Announcing the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge Winners

Winning Songs Performed in Concert on June 17; Watch at
Text reading “Congratulations to the 2024 Winners!” next to the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge Logo. Headshots of each winner with their name, song title, school, and school location

Washington, DC and New York, NY—The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT) announced today the winners of the 2023-2024 Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge, an opportunity for high school students to develop and showcase musical compositions that could be a part of a musical theater production. The winning songwriters will come to New York City this June to work with mentors and refine their songs for a special concert on Monday, June 17, at 7pm ET, available to watch at and

Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts Maria Rosario Jackson, PhD, said, “We are delighted to celebrate these winning songwriters in New York City in June—the experience of working one-on-one with a dedicated mentor to develop their craft and learn more about the songwriting process is one that we hope will remain with these students for years to come. Thank you to our partners at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre for creating empowering opportunities for students at all stages of this program to develop their songwriting voice.”

The 2023-2024 winners are:
(grades and schools are as of the 2023-2024 school year)

  • Sydney Gray, an 11th grade student at Fairhope High School in Fairhope, Alabama
    “Little Miss Heard but Not Seen”—Meet Nava Lee. She's bright and hopeful but knows all too well what it means not to fit in—not at school, not at home, not even in the mirror. In “Little Miss Heard But Not Seen,” Nava longs to be more than a shadow moving through life as she fights the doubts in her head. This is an emotional anthem that echoes the universal struggle for visibility and acceptance.
  • Isabella Nguyen and Maya Johnson, 11th grade students at Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas  
    “Live Before Life's Gone”—The opening song to the new musical Less Than Perfect, this is a prologue introducing the two main characters, Jazz and Char. Meeting early in the morning at a coffee shop before school, “Live Before Life’s Gone” reveals the differences in how they view the world while also showing how and why they value each other.
  • Owen Yeh-Lee, a 12th grade student at The Nueva School in Palo Alto, California
    “Spacetime”—After Chang'e, the Moon Goddess, floats to the moon as a consequence for her selfishly drinking the immortality elixir, Hou Yi, her husband, is left on Earth. He sings this song to convey his loneliness, grief and despair.
  • Ale Fonseca, 12th grade student at Miami Arts Studio 6-12 @ Zelda Glazer in Miami, Florida
    “Overthinking”— Kelly, an aspiring musician, tends to focus solely on her career, disregarding the people closest to her. After forgetting to pick up her best friend Morgan from an important dinner, never checking in with her older brother Nick, and lack of communication with her partner Thomas, their voices start to creep into her mind as she recollects the moments in which they began to act differently towards her. Not fully convinced she did something wrong, she tries to convince herself she is just “overthinking.”
  • Gwendellyn Doerfler, an 11th grade student at Dewitt High School in Dewitt, Michigan
    “The Cost”—This song is about a girl moving to Nashville in the 1970's to become a country songwriter despite never having written a song before. This girl wonders if her choice is the right one and explores the real reasons she moved.
  • Tabitha Moore, a 12th grade student at Valley Stream Central High School in Valley Stream, New York
    “What Did Love Do to You?”— This song is a poppy and levitating duet meant to question the meaning behind the rough boundaries set between two people and how to discover that every person should be unique unto themselves.
  • Luisa Paraguassu, a 12th grade student at Davidson Day School in Mooresville, North Carolina
    “Talk Pretty”—This song is about the experience of never learning your maternal language and the pain that can accompany such a feeling of disconnect with members of your family, the shame some people feel (but really shouldn't have to), and how the longing for connection goes beyond language.

Excerpts of the winning song submissions and more information about the winners are available here. Over the next several weeks, each of these songs will be professionally orchestrated. Winning students will come to New York City this June where they will work with mentors and music directors to hone their orchestrations while learning about process, technique, and production. The final compositions will be performed by Broadway artists in a concert on Monday, June 17, at 7:00 p.m. ET, available to watch live and on-demand at and In addition, all of the winning songs will be compiled into a songbook and print-at-home edition by Concord Theatricals and released at a future date. Each winning student will receive a scholarship of $2,500, provided by the NMPA S.O.N.G.S. Foundation.

Please contact Liz Auclair ( and Emily Vortherms ( to request an interview with any of the winners or to request media access to the concert or the sessions with the mentors on June 15.

“The National Alliance for Musical Theatre is thrilled to partner with the National Endowment for the Arts on the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge. Developing musical theater writers is at the heart of our mission, and working with these amazing high school students is a natural extension of who we are and what we do. We have loved providing educational opportunities to all the wonderful applicants and can’t wait to spend the weekend immersed in musical theater with the winners,” said NAMT Executive Director Betsy King Militello.

The 2023-2024 Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge kicked off last fall. Over the fall and winter, students had access to online masterclasses and coaching sessions, among other songwriting tips. Students submitted a draft of their songs and received personalized constructive critique from successful musical theater songwriters. Students then had the option to revise their songs before entering their compositions for final judging. Overall, more than 100 submissions were received by students from 34 states. A panel of leaders in the musical theater field reviewed the submissions and scored them based on published criteria.

The 2023-2024 Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge is held in collaboration with Concord Theatricals, Disney Theatrical Productions, and NMPA S.O.N.G.S. Foundation.

About the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge

The Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge began as a pilot program in 2016 in three cities (Dallas, TX; Minneapolis, MN; and Seattle, WA) before going national in 2017/2018. This national contest is designed to inspire high school students to write songs that could be part of a musical theater production, using the wide range of musical styles represented in contemporary musicals. The goal of the program is to engage the musical theater field in nurturing the next generation of songwriters. Learn more about past winners and hear their final songs at

The Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge is open to high school students from all 50 states, Washington D.C., and U.S. territories. For more information on how to participate and to access songwriting tools and resources, visit

About the National Endowment for the Arts

Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is an independent federal agency that is the largest funder of the arts and arts education in communities nationwide and a catalyst of public and private support for the arts. By advancing equitable opportunities for arts participation and practice, the NEA fosters and sustains an environment in which the arts benefit everyone in the United States.

About the National Alliance for Musical Theatre

The National Alliance for Musical Theatre, founded in 1985, is a not-for-profit organization serving the musical theatre community. Its mission is to be a catalyst for nurturing musical theatre development, production, innovation and collaboration. Their 220+ members, located throughout 33 states and abroad, are some of the leading producers of musical theatre in the world and include theatres, developmental organizations, higher education groups, presenting companies and independent producers. Among the 300 musicals launched by NAMT's Festival of New Musicals are Benny & Joon, Come From Away, Darling Grenadine, The Drowsy Chaperone, Gun & Powder, HONK!, Interstate, It Shoulda Been You, Lempicka, Ordinary Days, Striking 12 and Thoroughly Modern Millie.


Liz Auclair (NEA),; Emily Vortherms (NAMT),