Lily Soto, Jack Roden named Outstanding Leads in 2020 Spotlight Awards virtual ceremony

2020 Spotlight Awards announces honorees
Outstanding Lead Actress: Lily Soto.

Outstanding Lead Actress: Lily Soto.

Lily Soto of Hume-Fogg Academic High School and Jack Roden of Chattanooga Christian Academy received Outstanding Lead Actress and Outstanding Lead Actor honors during a virtual 2020 Spotlight Awards ceremony on June 13.

Though Soto and Roden will not compete nationally in The Jimmy Awards, which were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, each student will receive a KraftCPAs Scholarship of $1,000 for Outstanding Lead.

Hillsboro High School received five school awards for its production of Catch Me if You Can, including Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Direction, Outstanding Costume Design, Outstanding Orchestra, and Outstanding Technical Execution. The school’s theatre department also will receive the $1,000 KraftCPAs Scholarship for Outstanding Musical.

“KraftCPAs is proud to be a part of TPAC’s Spotlight Award Scholarship Program. Student involvement in the arts is such an important part of personal development, and students from all across Tennessee are demonstrating their resilience in a challenging time by being involved in the program,” says Ken Youngstead, Member of Assurance Services and Practice Leader of the KraftCPAs Nonprofit Industry Team. “We wish everyone participating our best wishes and encourage you to keep up the good work by continuing to share your time and talent.”

Founded in 2013 by Mike Fernandez, Dean of Lipscomb University’s George Shinn College of Entertainment & the Arts, the Nashville High School Musical Theatre Awards, or Spotlight Awards, recognizes excellence in local high school theatre. Presented now in partnership with the nonprofit Tennessee Performing Arts Center as one of its six arts education programs.

Outstanding Lead Actor: Jack Roden

Outstanding Lead Actor: Jack Roden

“While I am saddened by the effects this virus has had on our country and the world, I see these students and continue to marvel at their resilience and creativity,” Fernandez says. “Watching them respond to adversity with wonderful performances on social media and heart-warming support gives me hope that not only will the Spotlight Awards be back in full swing soon enough, but it also continues to affirm the power of artist/storytellers to uplift culture during trying times.”

“The Spotlight Awards is one of the first programs I saw in action after joining TPAC,” says Jennifer Turner, TPAC President and CEO. “I remember being so impressed by the students’ talent and so moved by their support for each other. Despite school shutdowns, canceled performances, and social distancing, their creativity and hard work this year still shines through in videos online and virtual gatherings. We are grateful for the opportunity to celebrate them in any way, and I congratulate all of the participating schools and honorees on their achievement.”

Fifteen schools performed their productions before schools were closed, and three schools submitted videos of the productions after the shutdown. The 18 school performances were reviewed by a diverse group of adjudicators comprised of Lipscomb faculty, TPAC staff and local theater professionals. All 32 schools were considered for lead nominees, All-Star Cast and All-Star Crew consideration.

Additional individual awards went to Megan Rafoth of St. Cecilia Academy for Outstanding Female Dancer, Calvin Parrack of Hume-Fogg Academic High School for Outstanding Male Dancer, Vivi Hirst of Brentwood High School for Outstanding Female Soloist, Noah Henry of Hillsboro High School for Outstanding Male Soloist, Holly Eaves of Nolensville High School for Outstanding Ensemble Actress, Theo Yemm of University School of Nashville for Outstanding Ensemble Actor, Katie Earnest of Nolensville High School and Sophia Hutchens of Page High School (tie) for Outstanding Comedic Actress, Daniel McMahan of Page High School for Outstanding Comedic Actor, Brityn Ramsey of John Overton High School and Natalie Thompson of Smyrna High School (tie) for Outstanding Supporting Actress, Tay Porro of Smyrna High School for Outstanding Supporting Actor, Sarah Free of Goodpasture Christian School for Outstanding Dramatic Actress, Karson Hamlin of Independence High School for Outstanding Dramatic Actor, and Eric Richey of Page High School for Outstanding Technical Achievement.

Additional school awards went to Brentwood High School’s Cinderella (Outstanding Vocals, Outstanding Sound Design), Chattanooga Christian School’s Newsies (Outstanding Choreography), Hume-Fogg Academic High School’s Mamma Mia! (Outstanding Music Direction, Outstanding Set Design), Independence High School’s The Little Mermaid (Outstanding Ensemble, Outstanding Hair and Makeup); Ravenwood High School’s Big Fish (Outstanding Design Concept), and Stewarts Creek High School’s The Sound of Music (Outstanding Lighting Design).

See the full list of nominees and winners here.

Watch the virtual Spotlight Awards ceremony on TPAC’s YouTube channel.

Virtual ceremony hosted by Nashville native, Broadway’s Will Blum

Broadway's Will Blum hosted the virtual ceremony from New York.

Broadway’s Will Blum hosted the virtual ceremony from New York.

Nashville native and Hillsboro High School alum Will Blum (Beetlejuice, School of Rock) hosted the virtual ceremony from New York. Blum spent most of his childhood training and performing with Nashville Ballet, the Roxy Regional Theater in Clarksville, and the Drama Department of Hillsboro High School. He earned his BFA in Musical Theatre with an emphasis in Directing from The Boston Conservatory. After making his Broadway debut at 23, he’s spent the last 13 years as an actor, director, and acting coach in NYC and London, most recently performing on Broadway in the Tony nominated musical, Beetlejuice.

Blum’s Broadway credits include playing Dewey Finn in School of Rock, Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon, Roger in Grease, as well as acting as the standby for Michael Urie in the Tony nominated play, Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song. His National Tours include playing Buddy the Elf in Elf The Musical, Jean-Michel in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Margaret Mead in HAIR, Roger in Grease, and Horton The Elephant in Seussical. In London, he directed a workshop of the UK premiere of Frank Wildhorn’s Bonnie & Clyde, as well as assisting Lonny Price on his productions of Carousel for the English National Opera and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill starring Audra McDonald. He is a private acting coach to multiple performers and has created two different classes that focus on Musical Theatre storytelling, as well as directing and writing cabaret acts, charity performances, and concerts.

“I’m so excited to be hosting the Spotlight Awards,” Blum says. “Being a part of the theatre program at Hillsboro gave me confidence to pursue a life in the arts. I’m thrilled to celebrate any young person who’s brave enough to share their talents with the world.”

The 32 Tennessee high schools participating in the program include (Davidson) Davidson Academy, Father Ryan High School, Goodpasture High School, Hillsboro High School, Hume-Fogg Academic High School, John Overton High School, Lipscomb Academy, McGavock High School, Nashville Christian School, Nashville School of the Arts, St. Cecilia Academy, University School of Nashville; (Dickson) Creek Wood High School; (Hamilton) Chattanooga Christian School; (Maury) Columbia Academy, Mt. Pleasant High School; (Putnam) Upperman High School; (Rutherford) Central Magnet School, Siegel High School; Stewarts Creek High School; (Williamson) Battle Ground Academy, Brentwood Academy, Brentwood High School, Centennial High School, Franklin High School, Independence High School, Nolensville High School, Page High School, Ravenwood High School, Smyrna High School and (Wilson) Lebanon High School, Mt. Juliet Christian Academy.

Lipscomb’s George Shinn College of Entertainment & the Arts is the fastest-growing colleges in the university, with a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees. The mission of the college is to be a Christ-centered, innovative, entrepreneurial arts community committed to rigorous artistic training, creative collaboration and professional growth that seeks to train the next generation of believer artists who seek to uplift, challenge and entertain. For more information, visit

Institutional sponsors for TPAC include Nissan North America and Coca-Cola. TPAC is funded in part by support from the Tennessee Arts Commission and the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission.

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