[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the event.]

The buzz has started for the popular Teen Star Santa Barbara singing competition with the finale set for Feb. 8 at the Granada Theatre, and this year it’s expected to draw a record audience.

The program is all about kids reaching for their dreams, and Teen Star Santa Barbara is “the launching pad to help young singers get there,” Joe Lambert, founder and executive producer, said during a media launch party Tuesday night hosted at Santa Barbara Sound Design in downtown Santa Barbara.

Teen Star, formally known as Santa Barbara Teen Idol, was initially created as a way to help sustain performing arts programs in local schools and across the state that were being cut due to economic challenges.

Lambert was inspired to launch the youth singing competition in 2010, which attracted 39 audition participants, and the first year finale was held at the Elings Performing Arts Center at Dos Pueblos High School with more than 400 fans and supporters in attendance.

Since then, Teen Star Santa Barbara has been rising in popularity and is quickly becoming a brand name known for promoting talented young singers in grades 7 to 12 in Santa Barbara County and helping the aspiring talents to experience their first taste of stardom.

The 2013 finale, held at the Granada Theatre, gathered a sold-out crowd of more than 1,500 fans and was telecast live nationwide over the Internet by California Streaming and reached millions of viewers.

“Last year was fabulous, and each year I kind of feel, well, we could do better. And every year we do that,” Lambert said. “Last year we just hit a home run. We had the mentoring and video intros, and we had celebrity judges coming in. If you look at the number, you’ll see our Facebook numbers hit 1.5 million, so it’s way beyond the borders of just Santa Barbara County.”

The launch party showcased a talented lineup of singers who have reaped the benefits derived from this unique singing competition, including 2012 Teen Star winner Rachel La Commare, 2013 winner Allie Nixon and Rising Star winner Chelsea Chaput.

Nixon, who sung her heart out in the cozy studio space, performing in front of media representatives, sponsors, family members and fans, told Noozhawk that winning the Teen Star competition has changed her life.

Teen Star

Singer, songwriter and Teen Star mentor J.R. Richards with celebrity judge Katherine Remak of K-LITE. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

“Since the Teen Star competition, J.R. Richards and Min Reid are the head of Reid Richards Productions, they actually called me up and told me they were working on a TV show and they had a space — they wanted a girl singer to record songs for this TV show,” said 18 year-old Nixon, who is a psychology major at Westmont College. “It’s called Safe, and it’s played on the CW. I’ve recorded five songs for this TV show. J.R. Richards wrote them for me and then I performed them.”

In a surprise announcement, Lambert explained to the large crowd of onlookers that future winners of the singing competition are not bound to sign a contract agreement — at least not right away.

“We don’t tell the kids they have to sign up with anybody,” he said. “We just say take a few days and don’t sign up with anybody. Because there are so many people watching Teen Star — talent agents, managers, labels — they’re starting to pick off the talent.”

Lambert elaborated on the journey and the process of discovery to find the right avenue: “What we’re trying to do is we’re all about the educational process and protecting the kids. And so what we want to do is slow down and think about after you get all of this discovery, is that they’re getting discovered and that’s exactly what we’d hoped would happen.”

Hundreds of young hopefuls are expected to audition for the competition this year that includes a series of group workshops, interviews and auditions before a panel of audition judges who have the difficult challenge of selecting the 10 finalists.

Those 10 lucky contestants are then mentored and participate in coaching sessions on sound production, poise and presentation with Richards, industry celebrity and former lead singer of the alternative rock band Dishwalla. The preparation is a key stepping stone for the Teen Star Santa Barbara finale sponsored by Deckers Outdoor Corp.

During the finale, a panel of celebrity judges will judge contestants. Randy Spendlove, president of Paramount Pictures Music, returns again this year, with Catherine Remak, co-host of The Gary and Catherine show on K-LITE, and Hollywood casting director Wendy Kurtzman. The live audience will also get a chance to vote via text for their favorite performer.

The 2014 Teen Star Santa Barbara winner will receive a $1,000 scholarship, radio and television appearances, and the opportunity to record in a world-class studio and perform at major local events. As a special bonus this year, the winner will be performing live in concert with the rock band Foreigner this summer.

Proceeds from the event and the Teen Star finale go to the schools of Santa Barbara County as a donation to their performing arts programs.

Auditions for Teen Star Santa Barbara start Thursday at Pioneer Valley High School in Santa Maria, from 3 to 7 p.m., then from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Santa Barbara High School and again from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at mwalker@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at mwalker@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.