Laurel Dammann, a 16-year-old high school junior from Arcata, Calif., is the winner of the 2006 Songwriting Contest for Teens sponsored by Billboard and USA Today.

Laurel Dammann, a 16-year-old high school junior from Arcata, Calif., is the winner of the 2006 Songwriting Contest for Teens sponsored by Billboard and USA Today.

Inspired by the theme "come together," Dammann's song "Through the Fall" beat out more than 5,000 other student entries from across the country. Her song was chosen unanimously by the panel of celebrity judges -- Alicia Keys, Damian Marley, Bow Wow, Hoobastank and Sara Evans -- as the best of 10 finalists (the first unanimous vote in the contest's five-year history).

"It's about prejudices and stereotypes. Everybody has them," says Dammann of her winning song. "The problem is, some don't look past the differences to see the person and, if they're in trouble, help them out."

As the winner, she receives a trip for two to the Billboard Music Awards in December in Las Vegas, where she'll hang out backstage; a $1,000 U.S. savings bond; and a Sony DVD/CD burner and production software. Runner-up Nathan J. Campbell, 14, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who gets USA WEEKEND in the New York Daily News, wins a $500 savings bond and Sony software.

Perhaps the biggest prize, Dammann says, is having her words printed in a national magazine. "I'm definitely excited about winning," she says. "It's given me more confidence because I've never really let people read [my music]."