The National Endowment for the Arts with the American Theatre Wing announced today the winners of the 2020 Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge. Through mentorships with professional musical theater artists, the Songwriting Challenge seeks to cultivate the next generation of musical theater songwriters from among the country’s high school students. Program collaborators are; Disney Theatrical Productions, Concord Theatricals, and the S.O.N.G.S. Foundation of the National Music Publishers’ Association.
The Songwriting Challenge provides each winner with a two-person coaching team—a mentor and a music director—to hone an original song into a Broadway-ready composition. Each song is then recorded by Broadway musicians and vocalists in New York City, made available on streaming music platforms, and compiled into a songbook by Concord Theatricals.
Sierra Blanco, New York
Jane Brinkley & Ashley Schmitle, Oregon
Henry Crater, Massachusetts
Viola Durfee, District of Columbia
Ada Fender, Iowa
Adam Jones, Virginia
Joseph Mosby, Tennessee
Xyzsa Pagaduan, Texas
Leilani Patao, California
Alejandro Rodriguez, Florida
Chelsea Rose, North Carolina
Soleil Singh, Texas
This year’s third annual program is changing to meet the challenges and opportunities of the moment. All mentoring will take place virtually and the recording sessions will be a combination of in-person and virtual. Additionally, shifting all mentoring to video conferencing has released funds previously dedicated to travel which has allowed the program to double the number of winners to 12.
“These talented young people and the varying styles and themes of their songs speak to the energizing diversity of our country,” said Arts Endowment Chairman Mary Anne Carter. “Offering this life-changing opportunity to more young artists this year is especially exciting and I look forward to following their progress and listening to their songs.”
“Despite the challenges the arts community has faced in 2020, we are committed to continuing to provide opportunities for the next generation of artists to express their creativity and tell their story,” said Heather Hitchens, American Theatre Wing President & CEO. “The Songwriting Challenge allows the chance for young songwriters to be seen, to be heard, and to form lifelong relationships with Broadway professionals. It is my hope that these winners will develop into artists whose talent drives social change, shifts our perceptions, and transforms the way we think.”
The 12 winners were chosen by review panels of professional theater artists in a blind competition from almost 200 applications submitted by high school students in 41 states. The next phase is that each winner will be paired with their mentor and music director to begin work in September with recording planned for November.
Reflecting the high quality of the submissions and in addition to the 12 winners, 28 students were selected as Honorable Mentions.
To watch performances from the 2016, 2018, and 2019 programs, go to arts.gov/songwriting. To join the conversation on social media, use #IWriteMusicals.