NEW YORK, NY — After a nationwide search for contenders for Season 4 of Food Network’s “Kids Baking Championship,” Livingston seventh grader Soleil Thomas, 12, was selected to compete for $25,000, a feature in Food Network Magazine and the title of Kids Baking Champion. She will be one of eight kids and teens to put their baking skills to the test when the new season airs on Jan. 1 at 9 p.m. and culminates on Monday, March 5.

Guided by hosts Duff Goldman and Valerie Bertinelli, the young bakers compete in challenges designed to find the most impressive and creative baker over the course of ten episodes. Soleil, who started baking at a very young age and has been baking on her own for nearly two years ago, said that when she applied for the competition online, she could not believe she might “actually be on the Food Network.”

“I've always loved Kids Baking Championship, and it's always been my dream to be on the show, but I never thought I actually ever would be,” she said. “My mom picked me up from dance class and played the message from the producers and me and my sister started screaming. I still don't know how I'm going to react when I see myself on TV. I saw some of the commercials on Food Network already and I’m so excited.”

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Soleil added that she has big plans for watching the competition. For her viewing party on New Year’s Day, she is excited to introduce a special cotton candy drink she created called “Soleil’s Sparkling Sugar Rush” to go along with dessert.

“For the first episode, I'm having a premier party with all of my friends and family,” she said. “There are going to be about 130 people there.”

When the competition began, Soleil said she was most looking forward to meeting the other contestants. As a longtime fan of the show, Soleil said she has favorites from previous seasons and couldn’t wait to meet her competition.

“Being around other bakers my age was so cool because we got to talk about all of the things that we love to do,” she said. “I made so many friends, and I text them almost every day.”

Soleil’s fellow “Kids Baking Championship” contestants include: Gareth Bennett, 10, of Gaithersburg, MD; Julia Betz, 12, of Key Biscayne, FL; Alex Czajka, 12, of Edmonton, AB; Beverly Hepler, 10, Foster City, CA; Grady Holloway, 11, Chesterfield, MO; Luke Jonsson, 13, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA; Linsey Lam, 13, of Closter, NJ; Abby Martin, 13, of Franklin, WI; Bryn Montgomery, 11, of South Hill, VA; Aditya Pillutla, 12, of Cary, NC; and Michael Platt, 11, of Bowie, MD.

“Bryn, Abby and Julia are some of my new best friends,” said Soleil. “And the coolest thing is that Linsey and I live in the same state, and we are great friends too. But all of the kid bakers were so nice—our experience was so crazy and sort of one-of-a-kind, so I know we will be friends forever.”

Soleil added that some of the biggest surprises walking into the competition included the size of the kitchen and getting used to the professional kitchen equipment.

Since the competition, she also said Goldman and Bertinelli have become her biggest inspirations.

“Not only are they the nicest judges you could ever have, they are both amazing bakers and chefs and I look up to them so much,” she said. “Meeting them was so amazing, and having them get to judge my baking skills was the opportunity of a lifetime.”

After years of baking with her mother and my grandmother, Soleil was inspired to challenge herself and start baking more complex desserts. She said her favorite thing about baking is experimenting with different flavors and making “so many different things that taste amazing.”

In addition to baking—often alongside her younger sister, Ava—the seventh grader also enjoys competitive dancing and entering pageants.

"The return of family-favorite Kids Baking Championship is the perfect sweet note to start the New Year with creative confections and delicious desserts from extraordinary young bakers showing off their remarkable talents that will awe and inspire audiences," said Courtney White, senior vice president of programming, Scripps Networks Interactive.

Throughout the new season, the contestants will tackle new confectionary challenges that include sweet dessert pizzas using traditional savory pizza toppings, “out-of-this-world” desserts with freeze-dried astronaut approved ingredients, and a new twist on the popular imposter dessert challenge featuring lunchbox favorites. On the premiere on Jan. 1, the bakers must conquer cookie cakes, but a curveball has one competitor melting under the pressure.

Fans can join the baking banter on Twitter using #BakingChampionship and relive the season’s greatest moments with video and photo highlights HERE. Fans can also go behind the scenes with Goldman and Bertinelli to discover more baking tips.