CLEARWATER — No doubt about it, Pinellas County's got talent.
It was evident during Thursday night's sixth annual Walker's Rising Stars Scholarship Gala when 20 of the county's most outstanding young dancers, vocalists, instrumentalists, actors and visual artists competed for scholarships of $10,000.
Julie Janssen, superintendent of schools, told a packed house at Ruth Eckerd Hall, "Walker's winners have gone on to Broadway, they've performed on the Letterman show, they've toured with major musicians and even sang for the pope."
Hopefuls sang from the top of their lungs and bottom of their heart.
Others mastered instruments like the cello, the bassoon and the violin.
Actors performed monologues that made the audience think or laugh.
Dancers leapt, swayed and pirouetted.
And visual artists talked about their inspirational designs.
Marquez Linder, a senior at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School, said he hoped to become a fashion designer.
During his prerecorded video presentation, he explained the poncho worn by a model was crocheted from grocery bags made into yarn.
"I hope to open the eyes of my viewers and show them how art can influence them to be more environmentally conscious," he said.
He apparently opened the eyes of the judges — he won first place in his category.
Tampa Bay neurosurgeon Jeffrey Walker is the creator and benefactor of the Walker's Rising Stars scholarship program, which recognizes Pinellas County schools' talented junior and senior high school students.
More than 100 students auditioned for this year's competition. After preliminary and semifinal judging, the 20 finalists were selected to compete at Ruth Eckerd Hall.
Each first-place winner in the five categories received a $10,000 scholarship and trophy; the second- through fourth-place winners were given $1,000 scholarships. All received medals.
The event was produced by the Pinellas Education Foundation, which has raised more than $100 million to support students and teachers during its 23 years of existence.
Cellist Danielle Rossbach, a senior at St. Petersburg High School, wowed the audience and judges with her spirited Dance of the Elves. She won first place in the instrumental category and will use her $10,000 scholarship at Rice University
"It makes going to a private university so much easier — and it gives me so much more confidence," she said of her win.
Speaker Jack Radgowski, Raytheon's communications manager, told the audience the show made him feel like Bruno Tonioli, the Dancing with the Stars judge.
"I have to say, '10!' " he proclaimed.