Paravi Das

Name: Paravi Das

Currently Enrolled (2019): University of California, Los Angeles

Full Essay: 

My name is Paravi Das. I am a high school senior at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Virginia, and I cannot afford college. This is how the Tronfeld West & Durrett Step by Step Scholarship could help me achieve my goals. I learned how to act before I could smile, how to sing before I could talk, and how to dance before I could walk. I am an avid member of the Stone Bridge High School choir and theater departments, holding the title of Crew Head of Publicity in both organizations as well as Crew Head of Set Design in our theater department. The fine and performing arts are who I am, and I was reminded of this as I competed on season one of American Idol on ABC network. I began the audition process by submitting an online video in June of 2017, expecting a resounding, “No, thanks”, after pressing the submit button. The answer was, “Yes”. Audition after audition, I moved up, up, up in the process, receiving three yeses from Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan, eventually traveling to the infamous Hollywood Week in January of 2017. I flew to Los Angeles, alongside the rest of the Top 169 singers from across the country, and sang on the Dolby Theater stage.

After spending months believing that I could truly be the next American Idol, I was cut, day one. Heartbroken was an understatement. And the reason behind my botched performance on that world-famous stage? I found out mere minutes before performing that my father was in the hospital. He had suffered from a stroke. While I was smiling my face off, running around backstage, not being able to believe that my dreams were actually within reach, my dad was laying in an unknown hospital bed in an unknown city. Hollywood nearly took my dad from me, and it nearly took my passion for singing, too. I stopped performing. Months passed, and I had yet to step on stage since that traumatic experience, up until I found out that if my father had spent another day in Hollywood had I moved on in the competition, I would not have a dad. The gut-wrenching guilt that had been weighing down my shoulders for the months following Hollywood Week suddenly began to ease up. If I had continued to compete, I would have lost more than my passion. Sure, winning enough money to cover my $300,000 tuition and a recording deal would be nice, but I won something even more important: my family back. That year was the best and worst of my life, but it taught me to appreciate what I have and where I can go. While my pockets are not filled with UCLA tuition money, they are filled with something more valuable: potential.

This award is called the Step by Step scholarship, and American Idol was just one of the many steps I’ve taken to achieve my dream of giving back to music what music gave to me: a voice. I’m an ex-American Idol contestant, a U.S. Presidential Scholar Semifinalist, the 2018-2019 SkillsUSA Virginia State President, and more, but I pride myself most on how I have developed as a young adult throughout these diverse and unique experiences. As a young woman of Indian heritage, I have had to go through most of my life without someone who looked like me, who was doing what I’ve always wanted to do, as a role model. I never truly saw an Indian woman who was a successful recording artist, and that struggle of forging my own path without a clear example of what was possible in front of me is what made me so resilient and daring. I have made my own choices and decisions without a stoic view of a goal that has been accomplished before. I have jumped head first into all of my passions, and as much as I am ready to jump head first into my future, I cannot, because the shackles of student debt and family financial status are hanging on my ankles.

After spending years overcoming the social stigmas surrounding my “underdog” activities, from the fine and performing arts to career and technical education, after pushing myself to my breaking point because of my pure love for what I do, after struggling as a young person of color in a world where not everything is fair, the only obstacle in my path is not a question of my passion, my desire, or my potential, it is a question of whether or not my parents wallets are as full as our hearts. Candidly, I have worked my butt off to be where I am today. The driving force behind my 3:00 am bedtimes, 10 hour school days, and skipping meals for rehearsals and homework is passion. The driving force behind my participation in cultural clubs, performing arts, fine arts, career and technical education, AP courses, and more is collaboration. I want to go to a school where these two factors can intertwine, and UCLA is the definition of those words. I was accepted to the School of Theater, Film and Television within UCLA as a Musical Theater major and Music Industry minor, which allows me to continue to be who I am in my future career: well-rounded. Allowing myself to be immersed in the performing arts and entertainment business, while still staying true to my core class curriculum admiration with general education courses, gives me exactly what I need to venture into the risky world of entertainment business as a versatile, and therefore sought after, individual. At UCLA, I’d be able to not only reach my potential, but surpass it. I have the acceptance letter, the potential, and the goal. Now, all I need is the support to help me get there. My name is Paravi Das, and this is how the Tronfeld West & Durrett Step by Step Scholarship could help me achieve my goals.