The minute Charles Goff walked onto the stage at Howard University's Cramton Auditorium on Saturday night, you knew he was a winner. He was the third act of 19 entries in the first city-wide D.C. Talent Search, and the 18-year-old a champion's strut, a self-assured presence, plus a powerful voice.

Goff knew it too. A stocky man in a gray business suit with a close-cropped hairstyle, Goff didn't have any gimmicks. Facing a near-capacity audience, he let his airy falsetto ride during his rendition of Earth, Wind and Fire's "I'll Write A Song for You," raised his finger as he hit the right phrases and executed a few tricky footsteps. But his edge was understatement and, like any classy entertainer, Goff left the stage just as the applause and screams reached a crescendo.

Two hours later, Goff, a senior at Randall Sr. High School, was announced the winner of the grand prize of $500. In appreciation, he sang the same song again, and commented afterwards, "I knew I had a lot to offer. I had never though about putting an act together until three months ago but I thought these people had a lot to give me, so why don't I try? Winning only makes me feel good."

D.C. Talent Search was initiated by D.C. City Councilman William R. Spaulding who had a similar contest in his ward, Ward 5, last year. "We want to make sure the city is a cultural art center on all levels. The Kennedy Center is one level, but that doesn't reach the inner-city. We wanted to show the kids they have some opportunities."

Joining Spaulding were the Mobil Foundation, Inc., which provided the $2,000 cash awards, Catholic University and the D.C. Department of Receration. Ardie McCarden of Spaulding's office, who organized the three months of preliminary auditions and ward contests that led up to the Saturday's finals, said the shows "were a good example of urban creativity.

"The youth are showing how they can channel their talents to fight the rising cost of education and a high unemployment rate, Spaulding said.

In the audience were representatives of the National Endowment for the Arts, Mobil Oil, the U.S.O. talent office, record companies and talent agencies. Not all were looking for commercial talent, but some, like Rev. Geno Baroni, an assistant secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, were monitoring the show to see how its format fit into the proposed federal urban arts program.

What Saturday night's "urban creativity" turned out to be was a subdued pastiche of oratory, pop and gospel music, jazz/rock bands, piano and violin instrumentals and ballet and disco dance. The jogging suit and sneaker set that dominated the audience seemed to appreciate everything. And they applauded any demonstration of flair.

Besides Goff, who had a sizeable cheering section of friends the loudest response of the evening went to Eric Aiken, a graduate of the School Without Walls, who combined three of Martin Luther King's speeches into an impressive recitation. When he shouted, nearly catching the essence of the Southern Baptist oratory, "We as a people will get to the Promised Land," the audience stood up.

Goff was almost overshadowed by a noncompetitor, Little Anthony Wright, a 10-year-old singer, who along with the Ambassadors Band, provided some entertainment between the acts. Wright, who has been modeling professionally and working with the Miss Teen-age Pageant for the last two years, had all the teen-age girls screaming as he did Natalie Cole's "Our Love."

But, finally, Goff got the limelight. "In the future I want to sing but also I want to study philosophy and psychology. All I can say right now is that I don't go a day without thanking God or my talent."