Spotlight on Lia Zheng: Young classical singer a finalist in Music Center competition

Lia Zheng was named a finalist in the Music Center's Spotlight competition.
(Binhai Zheng)

Carmel Valley singer Lia Zheng was named one of two finalists in the classical voice category of the Los Angeles Music Center’s annual Spotlight competition. The Canyon Crest Academy junior with a rich, operatic soprano voice won a $5,000 prize and will perform in The Music Center’s Spotlight Grand Finale Performance on June 15 at Ahmanson Theatre in LA.

The Music Center, one of the largest performing arts centers in the country, puts on the nationally-acclaimed arts competition every year. This year more than 1,300 teens representing more than 256 schools and 181 cities auditioned for the program. Students compete in seven categories: acting, classical voice, non-classical voice, ballet, dance, classical instrumental and jazz instrumental. And the competition is completely free.

“It’s really amazing because the actual performers didn’t have to pay anything to be a part of it,” Lia said.

In addition to Lia’s finalist finish, Canyon Crest Academy junior Grace Li was also one of the competition’s 100 semifinalists in dance.

Lia started taking group voice lessons when she was in first grade and in fifth grade transitioned to private lessons with her teacher Zeping Cai, a member of Music Teacher’s Association of California and National Association of Teachers of Singing. She also played piano for four years and reached the advanced level six but quit to focus on her singing.

At CCA, Lia is part of the Envision Conservatory for Humanities and at the next level, she hopes to study a combination of music, computer science and philosophy.

A surprise to anyone who has seen the expressive Lia perform and hit all her high notes, the teenage singer does not have much performance experience— she performed once a year at her former school, the After School Learning Tree in Sorrento Valley’s annual gala. A silver lining of the pandemic, she was able to perform in more competitions because they all went online.

The Spotlight competition was online for the first two rounds and the semifinals were performed in person in Los Angeles. She performed two pieces, “Do Not Go My Love” by Richard Hageman and “La Promessa” by Gioachino Rossini, before a panel of judges.

With the other semifinalists, Lia also earned the opportunity to attend a special mastery class in their discipline with highly regarded artists, who share their expertise on performance technique, training and professional life at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

“For the master class I was really, really nervous,” Lia said. “The actual competition I felt pretty fine, I didn’t regret anything at all in my performance.”

On Monday, April 18 when the finalists were announced, Lia was at school and her phone wasn’t working to check the results online. She then got a text from her proud dad saying “Congrats”: “I was just really happy about that,” she said.

At the June 15 Spotlight Grand Finale, Lia will reprise “La Promessa.” In addition to being a finalist, Lia is also grateful that Spotlight’s director Jeri Gaile introduced her to music educators Kathleen Martin, Vera Calabria, and Bruce Stasyna, “They have helped me so much with my singing journey in the past few months,” she said.