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Athena VanDyke, who lives in Cornelius, has loved theater and musicals since she was in grade school.

COURTESY PHOTO - Athena VanDykeLast November, Cornelius native Athena VanDyke became a national finalist in the Music Teachers National Association's (MTNA) senior voice competition after winning the qualifying regional competition hosted in Portland.

For VanDyke — who, in addition to singing, performs in theater productions and musical ensembles — the stage is where she thrives.

"I remember being in second grade auditioning for 'Willy Wonka' at Theatre In the Grove," recalled VanDyke, now a junior at Glencoe High School. "I got cast as one of the Oompa Loompas and just had so much fun. That was when I was like, 'This is what I want to do.'"

VanDyke, who comes from a musically talented family, has been encouraged and supported by her parents and close family members to pursue her passions.

"I feel lucky to be a part of a family that does music, because I think a lot of kids don't get that opportunity," she said.

In her freshman year of high school, VanDyke began taking voice lessons with voice teacher, and MTNA member, Vanessa Nelson. From Nelson, VanDyke has been learning music theory and developing her skills.

"She does a lot of polishing work and then works with me and collaborates on ideas. It's a really good process we go through," VanDyke said.

Nelson helped VanDyke prepare for the MTNA regional competition, which required competitors to sing two songs in a foreign language, one English classical piece and one song of their choice.

"The day of the competition, I felt really prepared," VanDyke said. "I'm fairly confident on stage and I always make sure I bring 100% of myself to whatever I do."

Following her competitor's performance, VanDyke went on stage and sang the set she and Neslon had tirelessly practiced and fine-tuned. In the end, VanDyke beat out her opponent making VanDyke a MTNA finalist and qualifying her for the national competition, to be held in Chicago this March.

"I'm excited to see other people perform and how they're doing certain songs and how I compare on the national level, where I'm at and where I should aspire to be," said VanDyke of her upcoming trip to Chicago.

Until her next competition, however, VanDyke is keeping busy performing in her high school's production of "Willy Wonka," the same play that made her fall in love with acting, and keeping up with her schoolwork.

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