NEW YORK -- A teenager from Minnesota and one from New York won top honors at the National High School Musical Theater Awards on Monday night, sweeping to glory at the "Glee"-type competition by mastering songs by Stephen Sondheim and Frank Loesser.
Ryan McCartan, from Minneapolis, was named best actor, and Shauni Ruetz, from Rochester, N.Y., was named best actress at the conclusion of the third annual competition, nicknamed the Jimmy Awards after theater owner James Nederlander.
McCartan, 18, from Minetonka High School, said the honor doesn't mean he's any better than anyone else.
"All it means is that I promise to keep doing this because I can't imagine myself doing anything else," he said.
Ruetz, 18, from Wayne Central High School, was thrilled.
"To be surrounded by people who are so inspiring is phenomenal. I am speechless," she said. "Everyone is phenomenal – in their own way."
Both also received $10,000 scholarship awards, capping a months-long winnowing process that began with 50,000 students from 1,000 schools. Fifty finalists were invited to New York to compete for the title and make their Broadway debuts on the Minskoff Theatre stage.
The awards show was delayed after police closed several streets in Times Square because of a suspicious package that turned out to be a harmless suitcase. Show host Gregory Jbara made light of the scare, saying the luggage contained his missing tuxedo, and presenter Harvey Fierstein commented: "Not a good night to make jokes about bombs."
During a whirlwind visit, the 50 teens who made it to New York – 25 girls and 25 boys – got five days of coaching by New York University faculty, had lunch with "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" star Nick Adams, chatted with "Baby It's You!" star Beth Leavel and had a talk-back session with cast members of "The Addams Family" after seeing that show.
The 50 were asked to perform solos on Sunday and then participate in a medley with other competitors on Monday. A five-judge panel that included Tony Award nominee Montego Glover chose the winners.
McCartan sang Jason Robert Brown's "Someone to Fall Back On" as his solo and helped in a snippet of a song by Loesser during a medley from "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Ruetz sang "Breathe" from the musical "In the Heights" as her solo and sang part of Sondheim's "Into the Woods" as The Witch during her medley.
The show showcased a very impressive level of talent and range. The students sang songs from shows ranging from "Hairspray" to "Beauty and the Beast" to "The King and I" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." Five actresses competed as Millie from "Thoroughly Modern Millie," and four men sang as Tevye from "Fiddler on the Roof."
Other celebrities who helped host the event included Tommy Tune; Nikki M. James, who just won a Tony for "The Book of Mormon," and Aaron Tveit, the star of "Catch Me If You Can."
"I wish I had something like this when I was doing shows in high school," Tveit said.
James said she was blown away by the talent of the teens: "I'm terrified. For me. I'll never work again."
See the talent that secured their win below: