Sterling Scholar finalist Ben Rolly brought along a friend, Ed, for "moral support" Wednesday as he waited for the final interview with the judges.

"I'm sweating, but he's been varnishing," a nervous Ben joked, as he balanced Ed on his knee.Ben's friend with the flaming red hair and expressive eyes is, unlike the bright Sterling Scholar finalists, a dummy. Ed is a ventriloquist's dummy. He was part of the Skyline High School senior's performance before a panel of speech/drama judges.

Ben was one of 180 anxious high schools seniors who paced the halls of Highland High School Wednesday afternoon, waiting for their turn before the three judges in their category. It was the finals of the annual Deseret News-KSL-TV Sterling Scholar Awards competition.

The Wasatch Front finalists were selected from 520 nominees from high schools from Payson to Smithfield. Fifteen finalists competed in each category - English, social science, mathematics, science, foreign languages, visual arts, industrial education, homemaking, business, music, speech/drama and general scholarship. Besides academic achievement, the students were also judged on citizenship and leadership.

The judges selected 12 winners and 24 runners-up, but the results won't be announced until the Sterling Scholars ceremony Tuesday, April 10, at Cottonwood High School. It will be broadcast on KSL-TV Channel 5 at 7 p.m.

Facing the judges in a 10-minute interview is what it finally comes down to after months, and often years, of preparation. Every one of the finalists in the annual academic-excellence competition probably had a worry or two, even if they wouldn't admit it.

Alta High School's Jennifer Rees, an English finalist, decided she could beat the finals jitters. She left school early Wednesday to relax. "I went home, ate some cheesecake and talked to my family," she said.

It worked - for a while. By the time she arrived outside the interview room the soothing effects of the cheesecake had disappeared.

Another victim of the nerves, classmate Stephanie Thompson, an Alta senior and Sterling Scholar finalist in social science, passed the final moments before the big interview by running down the list of her community accomplishments.

"Oh, I feel like I just rambled. I just chattered. My hands were everywhere," she worried as she emerged from the interview.

But, in a few minutes, a calmer Stephanie admitted the judges were very complimentary, adding that she would have enjoyed a longer conversation with them.

Brighton's Julie Sorenson, a finalist in foreign languages, also wanted more time with the judges. A foreign exchange student in Germany last year, Julie conversed for several minutes in German but then answered questions in English.

"I wish I could have had a more in-depth conversation," she said.

Timpview's Melissa Myers, a finalist in English, admitted she spent the past few days cramming for the final interview. With a particular interest in Russian literature, she went over themes and concepts of Russian masterpieces.

For the music finalists, preparation lasted to the final second before the interview. In a room adjacent to the interview location, finalists such as bassoonist Jared Bickham, Taylorsville High School, went over their pieces.

But that wasn't Richard B. Evans' style. Commented the Highland debater and speech/drama finalist: "I figure if you don't know it by now, you don't know it. You really can't prepare."

For Trevor Holyoak, Kearns High School, finalist in business, the hardest part may not be the preparation or the final interview. It's that seven-day wait until the Sterling Scholar results are announced.