And then there were three. . . . Sterling Scholar judges chose a winner and two runners-up in each of 13 categories during final judging at Alta High School Wednesday.
Last month's semifinals trimmed a list of 676 Sterling Scholar nominees, from Cache County to Utah County, to 195 — 13 categories with 15 finalists in each. Wednesday afternoon those students competed for the top spots..
Excitement and anxiety levels were red-lining across the board. Students dealt with nervousness by doing everything from tuning out their surroundings with earphones and closed eyes to huddling and giggling in close circles.
But what seemed to be the key ingredient to success for most of the students was being yourself.
"I think at this point a lot of it is your personality," said Tim Bahr, 17, of Mountain View High, who competed in the social science category. "I have a 4.0 — well whoop-dee-do — so does everybody else."
He said that he knows most of the students he is competing against because they have all done and achieved similar things. At this point, Bahr said, the way you present yourself just might be what gives you an edge.
In many of the categories — such as English, science, art and business — judges reviewed students' portfolios and asked questions about them. But competitors in dance, speech and music had to perform as well.
The competition had many high-profile judges, whom the students didn't know about until they actually walked in the room.
Will Perkins, 17, of Brighton High has been singing all of his life but was somewhat unnerved going in for his interview in the music category. He had heard that the judges were some "vocal people." When he came back out he was wide-eyed and speechless.
"Mom, my judges were Jerold Ottley, Peter Breinholt and Michael Ballam and . . . oh my gosh, I can't even think," said Perkins.
But even with the added pressure Perkins said he couldn't have hoped to perform better.
"That was just amazing, three wonderful musicians . . . I am so grateful for the opportunity to perform in from of them," said Perkins. "My heart was racing the entire time but I loved it."
But some speech and drama competitors who performed monologues in their leg of the competition didn't bat an eye when their name was called.
"I am not really nervous; it's what we do," said Kristen Kittel, 18, of Cottonwood High, referring to the numerous other times she has taken her place in front of judges.
After all was said and done, for many going home after laying it all on the line was both a relief and regret.
"It has all led up to this point — with so much anticipation and work — so it is kind of bittersweet now that it is over," said flute player Kate Holt, 18, from Viewmont, after what she said was one of her best performances.
The winners in each category as well as the overall General Sterling Scholar winner will be announced at an awards program at Cottonwood High School on March 24 at 7 p.m.