Two metro-east students are finalists in the prestigious St. Louis Teen Talent Competition at The Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis.
The public is invited to see singer Bennett English, 16, of O'Fallon, and dancer Hillary Zgonina, 17, of Nashville, compete against 13 other acts from a 50-mile radius April 28. Admission is free, but tickets are required.
The opportunity is particularly exciting for English, a junior at O'Fallon Township High School. He's good friends with OTHS senior Christina Jones, winner of last year's competition. She's now a contestant on "American Idol."
"She is such a nice and kind person," said Bennett, noting they sing together in several school groups, and they just finished performing in an all-state production of "Big Fish" at the Illinois High School Theatre Festival in Chicago.
Bennett and Hillary competed against 120 other acts in the St. Louis competition's preliminary round and 43 in the semi-finals. Bennett won over judges by singing a song from the Broadway musical "Les Miserables," wearing a tattered prison uniform to portray Jean Valjean.
"I didn't really see many people in costume and makeup acting out a song," he said. "Most of them just stood with a microphone, but there were so many great singers. ... I saw so much talent at the semi-finals. It was insane."
Bennett is the son of Andrew and Terica English. He has five younger siblings.
Hillary is a junior at Nashville Community High School. She's been dancing since age 3 and now studies with State Street Dance Company in O'Fallon and The Big Muddy Dance Company in St. Louis.
“I’ve done tap, jazz, ballet, modern, contemporary, and I’ve attempted hip-hop,” Hillary said. “Basically, I’ve tried everything.”
In the semi-finals, Hillary did a modern and contemporary dance to the Ed Sheeran song "Perfect." It represented her own dance journey, learning to accept that she can’t always be perfect but striving to do her best.
As a freshman, Hillary did an intensive with the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. This summer, she will participate in the pre-professional program of Alonzo King Lines Ballet in San Francisco.
Hillary is the daughter of Steve and Valerie Zgonina. She has an 11-year-old brother, Harrison. She is stilled "shocked" that she was picked as a finalist in the St. Louis competition.
“I just figured with 150 people, my odds weren’t very good," she said. "And they’re all so talented and amazing. I can’t believe they picked me.”
This is the eighth year for the competition, sponsored by Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation. Preliminary, semi-final and final rounds are judged by area professionals in music, dance, theater, film and TV.
This year, finalists will compete for more than $40,000 in college scholarships and prizes, as well as performance opportunities. The show will begin at 8 p.m. April 28. It's free and open to the public. General-admission tickets are available through MetroTix.
"We couldn't be happier with the level of talent," said Mary Strauss, foundation board president.