NEW YORK - This year's host of the National High School Musical Theater Awards will certainly be comfortable handling the contest. After all, he won it three years ago.
Ryan McCartan, who co-stars in "Liv & Maddie" on the Disney Channel and "Royal Pains" on USA, on Monday returns to the same Broadway stage where in 2011 he won the "Glee"-like competition for musical teenagers.
"I was so thrilled to be asked," said McCartan. "I do attribute a lot of my success to wining that award because it gave me this gigantic step forward in my self-confidence. Had I not possessed that, I don't think I could have done anything that I've done."
Nicknamed the Jimmy Awards after theater owner James Nederlander, contest winners receive a $10,000 scholarship award, capping a months-long winnowing process that began with 60,000 students from 1,500 schools and ends at the Minskoff Theatre, the long-term home of "The Lion King," which doesn't perform on Mondays.
The 56 teens who made it to New York this year for the sixth edition - 28 girls and 28 boys - will get a five-day theatrical boot camp at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, complete with scrambling to learn an opening and closing group number, advice on their solo songs, plus a field trip to watch a Broadway show.
"It's such a whirlwind experience," McCartan said. "The hours are long and the expectations from your peers and directors and coaches is the highest of the high."
On Monday, all 56 will perform group numbers as well as snippets of the songs they sang at regionals as part of large medleys. A group of finalists will be asked to sing solos and the final two winners will be picked from that group. The five runners-up each receive $2,500.
"It really very quickly shows you if this is something you want to do or not," McCartan said. "They treat you like professionals. They sort of say, 'This is what being a professional in this industry looks like."'
Back in 2011, McCartan won by singing Jason Robert Brown's "Someone to Fall Back On" as his solo and a snippet of a song by Frank Loesser during a medley from "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." He said winning "almost felt like hand of the divine."
Unlike many of his peers, McCartan, who just starred in the off-Broadway musical "Heathers," postponed college to jump right into an entertainment career. But he's starting to see the first few fellow winners leave school and emerge like him as budding stars. One former Jimmy winner is on the West End and another is touring with "The Book of Mormon."