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April 08, 1993

Tonight is the Big Night for four musical Orange County teen-agers. Along with eight other Southern California high school virtuosos, they are finalists in a competition for $45,000 in scholarships at the fifth annual Music Center Spotlight Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

The dozen finalists were selected from a field of nearly 600 who auditioned in October. Over the past several months, 74 semifinalists competed for the right to perform tonight before an audience of 3,200.

Following is a look at the four Orange County finalists.

* Amy Rodibaugh, 18, never imagined performing opera three years ago--she failed even to become a member of the Mater Dei High School choir in her freshman year. But Rodibaugh was encouraged by the choir director to pursue private voice lessons and try out the following year. Now she's a Spotlight Awards finalist in the opera/classical voice category.

In her junior year, Rodibaugh focused on chamber singing as a member of the school's Advanced Women's Ensemble. Within a year, she was competing in the National Art Talent Search. But she was not always keen about opera.

"I've always wanted to sing Broadway and pop," Rodibaugh said. "Then I saw 'Samson and Delilah,' and I knew opera was for me. Opera is such an emotional release; you really have to put all of yourself into it."

Rodibaugh has spent hours attempting to master foreign dialects to prepare for tonight.

"I'm nervous and scared to death," she said. "But I've come so far that all I can do is enjoy myself."

Rodibaugh, who lives in Corona del Mar, would like to pursue a career in the performing arts or in educational administration. She is anticipating acceptance into the music schools of UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and USC for the fall.

* Scott Cheek, 17, of Fullerton says "nothing compares to singing at the Dorothy Chandler." After making the semifinals for the past two years, Cheek is "thrilled" to compete as a finalist in the pop/musical theater voice category.

Cheek is a senior at the Orange County High School of the Arts in Los Alamitos. He began his singing career six years ago after he auditioned for a local show and has performed with a children's summer group at Fullerton Community College.

When he is not studying for his honors classes, Cheek acts and sings under the guidance of a professional agent and voice instructor.

"Performing gives me a natural high and a feeling of self-satisfaction," Cheek said. "I just want to be a happy person when I grow up, and singing makes me happy." Last year, Cheek placed third in the Rotary Vocal Competition at UC Irvine.

He plans to attend film school at USC in the fall.

* Corinne Chapelle, 16, has been studying the violin since she was a toddler and won her first top prize, at the Newport Beach Festival of the Arts, when she was 5. She attended Irvine-area schools until last fall, when she was accepted at the Professional Children's School in New York, making enrollment at Juilliard possible.

Her music is a year-round occupation that has taken her to study and perform in France and England, but she confesses a fondness for the beaches and horses of Southern California. She says she draws sustenance from the joy her music brings to herself and to others.

Tonight she competes on violin against a pianist in the classical instrumental category.

Corinne intends to continue her dedication after her high school graduation at Juilliard and eventually as a soloist but says she still has "many stairs to climb."

* Rebecca Thompson, 16, a sophomore at Ocean View High School in Huntington Beach, has been interested in ballet since seeing "The Nutcracker" at the age of 2. Her formal training began at 8 as a student at the Southland Ballet Academy in Fountain Valley. Tonight she competes in the ballet category at the Spotlight Awards.

Her rigorous dance schedule, demanding at least 20 hours a week, leaves Rebecca little time for extracurricular activities, but she has no regrets.

Rebecca cites her parents and teachers as her greatest influences, giving her the momentum to continue. After graduation, she wants to dance professionally with a company and then attend college majoring in the arts or English.

--By Caroline Lynch, Mater Dei High School, and Susanna Lee, Ocean View High School.

"The artist is the antennae of the race."

--Ezra Pound

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