He had us rapt from the first note of "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's "The Barber of Seville." Hidden in the wings of the Smith Theatre, we first heard the baritone sing the familiar "Figaro, Figaro" before we actually saw Steven Eddy, one of two opera-singing contestants in the recent Rising Stars competition at Howard Community College.

He flew onto the stage, pulled off some vaudeville tricks, finished the aria flawlessly and delighted folks with tales from his musical beginnings at Atholton High School.

"His solo was polished and perfectly presented, and he performed it as an actor, as well as a singer," said HCC professor and theater maven Barbara Brickman, who, like many of us sitting in the audience, knew this guy would take home the prize. Nonetheless, there were nine other talented contestants in the 17th annual Howard County Arts Gala Celebration.

The nearly 500 audience members cheered all 10 performances (lots of hoots and hollers from families and friends), and also filled out ballots that were tabulated at the end of the event. They chose Eddy as the winner and the recipient of a $5,000 professional development award for his immensely entertaining performance. His next gig is singing with the Fort Worth Opera Festival in Texas this summer, then off to audition for a place in a top-notch company.

"My inspiration to enter Rising Stars came from my mother," said cellist Carolyn Rosinsky, one of those nine talented runners-up (second place is never revealed). "My mother (also a cellist) suggested the competition, and I decided to give it a try. Her rendition of Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata was haunting, her technical skill brilliant. Rosinsky has performed in Misako Ballet Company concerts and at An die Musik in Baltimore. You can find more information at http://www.carolynrosinsky.com.

Rising star finalist Joe Duffey whirled through his fast-paced original Irish step dancing choreography to the song "Fragments." He competes in international competitions in Ireland and was recently cast in this summer's season of "Celtic Fyre" at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg.

Trent D. Williams danced passionately to the spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child," with a strong reach out to those who often feel alone. Look for him at HCC where he teaches dance and performs with the student and faculty company

Benjamin Lurye gave it his all in an amazing rendition of "Out There" from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," with Doug Lawler at the piano and Broadway performer Ric Ryder cheering him on. Lurye can be seen in "The Fantastics" at HCC starting this weekend.

Leiland R.W. Charles performed an intriguing contemporary dance that incorporated both his balletic training and newer modern technique. The Oakland Mills High School graduate, now a senior at the prestigious Juilliard in New York, has accepted a dance position in Canada. When in town, he's certain to guest with his home company, the Howard County Ballet.

Yoshiaki Horiguchi seduced his massive bass for "Ode D'Espagne," a dazzling display of dexterity and panache.

Maya Shivani Thakar's Bharatanatyam presentation was spellbinding with her delicate hand movements and eyes following every gesture.

Annie Gill drew sighs with her heart-wrenching "Un bel di vedremo" from "Madama Butterfly."

Curtis Bannister closed the program with a rousing "Being Alive" from the musical "Company." The Wilde Lake High School alumnus returns to the Utah Festival Opera Company to perform the role of Enjolras in "Les Miserables."

Guest performers featured on stage were brothers Alex and Zach Brown on piano and bass, and accompanist Douglas Lawler.

Absolutely Perfect Catering was awarded first place for Best Display; Putting on the Ritz Catering finished in second place; and Wegmans came in third.

The silent auction featured 89 local artists, who contributed 120 works of art.

During the reception, folks were entertained by Bruce Casteel on guitar, Brian Simms on piano and by roving characters in costume from Drama Learning Center's Teen Professional Company.

"Steven Eddy was our first opera singer to win the award," Executive Director Colleen West pointed out at the Arts Council wrap-up meeting last week.

This year's gala raised $104,000 with an additional $69,000 in donated goods and services in support of the arts in Howard County. Since 1998, over $1.2 million has been raised through Celebration of the Arts.

HCAC recently announced the distribution of awards totaling $15,000 to its 2014 Arts Scholarship recipients. Receiving a $4,000 scholarship are Sola Fadiran, Vocal Music, Glenelg High School, and Diane Yang, Instrumental Music, Mt. Hebron High School. Receiving a $1,000 scholarship are Siena Allison, Visual Art, Hammond High School; Genevieve Ferris, Dance, Mt. Hebron High School; Jennifer Hudson, Visual Art, Baltimore School for the Arts; Anika Jensen, Literary Art, Oakland Mills High School; Ilana Malkin, Instrumental Music, Wilde Lake High School; Madeline Rodrigue, Dance, Marriotts Ridge High School; and Jessica Thomson, Visual Art, Long Reach High School.

HCAC is accepting applications for the Mark Ryder Original Choreography Grant Program. For more information, contact grantsandrojects@hocarts.org.