.

The audience also chose the remaining three winners. Also placing in the top four was Olivia Nelson of Chardon High School, who won a $5,000 scholarship as first runner up.

Aceto, who received a $1,000 scholarship as third runner up this year, made it to the top 25 semifinalists last year.

"This is definitely one of the biggest opportunities I've had in my music career," said Aceto, the daughter of Chris and Effie Aceto.

"The suspense was insane. I could not wait to watch everyone's performances. Everyone is so talented," the teen said of the finals broadcast.

Aceto, who has been singing since she was little, began studying voice in eighth grade. She is the voice student of Denise Milner Howell.

The teen said she's excited to "get back in the real world" after COVID shutdowns last school year and sing with her school's Added Attraction vocal jazz group and play Fantine in "Les Miserables" in November. She plans to major in musical theater or vocal performance/opera in college.

Participating in Shining Star CLE, whose proceeds support memory care, has special significance to her. Her late grandfather, Raymond Aceto Sr., suffered from dementia.

"I'm so happy that I'm able to compete for a cause and raise money for a cause that I care so much about," she said.

For the competition, she chose to sing "Defying Gravity" from "Wicked" for its message of empowerment. The tune is sung by character Elphaba, who is bullied for being green.

"Eventually, she realizes that she has power," Aceto said. "She just decides to finally be herself and embrace her own inner power."

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