Ashley Lee (Los Angeles Times) reports on rising star Madison Reyes:
Madison Reyes was only 18 months old when “High School Musical” first debuted, and her love for the franchise grew as she did. She’s seen the movies countless times; she collected all of the Barbie dolls and stickers. “I loved watching these kids sing and dance around their school,” recalled Reyes, now 16. “I was like, ‘I want to do that! What school I gotta go to to do that?!’”
Fast forward to last year, when the Puerto Rican teen started a dance circle in a locker-lined hallway and crowd surfed inside a confetti-covered cafeteria. She did so as the star of Netflix’s “Julie and the Phantoms,” premiering Thursday — the latest project from “High School Musical” mastermind Kenny Ortega and the first of his overall deal with the streaming service.
Reyes — a magnetic musical heroine with her textured voice and adorable gap-toothed smile — was cast for the demanding lead role from more than 700 self-taped auditions. “I wanted someone whom everyone could watch and really recognize themselves in,” explained Ortega. “After watching her video, I knew Madison was the girl to beat. She has this raw talent that can take on any genre of music, and this promise of greatness that excited everybody. And yet she’s so relatable and grounded.”
Such credibility is crucial in the lead of any TV show, but especially one with a particularly imaginative premise. A remake of a 2011 Brazilian series, “Julie and the Phantoms” centers on a talented teen who, creatively paralyzed by the loss of her mother, meets a trio of musicians — who also happen to be ghosts, having died in 1995. These specters magically become visible and audible to all whenever they perform with Julie as their lead singer. [. . .]
Reyes, who looks up to Ariana Grande and Zendaya — both of whom also launched their multi-hyphenate careers by leading tween-facing TV shows — is proud to play Julie, but that doesn’t mean she’s without trepidations. “I’m nervous about whether or not people are going to fall in love with her, because I’m just like her,” she said while seated in her family dining room, decorated with her father’s paintings of Taino symbols and the Puerto Rican flag.
“She’s Latin American, she’s got textured hair, she’s a strong and independent female character,” continued Reyes, acutely aware that she carries the burden of representation at such a young age. “As a person of color who wants more diversity [on-screen], I’m kind of scared about the hate comments that I’ve seen other people have to go through, especially women. I’m not trying to think about that too much … Don’t get me started on that kind of anxiety!” [. . .]