Thursday, March 22, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 3

Santa Maria Sun / Music

The following article was posted on March 7th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 1 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 1

Pioneer Valley High senior Daniel Geiger wins big at Teen Star competition in Santa Barbara


Local high school student Daniel Geiger was nervous the first time he performed at the Teen Star competition in Santa Barbara, but that was three years ago. When he took to the stage at this year’s competition, he was still nervous, yet that didn’t stop him from taking first place and top honors on Feb. 24 at the Arlington Theatre.

Geiger, who’s 17 and in his fourth year at Pioneer Valley High School, chose to sing “Him” by Sam Smith. It’s a song that directly addresses the conflict of being gay in the face of strict religion, which hits a personal nerve with the young singer.

Pioneer Valley High School senior Daniel Geiger won first place at the Teen Star competition in Santa Barbara on Feb. 24. Pictured: Geiger in the starring role in last year’s Pioneer Drama production of School of Rock.

“It’s something I’ve always struggled with because my family is religious,” Geiger said. “When I came out to my mom’s side, it was not a positive response, and I resented religion for that for a little bit.

“‘Him’ popped out to me because it was saying something that I’ve wanted to say for a really, really long time. I was actually scared to do it in front of a big audience because I did not know how it was going to be received at all,” he added.

There are two parts to the Teen Star competition. First, local students audition to the competition’s judges. Out of those hundreds of students, only 10 were chosen for the Feb. 24 competition. After they perform at the Arlington, three finalists sing another song, and only one can win.

Geiger performed “Him” for his first song, Pioneer drama teacher Shawnah Van Gronigen said, but it got a show-stopping response.

“Almost everybody at the Arlington Theatre was on their feet at the end of this song, it wasn’t just Pioneer kids,” Van Gronigen said.

“That was the incredible part,” Geiger chimed in, “because the first round, people are still rooting for the people they came for, they’re not trying to show any affection for anybody else. So I was almost brought to tears when that happened.”

The judges for the competition include celebrities Randy Spendlove, Catherine Remak, and Kenny Loggins. After the auditions were completed, and the 10 finalists were selected, they all enjoyed mentorship sessions with the judges, Geiger explained.

Daniel Geiger, 17, of Santa Maria, has competed in the Teen Star competition in Santa Barbara for that past three years, taking home the main prize at this year’s event.

Geiger had told Loggins that he was nervous about his song during his session, but Loggins reassured him. Loggins also suggested a different song for Geiger’s second selection, should he make it to the final round.

“He told me that ‘This is Me’ from The Greatest Showman would be a great song to do because of the themes of the song, like standing up for who you are and stuff like that,” Geiger said. “I hadn’t heard the song, but as soon as I listened to it, I thought it was an amazing song to do.”

When it came time to sing “This is Me” at the Arlington, the performance was flawless.

With a powerful belt in his voice, turning to a crystal clear falsetto on a dime, Geiger had the crowd cheering before the song was even over. One of the judges, Spendlove, commented on the performance just after the applause died down.

“A great performance is really built on telling a story, and to me, it was almost like you were telling your own story,” Spendlove said.

Telling a story with music is something with which Geiger has some experience. When Van Gronigen met him, he was only a freshman in her first-year drama class. Even at that time he was performing regularly with the Pismo Youth Theater, she said, and was performing in plays and musicals.

“He’s been in a production or two every year for the last four years,” she said. “From the time he was a freshman he had leading roles, but he’s not the kind of kid that quits if he doesn’t have a leading role.”

Geiger performed the lead role in Pioneer’s production of School of Rock last year, which is an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based off the Jack Black movie. Pioneer Drama was one of a select few amateur theater groups that got the first chance to perform the Broadway favorite before it was available to off-Broadway companies, Van Gronigen said.

Several of her students, including Geiger, went to New York and saw the original cast perform School of Rock. After the show, Geiger and his classmates got to meet the lead actor on the show, Alex Brightman.

On stage soon
Daniel Geiger will star in Pioneer Valley High School Drama’s production of Footloose, showing April 19, 20, 26, 27, and 28. The play shows in Pioneer’s Performing Arts Center, 675 Panther Drive, Santa Maria. More info: (805) 922-1305 or

“I actually shook his hand,” Geiger said. “It was so cool.”

The opening performance of Pioneer Drama’s production of School of Rock was in November of 2017. It was also the long-awaited opening of the school’s new Performing Arts Center.

“I’m always going to be able to say we did the first show here,” Geiger said. “It’s a cool feeling.”

He’s also set to play the lead role in the Pioneer Drama’s musical production of Footloose. Geiger and other drama students are working on their dancing for that show, Van Gronigen said.

Geiger already has his sights set on a career in live theater. He auditioned for the Pacific Conservatory Theatre PCPA and had received a callback when he spoke with the Sun.

“My dream is to be in Broadway shows,” he said. “I think that would be incredible.”

For his teachers like Van Gronigen, seeing the young artist mature and move on to the next level is just as much a testament to his raw talent and dedication as the years of education and experience he’s received at Pioneer.

“I’ve been teaching drama for 28 years, and guys like this don’t come around very often,” she said. “We didn’t create the performer, but I do feel like we did something to nurture him.”

Managing Editor Joe Payne wishes he hadn’t missed School of Rock at Pioneer. Contact him at

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