Star Students

Kasseem Dean

A music legend on the come-up.

Kassem Dean (11) has been perfecting his music for the past six years and is preparing to drop his first songs.

Many members of Dean’s family are involved in the music industry, so Dean has been surrounded by music his entire life, ultimately leading him into his own world of songwriting. As early as age 10, Dean began learning how to engineer melodies in his home studio.

For Dean, the process of developing a song always starts with the beat.

“The beat is very important because the beat could go off how you feel and what you’re trying to go for, so that sets the tone for the whole song,” Dean said.

As soon as he finds the perfect rhythm, Dean begins recording the main vocal track for the song. Dean relies on freestyling and often lets the lyrics come to him naturally. Oftentimes, when he feels inspired, Dean will save lyrics in his voice memos app to use later. The last step in his process is recording the ad-lib track, which consists of the quieter background vocals on the song. This step is Dean’s favorite part of his creative process.

“I like the ad-libs because they’re quieter so you can kind of mess around and try out new sounds,” Dean said.

But the process of producing a song is not as quick and straightforward as many people may imagine. Dean spends around two hours a day after school working on his music.

After he is finished with his original draft of a song, Dean works to master it by cutting out parts he doesn’t like or fine-tuning areas that still need work. Once he is finished with his own editing, Dean sends the draft over to a friend to master the track. Dean’s friend balances out the track to perfect it and ensure that the sound is optimized. This step is vital as it allows a form of “quality control” before his songs are made public.
For Dean, he draws a lot of his inspiration from artists like Travis Scott.

“I think Travis Scott is pretty brilliant [in] how he manages and handles himself with the fame,” Dean said.

For those who are interested in making their own music, Dean offers this piece of advice: “Be patient. In music, you are going to find yourself stuck, not being able to find the right lyrics, not finding a beat that you think is right for your mood. Be patient. You can come back to it. It’s always better when you take your time.”

Audrey Casson

Lights, camera, action! 

Beginning her acting career at the age of six, Audrey Casson (11) has lived in the world of filmmaking for most of her life. 

“I remember going up to my mom and telling her how I really wanted to do film and television when I was really young,” Casson said. 

From then on, Casson has pursued her acting career and has enjoyed many successes. 

“I started to go to LA to do commercial auditions when I was six,” Casson said. “The second audition I ever went on, I got booked.” 

Featured in a Super Bowl commercial for Tide and an episode of “American Horror Story,” Casson said many of her favorite memories from her childhood are from being on set. 

Recalling a particularly gruesome scene from “American Horror Story,” Casson smiled at the memory of watching a set dummy being pummeled by rocks. 

“We should have been scared, but we just thought it was the coolest thing,” Casson said. 

However, balancing schoolwork and acting has been a challenge. Casson explained how she often feels “stressed” and “overwhelmed” when trying to make time for both her schoolwork and her career. 

“Before [COVID-19], my day-to-day life was very stressful. Being young and having all that responsibility of meeting directors and producers was very difficult,” Casson said. 

However, these challenges proved to be only temporary. Due to COVID-19, the film industry experienced many setbacks. Because of this, Casson is now able to send in “self-tapes,” by which she records her auditions at home. This new system allows her time to focus on her schoolwork and social life. 

As she grew older, Casson realized that she wanted to do more than just act.

“I want to do everything in the industry, I plan on starting my own production company, and I would love to write too,” Casson said. “I just want to be big in every aspect of the industry.” 

Casson’s life in the film industry has given her many opportunities to grow both as an actress and an individual. 

“I feel like [acting] has taught me how to be really mature because I had to meet people and be really professional starting at only six years old,” Casson said. 

After years in the film business, Casson firmly believes that her successes stemmed from her hard work and dedication. 

“If you are trying to become an actor, the best advice I can give you is to keep working hard,” Casson said. “Everything that you put in will eventually lead to an amazing payout; it may not come easily, but you just have to keep trying.” 

Adriann Cao

Between clicks of the camera shutter, Adriann Cao (12) emerges as a rising talent in the modeling world.

Cao’s journey in the modeling industry took off early last summer, after a friend recommended he join No Ties Management, a modeling agency based in Southern California.

“They’re located in Solana Beach, so I went in there, I took some digitals and here we are,” Cao said.

Towards the end of the summer, Cao signed with the agency and has since worked on a test shoot to build his portfolio, giving him the ability to submit professional photos for possible jobs.

“[Test shoots] allow clients to see what you look like in certain clothes,” Cao said.

Cao has also participated in a few classes at a runway modeling school.

“I stopped [taking classes] because there’s only so much you can teach,” Cao said. “I just thought there was some good information for the couple of classes I went to.”

Cao mentioned that watching runway videos has been a valuable learning asset as well, due to his ability to grasp concepts quickly through visual learning.

Apart from using classes and runway videos as ways to improve, Cao attended an acting program last summer through the University of Southern California.

“[Acting and modeling] go kind of hand-in-hand with the way you use your body or the way you use facial expressions and looks,” Cao said. “There’s a lot of physicality.”

Going into modeling, Cao was very aware of the struggles models face, specifically low self-esteem and negative body image issues.

“You shouldn’t base your whole value on how you look,” Cao said. “I understand that that’s a little contradictory considering this is modeling, but don’t beat yourself up over not getting a job there’s other people out there that are looking for you and your type of look.”

The accommodating and welcoming nature of Cao’s agency has helped him to avoid the pressure and negative stereotypes that often accompany modeling. To Cao, dealing with rejection is a skill that is learned “along the way,” and he has learned to not take rejection personally.

“There’s always new opportunities — more opportunities — somewhere else … maybe they’re bigger, maybe they’re better, maybe they’re smaller, it doesn’t matter,” Cao said. “I just like to take everything and make the most of what’s given to me.”

In the future, Cao hopes to continue modeling, but doesn’t consider it to be his full career.

“I think my future career would be something in the arts, like theater or screen acting,” Cao said. “Modeling for me would probably be a side thing … I’m doing it but I don’t want to settle for less than what I think I can pursue.”

As he continues to make strides through the modeling world, Cao remains grounded in his identity, yet open to new experiences. For now, he is on the path to explore, learning and growing with each click of the camera.

Sevey Morton

“The sensation of panic or dread is not easy to describe, and the young subjects comport themselves exceptionally well,” the New York Times said, commenting on the documentary in which Sevey Morton (10) starred.

Released in May 2022, “Anxious Nation” sheds light on mental health and anxiety by highlighting the experiences of several teenagers. The film was co-produced by entrepreneur and author Laura Morton, Sevey’s mother. Morton’s proximity to the film allowed her to closely collaborate, turning the medium of film into a platform for change.

“Anxious Nation” is a film about anxiety in teens and children and the kind of experiences the whole cast and I have been through,” the younger Morton said.

Morton has struggled with mental health her whole life. In 2019, her mother was inspired to speak out on the taboo topic after noticing the lack of awareness around mental health.

“She thought if other people won’t do it, she should,” Morton said.

Since its release, “Anxious Nation” has been invited to over 15 film festivals and was represented by Morton on “The Today Show,” “Nightline,” and KCAL-TV. Morton has continued her advocacy work with Lady Gaga’s mental health non-profit, the Born This Way Foundation, along with her position on the teen mental health board of advisors at UCLA’s The Friends of the Semel Institute.

“With the Born This Way Foundation, I was asked how I cope with my mental health.

This playlist, available on Spotify and Apple Music, is one of the ways Morton has jump-started a mental health conversation and reached other teens in the process.

Although Morton cherishes her work, she also expresses the difficulty of juggling her school and professional life.

“Because I missed so many days last year, I actually created a very good study habit,” Morton said.

Missing around 45 days of school for an extensive Film Festival NPR run, Morton was forced to adapt and gain independence.

Having grown up in musical theater, Morton is accustomed to the spotlight, but found it difficult to discuss her mental health experiences.

“There’s been times where I’ve not wanted to share stuff, but I know it benefits people in the shadows, so as long as it benefits people, I’m happy,” Morton said.

Morton’s work through “Anxious Nation” to raise awareness about mental health has positively impacted her life.

“I’ve gained so much confidence in myself,” Morton said.

She encourages the younger generation to use their voices and make a difference in the world.

“I think it’s important that we start now so we can make a better future for our kids and for people who can’t speak out,” Morton said.

Photos by Anna Opalsky/Falconer

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