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Alexandria teen competes to be top Smashtune songwriter

Friday - 6/24/2011, 7:12pm  ET

Keira Moran (WTOP Photo/Colleen Kelleher)
Keira Moran, 16, hopes to win an Internet songwriting competition. (WTOP Photo/Colleen Kelleher)
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"It's Only Getting Better"

Original song by Keira Moran

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"Don't Change a Thing"

Original song by Keira Moran

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Colleen Kelleher, wtop.com

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - When Keira Moran sits down at the piano with a spiral notebook, the composer in her comes out as she starts to play a melody.

Keira, 16, says when she realizes the melody isn't already a song, she says to herself "better snag that up and write a song."

She then goes back and adds lyrics.

Mom Angie knows when Keira is tinkering with a new song. She hears a bit of a melody from the living room piano, then days later hears the same melody, with a little bit more added on.

"I have lots and lots of new songs in various stages of development," Keira says.

"My songs are more ballads and songs with a story line."

The T.C. Williams High School student is now trying to win an Internet songwriting contest on Smashtune.com.

"I already had my song, 'When I'm With You,' I had already posted the video on YouTube. So I just stumbled across this contest and decided to see what my chances were."

The video is about young love. A girl realizes she has deeper feelings for a longtime friend, only to find out he has another girlfriend.

Keira convinced her best friend Maria Jones and boyfriend Chris Porter, who also attend T.C. Williams, to star in the video with her. Recent T.C. graduate Ian Zuidema edited the video.

Maria says Keira sent her a text and asked her to be in the video. Maria agreed.

"I didn't know what I was going to be doing," Maria said.

"I got to play the other woman," she jokes.

Keira says months before filming the video at T.C. Williams High School, Chinquapin Park and Bradley Shopping Center, she brought the idea to Chris.

"I just brought it up in conversation. 'Hey, we might be filming this video. Do you want to be the guy in it?' He's like, 'Oh, sure.'"

She says Chris may not have realized she was serious he play the part of the teen torn between the two young women, but she held him to his promise, even using his house for part of the project.

"Part of it takes place at Chris' home. The scene where I'm in the window and he's walking away, that's not my house!"

Chris, who's described as quiet, participated but didn't even tell his parents about the YouTube video.

"He has a tiny bit of stage fright. He's been really cool about it," Keira whispers.

Keira says she considered Chris for the part "way before we were going out."

So is the song about Chris?

"I will not say.

"I kind of like to keep the story under wraps. It's like Taylor Swift. You don't talk about your personal life. You write about your personal life.

"It's partially a true story. It's embellished with music," Keira says.

True story or not, Keira's video is doing well on Smashtune.com, where viewers vote for their favorite videos. They've been voting since April. On Sunday, June 26, the top five will be decided, and the competition begins again.

"It's pretty scary. I entered the competition a month and a half after it started, so I feel everyone else had a head start. Also I'm like the youngest person. It's been going really well. I'm in second place overall," Keira says about the current round.

More than 2,200 votes had been cast for Keira by friends and family by mid-morning Friday.

"A lot of my friends at T.C. have been super supportive. They're voting every day, and that's how it got really popular," Keira says.

In the last days of the school year, Keira passed out flyers and candy to drum up more interest.

She, Maria, her other friends and her family regularly post the link to vote on their Facebook pages. Keira also has the contest link on her Facebook Fan Page and her website.

"I put all of Keira's Smashtune links up so everyone can vote for her, and I tell Keira which number I am so we can keep pushing her up to No. 1," says Maria.

Getting to the No. 2 slot in the first round hasn't been easy. Celebrities are tweeting for some of the songwriters.

"Jenna Bush is tweeting for one of them, and Pink has tweets for one of them. I imagine when it comes down to the [top] five, this is all going to get kicked up a notch," says Keira's mom, Angie.

Keira says she plans to drum up votes with a Twitter account.

Voting for the top 5 will end June 30. The winner gets to perform at July's Kaua'i Music Festival in Hawaii. The prize includes songwriting seminars and feedback from Grammy- and Emmy-winning writers and producers.

While Keira says it would be "awesome to go to Hawaii and perform for all these people," she's looking at winning from a practical standpoint.

"It's really about getting your music out there and seeing what can come with this."

Keira, who recorded "When I'm With You" and two other songs at Cue Recording Studio in Falls Church last winter, plans to spend the summer writing and recording more songs.

"I'd really, really love to continue music after high school. Music has always been a really big part of my life, and I'd love to make it a career. I'm most interested in the writing," she says.

A classic cellist who plays in the school orchestra and in a chamber music group, Keira taught herself the guitar and takes voice lessons. But it's the piano she says that's "ingrained in my brain."

"I've been playing piano for as long as I can remember. I play the piano every day."

Angie, who says Keira has always made up songs and easily picks up tunes she hears, wants her daughter to go as far as she can with her talent.

"What Keira has is the gift of a natural music ability and I think it was enhanced at a very early age. When you combine nature and nurture, it really enhances whatever you're born with," Angie says.

If you'd like to see Keira perform, she takes the stage at 12:45 p.m. Saturday, June 25 at the Del Ray Music Festival. She is slated to play four of her own songs, including "When I'm With You."

The next afternoon, she says she'll be sitting at her computer, waiting to find out whether she makes Smashtune.com's top five. If she does, she plans to go into "non-stop voting and promoting" mode to win the competition.

If you want to vote for Keira, you can vote once a day. Click here and vote on the right of the page.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)