At 15, Kea Corso's eyes are opened wide to the world around her.
Her abilities to observe and empathize with peers have inspired her burgeoning songwriting career.
They also helped propel her to the grand prize in Groove U's Instaband competition, which culminated with live performances Feb. 27 at Skully's Music-Diner, 1151 N. High St. in Columbus, before a panel of local music-industry professionals. The event is billed as a statewide high school battle of the bands.
Groove U is a two-year, post-high school music-industry program in Dublin.
Corso, a sophomore at Upper Arlington High School, won, in part, because of her song, "Red Blue Yellow," which aims to raise awareness about anxiety and depression among young people.
"I've never been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and I don't necessarily have anxiety and depression, but it is a prevalent issue for people my age," said Corso, who was described by the Groove U staff as an indie-pop singer-songwriter. "I thought it was important to spread awareness."
In addition to her experience with young people who struggle with mental-health issues, Corso said, her high school health-class lessons also had an influence on "Red Blue Yellow."
Among the lyrics are, "Sometimes I cry for absolutely no reason," and "I don't wanna feel the panic every time I do something new/The pills mess me up/Do they do that to you?"
"I thought it was important to spread awareness," Corso said of writing the song and performing it in the Instaband competition.
Corso said she avoids defining her work by genres. But when pressed, she described it as "kind of soul -- it's a little indie-pop and a little folk."
During the contest, Corso also performed another original called "She Forgot Me," which is about a person perplexed during a lost relationship.
With an acoustic guitar, Corso sang lines, such as, "She left me so confused/Trying to figure out what did I do?"
"I have songs about just teenage years and figuring everything out," Corso said. "Just high school and everything else."
Initially, contest entrants submitted two songs for consideration, and submissions can be audio or video, according to Sarah Hudson, Groove U director of development. Although Hudson did not reveal the number of entrants, "we typically see between 30 and 40," she said.
Groove U students determine the top 15 after evaluating all performers on quality of material and overall enthusiasm, Hudson said.
Those 15 semifinalists record audio and video for two original songs at the Groove U studio, Hudson said. Those performances are uploaded to YouTube and sent to remote judges -- Matt Crumpton, an entertainment lawyer; Travis Hoewischer, development director at We Amplify Voices; Amber Knicole, MojoFlo lead singer; and Parker Norvell, a musician -- who trimmed the list to 10.
The voting was based on 60% from the judges -- Crumpton, Norvell and musician Lily St. Clair -- and 40% from the audience.
In both the semifinal and final rounds, performers were judged on performance, material and overall impact.
"Your songwriting is wonderful," Crumpton said. "Every line resonated, mostly because I can tell that you feel it."
For winning the competition, Corso will record an extended-play album and shoot a music video.
Hudson said Corso will be one of the youngest artists Groove U has worked with on its record label, Elementary Records.
"This is exciting because we'll have time to work on her long-term artist plan together and witness her growth firsthand throughout the rest of her high school career," Hudson said. "One of the benefits of working with a singer-songwriter versus a full band is there's a lot of room for creativity in the recording and production process."
It's the next step for Corso, a "confident performer" who began guitar lessons when she was 8, she said.
In recent years, she has performed at open mics and at several downtown Columbus restaurants owned by her father, Chris Corso.
"I'm super excited," Kea Corso said. "I am working on some new stuff.
"I have three solid songs that I'm ready to record. I need to polish up my other songs."
Following the studio work, she said, she hopes to develop as a writer and instrumentally.
In addition to the guitar, she plays ukulele and piano.
"I would love to do this as a career if that's possible," she said.