AceShowbiz - Kenny Ortega, the brains behind the "High School Musical" franchise, knew he'd found another teenage superstar when he put her up against some of the best young talent in Hollywood for the lead in his new Netflix series.
The director and choreographer's longtime casting agents, Jason La Padura and Natalie Hart, sent out open calls to the top arts high schools in America and received 300 auditions, on top of the 400 sent in from all around the globe, as Ortega started working on "Julie & the Phantoms" for the streaming service.
They shortlisted a talented few and handed the video auditions to Kenny, who immediately fell in love with 14-year-old Madison Reyes, and now he's confident she'll become the next Vanessa Hudgens or Ashley Tisdale - two of his "High School Musical" superstars.
"Madison had never been in front of a camera in her life," Ortega tells WENN. "She dragged her electric piano into a storage room in her house, asked her family to be quiet, and recorded her audition."
"She played every character in the scene - she didn't know she only had to read her role. And when I saw that audition I just knew that she was our Julie, and that she could bring authenticity and heart to the role. And my instinct was right. We brought Madison to Los Angeles, and we put her up against some of the most extraordinary talent of her age in the industry, and she was able to win the role with unanimous support from everyone."
And Ortega was delighted his lead was a Latina, "I wanted to tell a story that featured a Latina lead. I wanted to put a hero out there for young ladies who haven't had many, but who was also a character that everyone could identify with, and whose heart would engage everyone. I was looking for a girl who was going to find a way to bring herself into the role, not just have to imagine it, but could also use her own young life experience to make it real."
"And then, to top it all off, she'd have to be able to play an instrument, be able to hit the notes, and be able to work well with the other actors. And this little girl came in and just nailed it. She just delivered all of it."
"Julie & the Phantoms" debuts on Netflix on 4 September (20).