Meghan Downing lost her eyesight when she was 9 years old. Fast forward about eight years, and Meghan was dazzling judges at her Teen Star Showcase audition with a guitar over her shoulder and walking stick nearby.
With a voice that makes others pause what they are doing, Meghan wowed the judges. One of the judges asked why Saturday was Meghan’s first audition for the 11-year-old showcase.
“I just got the confidence this year to start singing in front of people,” Meghan told the judges. This songbird, however, is not new to the industry. She picked up her first instrument, the violin, at the age of 4. More recently, she and her band svn45 have performed at several venues around Santa Barbara, including Fiesta, Summer Solstice and Soho.
Meghan told the News-Press that she has a talisman that helps her get through the anxiety of performing in public.
“My guitar’s kind of my comfort object,” she said. “Singing … It’s a vulnerable thing.”
This vulnerability aided her tremendously, Meghan said, in finding her confidence and voice after she lost her sight at a young age.
“Music is a huge way for you to show your emotions. Singing in a band boosted my confidence.”
Joe Lambert, founder and executive director of Teen Star, said that building confidence of the contestants is important in his vision of Teen Star.
“I also say this is the friendliest audition they’ll ever have. It’s purposeful in trying to get them to relax. We’re trying to build confidence instead of tearing them down,” Mr. Lambert said.
The judges — Shannon Soleh, Don Katich and Lin Aubuchon — all interacted with the teenagers to build them up. Compliments went hand in hand with constructive criticisms.
Ms. Soleh, a music teacher, took the reins with several contestants to bring them out of their shells.
Allison Ray, 13, was one of the singers Ms. Soleh nudged to open up, quite literally. Allison was on the shy side until she began to sing. During her rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” and Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” Allison’s eyes and face came alive with expressions and emotions, but her body continued to be tense. Ms. Soleh stood up from her chair and stretched out her arms. She told Allison to mimic her while performing “True Colors,” and Allison did. And her performance became bolder and more captivating.
Fifteen-year-old Katy Caballero also captivated the judges with her original song “Too Young.”
“If I’m too young to know about love, why am I not young enough to not have to worry about … lockdowns, dying young, greedy men who want their stupid walls, gross boys who’ll do anything. Anyone can see, agree that I’m too young,” sang Katy.
The song tugged on Ms. Aubuchon’s heartstrings, and she invited Katy to play the song on the morning show she hosts.
“That was pretty awesome,” Katy said when reflecting on Ms. Aubuchon’s offer. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
The auditions continue today.
The 10 finalists alternates will be unveiled at 8 p.m. today on Teen Star’s Facebook and Instagram. The finale show with all the contestants chosen over the weekend will take place Feb. 22 at the Arlington Theatre. Tickets can be bought at the theater’s box office.