The Jimmy Awards: High school stars prepare for Broadway debuts in NYC

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Next Monday night Tony Award winner Ben Platt will take the stage of the Minskoff theater, home of Disney's "The Lion King," to host a unique award show for high school students: "The Jimmy Awards."

The young people are spending this week getting ready for their Broadway debuts at NYU Tisch School of The Arts in Manhattan.

They are the best singers and brightest stars -- chosen from among 100,000 high school students across the country, brought here for the finals of a competition that offers a head start like no other.

"It's a competition, of course," said Sophia Donnell from Chandler, Arizona. "But everybody is using it as a learning experience."

Two winners are selected, one actress and one actor.

Andrew Barth Feldman, from Long Island, won last year. In the week leading up to his victory, he said "to be here now is so surreal and I keep pinching myself every second."

Then he got discovered and was hired to star in "Dear Evan Hansen" on Broadway, so the next time I talked to the teen, we were in his dressing room. He said, "never did I ever think it would happen, or happen this soon."

Now, there are 86 young people looking to follow in his footsteps.

"You see him, and it's just one of those feelings that you can do it too," said Ethan Kelso from Salt Lake City, Utah. "Like we're here. He was here. Why can't I?"

Rehearsing for their big show, they look like the kids next door, but their talent sets them apart.

"Who knows what you call it, but it's there," Lauren Senden sang. She is from Mankato, Minnesota, but for the two contestants from our area, there's a bit of extra pressure to make us proud.

"I'm freaking out," Jeremy Fuentes from Mahopac said. "I couldn't imagine I'd ever get this far, but I'm happy to be here, and hopefully, I can take something out of this experience and make the best of it."

Ekele Ukegbu, from Long Island, called this, "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," adding she is, "just thankful I had the opportunity to be one of the Jimmy Awards participants."

More than $2,000,000 worth of scholarships have been awarded to participants since the start of the program a decade ago.

The Jimmy Awards are named for the late theater owner, James "Jimmy" Nederlander. It's administered by The Broadway League, a trade association. ABC 7 is a Media Partner of The Jimmy Awards.

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