Meet Past Winners of the Songwriting Challenge

Over the years, the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for High School Students has been a platform for blossoming talents, uncovering exceptional songwriters and bringing their work to the forefront. As we cherish these remarkable alumni moments, we’re also filled with anticipation, looking forward to launching a new season of Songwriting Challenge! Dive into the legacy, and experience the musical tales that have left an indelible mark.

Ayanna Williams was a 17-year-old artist…

when she won the Songwriting Challenge as a Junior in High School, but she had begun writing songs at age 11. She has participated in multiple programs including the New York Youth Symphony’s Musical Theater Songwriting Program and in a musical theater program with her high school. That program was part of the Shubert Foundation’s High School Theatre Festival in 2020. She has worked with Broadway actors such as Sasha Hutchings on projects along with some of her classmates for the past virtual year. Along with musical theater, she participates in choirs at her school and had the honor of performing at the Barclay Center for a Juneteenth event. She is a self-taught musician/composer, and manages to find music in just about everything she does.


Ayanna’s Winning Song

“When I’m Empress”

Adonia, daughter of the Roman emperor, sings to herself as she waits to be called to the stage to accept her new position as the first empress ever chosen to rule her land. She is not unprepared for this role. Her father, who has passed, raised Adonia himself and trained her to be a powerful warrior and strong leader. Nearly everyone in the land is laughing, doubting her capabilities all because she is a woman, but she is ready to prove them wrong and show them just how strong she is.


“When I’m Empress” by Ayana Williams

Music Director: Macy Schmidt
Mentor: Max Vernon
Vocalist: Kenita Miller
Musicians: Emily Marshall, Justin Goldner, Jamie Eblen, Lee Moretti, Elisa Winter, Tia Allen, Jessica McJunkins,
Lessie Vonner, Elizabeth Steiner, Sara Jacovino, Chiara Fasi, Jessica Santiago

Want to hear Ayanna’s original submission?

Click here to listen!



Alejandro Rodríguez is a Colombian composer/performer…

…who recently graduated from Cypress Bay High School and is pursuing a degree in music composition at Florida State University. Rodríguez has been involved in musical theatre and music since he was in elementary school, participating in musical productions in and out of school, and taking voice, piano, acting, and dance lessons. He is currently writing a musical called My Elijah that tells a gay love story during World War II. Some of his music for My Elijah can be heard on streaming platforms in his EP “Songs From My Elijah.”


Alejandro’s Winning Song

“Days From Long Ago”


In 1940s Germany, Elijah Metzinger has been forced to leave home when his homosexuality is revealed to his family and later, to the authorities. He goes into hiding with three Jewish fugitives, one of whom is Rosalyn Freyda. Rosalyn fled Spain during the Spanish Civil War, leaving behind her mother, to live with her father in Berlin. In “Days From Long Ago,” Rosalyn sings with a younger version of herself about being forced to adapt to a new life, let go of her past, and lose everything that she loves. Throughout the song she realizes the importance of the memories, which are the only thing keeping her hope alive.


“Days From Long Ago” by Alejandro Rodríguez

Music Director: Anna Ebbesen
Mentor: Shakina Nayfack
Vocalist: Solea Pfeiffer, Rachel Zegler
Musicians: Anna Ebbesen, Dillon Kondor, Alexandra Eckhardt, Monica Davis, Jake Goldbas, Marika Hughes


Meet Alejandro’s Mentor and Music Director!

Click here to read more!



Leilani Patao is a junior at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts…

…where she is in the vocals department and participates in musical theatre and in opera productions. Her most notable role at LACHSA was Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. Prior to attending LACHSA, Leilani spent seven years with the Jaxx Theatricals Conservatory where her favorite role was Diana Morales in A Chorus Line. Now, Leilani writes her own music and creates her own music videos, her most recent being “Garden Girl,” produced by Juliana Candler. Leilani is activities director with Love Through Music, a non-profit charity helping children in Nepal, where she volunteers her music and time to raise money for them. In her spare time, Leilani dances hula, plays the ukulele, and walks her dog, Daisy.


Leilani’s Winning Song

“Mauna Kea”

Ailani has lived in Hilo, Hawai’i her entire life. In the summer of 2019, the Mauna Kea protests begin against the building of a 30-story telescope on sacred Hawaiian land on the mountain of Mauna Kea. At the same time, Ailani moves to New York to study literature at college. But she is deeply disillusioned when she learns that her college isn’t interested in the kinds of stories she has to tell about her Hawaiian people. Once she realizes that she doesn’t have to compromise her writing for the sake of a professor, she leaves school and returns to Hawaii. Now, it is December 2019 and Ailani sits down to Leilani Patao from Los Angeles, CA.


“Mauna Kea” by Leilani Patao

Music Director: Daniel Lincoln
Mentor: Ty DeFoe
Vocalist: Bebe Browning, Barrie Kealoha, Julian Fadullon
Musicians: Dillon Kondor, Alexandra Eckhardt, Monica Davis, Jake Goldbas, Marika Hughes


Are you ready to rise to the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge?

Click here to learn more!


As we close this chapter of recollections from the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for High School Students, it’s evident that music, passion, and youth have intertwined to create something truly special. These alumni stories and compositions echo the power of young creativity. As the curtain falls on these memories, we raise it with optimism and hope for the upcoming season. The melody of the past inspires the rhythm of our future. More to come!

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