The annual D.C. Metro Talent Search for the finest young amateur talent in D.C. Maryland and Virginia is on.

Sponsored by D.C. City Councilman William R. Spaulding, the Mobil Foundation Inc., the D.C. Department of Recreation and Catholic University, the search is a 12-week performing-arts competition designed to identify young persons with exceptional artistic potential.

The competition is open to D.C., Maryland and Virginia residents between the ages of 13 and 29.There are 13 categories: vocal soloist, classical and nonclassical; vocal group; instrumental soloist, classical and nonclassical; instrumentala group, with and without vocalist, such as brass ensembles, jazz ensembles and string quartets; gospel or religious music groups; specialty individual, such as comedian, puppeteers and magicians; specialty group, such as acrobats and jugglers; dance soloist; dance group, and dramatic presentations by a soloist or group.

The Talent Search also has a special category of competition, best senior adult act, for persons 62 or older.

Preliminary-level competition begins late this month and continues through the third week of March at locations throughout the District.Organizers say they expect thousands of young people to compete at the preliminary level. Judges will select 32 acts in each of the 13 youth categories and 32 in the senior-adult category to go on to a preliminary run-off competition, where 16 acts will be chosen in each of the 14 categories.

After the run-off competition comes the full show competition, which will be open to the public. Four quarter-finals will have four contestants competing in each category. First-place winners in the quarter-finals will go on to the semifinal competition, in which two acts will be selected in each category.

Those 28 contestants will enter the grand final competition, a two-hour show scheduled for 7 p.m. May 23 in DAR Constitution Hall.

Trophies will be awarded beginning at the quarter-final level, and the grand finalists will win opportunities to further their training.

Applications are being accepted through March 9. For further information, telephone Metro Talent Search headquarters, 576-6701.