Madison Reyes had no idea how to make an audition tape, but when a teacher suggested that she answer a nationwide casting call for a Latina-American teen who could sing and act, Reyes didn't hesitate.
She'd just started learning to play piano, so she closed off a storage area at home that she'd turned into a music room, told her parents to keep out and began recording two scenes. Not sure what the audition required, she memorized all the lines, recorded herself playing all the characters and sang "She Used to Be Mine" from the musical Waitress.
When Reyes got the call to fly to Los Angeles, her parents were astonished to learn that the tryout wasn't for a school play — it was for the lead in Netflix's musical series Julie and the Phantoms.
Director–executive producer Kenny Ortega, who directed High School Musical and choreographed Dirty Dancing, was looking for a new face to play Julie, a grieving teen who's lost her mother but regains her love for music after three charming ghosts persuade her to form a rock band with them.
Casting directors viewed 700 tapes from around the world, but Ortega wasn't satisfied. So, an open call went out to 1,000 performing arts high schools across the U.S., and 300 submissions poured in. Reyes grabbed Ortega's attention, and she was soon hired.
The actress says she fell in love with musical theater in middle school, but really sought the role in Phantoms because of her younger sister, Megan. "Vanessa [Hudgens] in High School Musical was the first girl I looked up to before there was more diversity in movies," Reyes says. "My goal was to be a role model for my sister, so that she will also follow her dreams and succeed."
When shooting on the nine episodes ended, the newly minted star returned to Allentown, Pennsylvania, where she homeschools.
Doing the show has taught her that hard work pays off, Reyes says, and she hopes audiences will also take away a message from Julie: grieving a lost loved one is important, but "don't let that stop you from being who you're meant to be."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 11, 2020