From the South Shore to the East End, Long Island's got talent. Here, we put the spotlight on locals who are making names for themselves in the entertainment world.
KIERA STELLA, Oyster Bay
Stella grew up listening to country music which fueled her desire to be a singer-songwriter like Taylor Swift. As a junior at Belmont University in Nashville, she's majoring in songwriting. "I'm inspired by relationships in my life, and I look at other people's relationships," she says. Her single "No More" has gotten considerable radio play since coming out earlier this year, including on Long Island's station My Country 96.1 FM, and her holiday single "Last Christmas," will come out immediately after Thanksgiving. She'll perform at The Nutty Irishman in Farmingdale on Nov. 27 and will sing the national anthem when the Long Island Nets play at Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 4. In addition to eventually playing the Grand Ole Opry, Stella says she has one other goal: "I want to inspire other young girls who are in their bedrooms writing songs to get out there and make their voices heard. We need more female voices in this industry."
JOHANNA TAYLOR, Wheatley Heights
Taylor has been a dancer since she was 4 and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance from University at Buffalo. While at Buffalo, she received a scholarship to the Dance Italia summer intensive in Lucca, Italy. "We had an improvisation performance in one of the piazzas in the city," Taylor recalls. "It was incredible to be a part of an immersive performance like that, with locals and tourists all around us, in a country I'd always dreamed of going to." She is an ensemble cast member in "Annie" at Axelrod Performing Arts Center in New Jersey, which runs through Nov. 18. The production, which is helmed by renowned choreographer Al Blackstone, marks Taylor's first time doing theater since middle school and she's hungry to do more. "I have a lot of goals including getting to Broadway someday soon," she says. Taylor will be spending the holidays in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she'll perform in the ensemble of "The Wiz" from Dec. 7 to 31.
EVAN PETRUZZI, Plainview
"My dad's a professional trumpet player and my mom's been a singer since I was in the womb, so I always knew I wanted to have music a part of my life," Petruzzi says. That became clear when she won a high-school talent competition performing one of her original songs. Since then, Petruzzi has performed at venues including 89 North in Patchogue, The Mercury Lounge in Manhattan and the famed Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. The video for her single "Breathe," which came out in October, deals with animal rights and pet adoption and was filmed at local shelters and dog parks. "Going to the dog parks was very rewarding, because I got to speak to the owners and listen to the stories of how much having these animals as part of their families affected them in a positive way." Petruzzi will take the stages at The Bitter End in Manhattan on Nov. 18 and Rockwood Music Hall on Dec. 22. Also in December, Petruzzi will drop her new single, "Sideshow."
VAEDA BLACK, Centerport
Black began singing in kindergarten and has performed in local theater productions. In the fall of 2017, she released her first single, "Face Down," which was about accepting your deep, dark desires. "Suicide Love," which comes out Oct. 10, is a love song that Black says was inspired by a text message her boyfriend sent to her. "I thought it was very poetic and wrote a whole song about it," she says. Black adds that she's not into "bubble-gum pop" and describes herself as an alternative artist, whose strong suit is writing lyrics and melodies. You can hear her perform her songs live on Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. at the Long Island Fall Festival at Heckscher Park in Huntington. Then on Oct. 9, she'll do a nine-song set at Arlene's Grocery on Stanton Street in Manhattan. "Ultimately, I would love to have a following and go on tour and connect with people," she says.
STEVE MASON, Merrick
Mason, who grew up in Patchogue, left his finance job to pursue show biz in 2010 and has acted and done stunt work on such series as "Gotham" and "Orange Is the New Black." For the past year, his pet project has been "Eight," a short film that he directed, starred in, co-wrote and co-produced. In the intense film, which premiered at Bellmore Movies in September, Mason plays his father, a former Suffolk County policeman. The title refers to Mason's age -- he was 8 when his father killed himself. Making the movie has been cathartic, he says, but he also hopes it provides a service. "I want enough people to see it, so that even if one person might be contemplating taking their own life, it might influence them to go seek help." Mason is working to book more screenings for "Eight," and he'll next be seen in an episode of Syfy's "Happy" and USA's "The Sinner."
ERIC SCHELL, Rocky Point
Schell, who now lives in New York City, wanted to be an actor after appearing in "Les Miserables" at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson while a senior in high school. His first role since graduating from Pace University in June is playing Capt. Robert Scott in "Peter and the Starcatcher" at Argyle Theatre in Babylon, and he's the only cast member who portrays a real person. "He was this great British captain who sailed to the Antarctic," says Schell, who researched the role, "but then he didn't have enough food or supplies to come back. He ended up staying in the Antarctic and kept a diary of what happened." Schell's dream is "to end up in Colorado with a big dog and a family" but not before either landing a role on Broadway or working in television and films.
CHASE VACNIN, Merrick
Vacnin co-stars with Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale in the movie "Once Upon a Time in Staten Island" which is slated to come out in 2019. He began acting 12 years ago and has appeared on "The Wendy Williams Show" and played the bully Butch in the 2014 video "The Little Rascals Save the Day." In the coming-of-age drama "Once Upon a Time in Staten Island," which was filmed in the borough, he plays a rough on the outside, soft on the inside teen caught up in the hysteria surrounding the opening of "Rocky III." He bonded well with co-stars Cannavale and Frank Grillo, who shared advice and stories with him during breaks. Vacnin also developed some ticks of his own for his character. "In very serious moments, I'd have him giggle, and I chose that because it was real," Vacnin says. "When people get scared, they will break into nervous laughter."
BRENDAN RORKE, Huntington
Rorke is a composer and musical director whose credits included bkONE's Brooklyn production of "Godspell." He began taking piano lessons when he was 4 and says he knew immediately he had a connection with music. After seeing "Godspell" as a youngster, he fell in love with the show and would ask his piano teacher if he could learn music by Stephen Schwartz, the show's composer. Working on "Godspell," his first professional production since graduating from Hofstra University was a dream job and one he sought to put his own mark on by reworking the finale, which he thought was too abrupt. "I added five to six minutes to it and rearranged the music and gave it a more pop-punk sort of vibe," says Rorke, who now lives in Queens. "I added an extra guitar part and a piano part." The company is in the process of finding an Off-Broadway theater for "Godspell."
AMARA JAMES AJA, West Hempstead
Aja's first role was Mr. Bumble, who takes in the orphan Oliver Twist in a sixth-grade production of "Oliver!" and has since appeared in many Shakespeare productions including "Twelfth Night" and "Macbeth." In "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the Argyle Theatre in Babylon, he's making his professional musical debut as the seafarer Alf, whom he calls an "experienced, pretty unflappable sailor." "It gives me so much more respect for people who can achieve that level of performance," he says. "This show relies heavily on ensemble. We're running, jumping, singing, slipping. It's been fun to stretch these acting muscles I've never used before."
ZACHARY PODAIR, Smithtown
Zachary, who plays Les in the"Newsies" at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, started performing at 6 and has had roles in many Long Island productions, including Donkey in "Shrek." He was in a commercial for a local camp and appeared in re-enactment scenes for an ad about Irish immigrants that was shot in Northport. Playing Les, one of the youngest of the "Newsies," has been his favorite theatrical experience. An accomplished dancer, Zachary says his favorite moments are the number "Seize the Day" and his tap solo near the end of the show. "This show had tons of new choreography. It was very challenging," says Zachary. Though he plans to audition for more shows, Zachary doesn't see himself acting professionally when he gets older. "I'll do it more as a hobby. I feel like there is tons of competition and it's very hard to make a living as an actor." He would like to try his hand at choreography.
CAROLYN MILLER, Massapequa
Miller started acting when she was 8 and has appeared in commercials, theater, film and television, including a 2004 episode of "Law & Order: SVU." "I was in a bar last month and someone actually recognized me from it," she says. Miller, who graduated from the Berklee College of Music, began doing YouTube music videos a few years ago, which developed a massive social-media following. She caught the attention of Russ DeSalvo, who has worked with Celine Dion and Lionel Richie, and is the producer of "Unbreakable." Miller describes the country-pop disc, which came out in July, as "Kelly Clarkson meets Carrie Underwood." "For me, country music was a no-brainer because I love the storytelling and purity and the honesty of the genre," Miller says.
GEORGE PAPADIMATOS, Mineola
Papadimatos started acting after he finished college and studied with actor Chazz Palminteri. "Chazz makes you a better actor the minute you walk through the door," he says. Papadimatos put his career on hold for five years to care for his now-deceased parents while also working as a bartender. Through bartending, he met a casting director who was impressed with his personality and his mixology skills. When he returned to acting, he looked her up, which led to jobs including the Off-Broadway comedy "Bromance-aroni" and a role as Elektra's chauffeur in the Marvel Comics series "Daredevil" for Netflix. "That was a big thrill. I really felt like I was in a comic book," he says. Papadimatos also appears in the web series "Wholly Broken" which was filmed on Long Island. Up next, he has a recurring role on an HBO series premiering in the fall, and he's working on "Cheers"-like pilot set at a Greek diner based on his father's experiences.
MATTY EVERS, Coram
Matty's career has gotten off to a strong start: He landed a role on the July 15 episode of "Sharp Objects" after acing his audition -- his first. In the show, he plays a neighborhood bad boy, and to get the right tough-guy attitude, Matty worked with his mother to channel his "inner Norman Reedus," a nod to his favorite actor. Though Matty had no fear of performing for the camera, he was nervous about having his long blond hair shorn in favor of a buzz cut for his character. Matty has also been tap dancing since he was 2 and has performed with a dance company throughout the East Coast and has won competitions. Matty says he would love to show off his dance skills on Broadway, perhaps in his favorite show, "Hamilton." "I know every lyric to all the songs in 'Hamilton,' " he says.
MADDY SEITLES, East Moriches
Most teens are more into hip-hop than bebop, but not Seitles, who says she's been singing since she learned to talk. At home, her parents played songs by Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, and she fell in love with their style. "That kind of music has a history to it and it's so much more interesting intellectually and is more creative," she says. At 14, Seitles performed during halftime at a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden, and at other venues in Manhattan (The Bitter End, the Apollo Theater) and on Long Island (89 North in Patchogue, The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook). Her July 29 show "Sunday Jazz" at Feinstein's/54 Below show will cover songs she's performed at those spots. She'll attend Frost School of Music at the University of Miami in the fall.
LAURA BRANDEL, Malverne
Director-choreographer Brandel, who now lives in Manhattan, says her many trips to Broadway as a child led to her career path. After earning a bachelor of arts degree in dance and dance education from Hunter College, she got involved in developing and directing works for the New York Musical Theatre Festival and companies such as New York Theatre Barn and 59E59. "I'm drawn to projects that push the envelope," Brandel says, such as the New World Stages production of "Rent" in 2011, on which she served as a choreography consultant. "I saw it on Broadway 13 times ... so I had this crazy-person knowledge of the show," she says. On Aug. 22, Timothy Huang's one-act musical "Koi Story," which Brandel is directing, premieres at the Samuel French Off Off-Broadway Festival. In September, she'll direct two scenes in the ABC Discovers Talent Showcase and in October will direct The Dramatists Guild Fellows Presentation at Playwrights Horizons
CRYSTAL CIMAGLIA, Dix Hills
Cimaglia, a singer who graduated from the Long Island High School for the Arts, has been a real-life Disney princess. She has played Snow White and other animated heroines on Disney cruise ships as well as Hong Kong Disneyland. "The kids think you're the real deal and are completely in awe about meeting their favorite character from the movie they've loved," she says. As a performer for Celebrity Cruises, she got to create her own cabaret show, which led to a gig at Feinstein's/54 Below in November 2017. "I was able to get back to my roots of jazz. I love the '40s and '50s and everything about the culture," she says. Her June 2018 show at the Triad Theater in New York City is a similar affair with "female crooner tunes from back in the day" like "Mambo Italiano" and "Sway," she says.
Dontius started performing as a child and won a talent competition in Brooklyn when he was 14 for his rendition of "Billie Jean." His wake-up call to become a serious artist came a few years later after he was shot in the leg at a party in Amityville. "I'm a strong dancer, and after that I decided I was never going to take my career for granted," he says. A turning point came when his songs "Fighter" and "Turn Up" were featured in the 2017 movie "Love Beats Rhyme" directed by Wu Tang Clan frontman RZA, one of his idols. "After submitting my songs to one of his labels, I got a call from the CEO," which has led to an ongoing collaboration with RZA. The rapper's label 36 Chambers released Dontius' EP "The Fourteenth," appropriately, on Valentine's Day, 2018.
GRACE GAUSTAD, Sagaponack
The up-and-coming singer started playing piano when she was 6, writing songs at 9 and then making music videos at 15 (her video of "Take Me to Church" has more than 5 million views on Instagram). "We block out two days and will do six songs," Gaustad says. "I do a combination of originals and covers." With each video, she likes to include stories about her connection to each song. "I love allowing people to have a personal window into your music, which is great for engagement," she says. For her originals, like "Walk," Gaustad writes from personal experience. "I think it's important to write about being 16 and the world you're growing up in," she says.
MIKE MILLAN, Bay Shore
Millan, who plays Jesus and "a hockey goon" in "Escape to Margaritaville," started dancing as a kid after seeing "West Side Story" and telling his mom, "That's what I want to do." He studied musical theater at the University of Hartford's Hartt School and made his Off-Broadway debut in 2014 in the jukebox musical "Piece of My Heart," also serving as swing and dance captain. At his "Margaritaville" tryout, Millan says he felt confident when the choreographer told those auditioning to act like "you're all really stoned or drunk on the beach," he says. "I said, 'OK, I know exactly what you want.' From there I thought, let me just really ham it up. I could see her watching me the whole time and whispering to her assistant, 'Who's that?' "
ASHLEY HOD, Great Neck
At 4, Hod studied at the Great Neck School of Dance and three years later entered New York City Ballet's School of Ballet. She joined the company in 2012, landing solo spots as Dewdrop and the Sugarplum Fairy in "The Nutcracker." In March, she won one of the Lincoln Center Awards for Emerging Artists, which, she says, gave her "a little bit of reassurance and hope that I can make this dream of making it all the way to becoming a principal come true." Audiences can see Hod in action when the New York City Ballet kicks off its spring season April 24, which will include salutes to Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine.
GERRY FERRETTI, Lindenhurst
Ferretti had a desire to perform since he was 11 and sang with a church choir. He has acted at Long Island theaters, and he has also run a murder-mystery theater company. Writing has always been a passion for Ferretti and last year his original musical "Bridge the Gap," about garage band members who reunite decades later, premiered at South Shore Theatre Experience in Lindenhurst. With "The Mark," a film noir throwback/romance which premieres May 7 at Sayville Cinemas, he took on the entire project from writing to editing, acting and directing. The movie was filmed entirely on Long Island, at locations including St. Bernard's Church in Levittown, Great South Bay and Park Avenue Grill in Amityville.
JACK HATCHER, Commack
Jack has made his professional stage debut in the Public Theater production "The Low Road," a comedy set in 18th century New England. Though he started performing when he was 4, Jack says he got "super-serious" about acting when he was 9 and began taking acting classes at Gateway Playhouse in Bellport. "I had some really good teachers at Gateway," Jack says. "Without them, I wouldn't be where I am now. They taught me basic acting skills and from there built up other skills within me." Jack gets to apply those skills in "The Low Road" playing the pivotal role of the lead character as a child.
STEVE O'BRIEN, Lake Grove
O'Brien started out as a TV news reporter before becoming a special-ed teacher in his late 20s. He started doing stand-up comedy on weekends and took acting and writing classes. After some roles off Off-Broadway, he joined The Actor's Green Room in Manhattan, where he began working in short films, including "The Cartographer," for which he won a best actor award at the 2017 Long Island International Film Expo for playing a bipolar man. Acting, he says, has helped him better understand himself and others. "You analyze characters and scripts to the point where you have to put yourself in their positions and have their point of view," he says. O'Brien, who now lives in Manhattan, also wrote the 2017 short film "Spilt Milk," based on his experience telling his parents that he's gay. He's creating a web series called "Love Your Life" about the first year he came out as gay.
TOM HUMBERT, Garden City
Humbert studied classical guitar at the Hartt School in Hartford, Connecticut, and juggled his studies with performing in dinner theater. He's since performed at the Goodspeed Opera House and at the White House as part of the touring company of "Shining Time Station Live." He's the writer, director and star of a musical pilot called "Wholly Broken," which won the Best Feature Film USA Award at the 2017 International Film Festival Manhattan. The film combines his passions of music, acting, singing and faith. Among the cast members is Baldwin's Martha Wash of the Weather Girls, who performs Humbert's song "Come Into the Light -- Shine On." "Her role didn't call for a song, and I thought, if I'm going to cast Martha Wash, I need to write a song for her," Humbert says.
LILY TAMBURO, East Setauket & ANNABELLE DEANER, Melville
Lily Tamburo, left, began performing at 4 and has appeared in "Guys and Dolls" and "Seussical." AnnaBelle Deaner was 5 when she started doing theater and has done voice-over work, including a Korean animated series, "Magic Adventures: The Crystal of Dark." The two girls split the role of Ivonka in "Once," and the role of Molly in "Annie," which both ran at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.
ALISON BERKE, Oceanside
Alison Berke got her start in Off-Broadway shows when she was younger, but has since begun going by Ali B and says she's been taking music seriously in the past three years. Since the summer of 2017, she played more than 30 club dates, including Amityville Music Hall and Revolution. She also performed "God Bless America" at Citi Field, released two singles, and set plans to produce an EP.
SAMMI RAE MURCIANO, Long Island
Singer-songwriter Sammi Rae Murciano started writing her own songs in 2016 and released her first EP in early 2018, "The Story." She says her ultimate goal is to be signed to a record label and tour throughout the world.
GIANNI CIARDIELLO, Albertson
After Gianni Ciardiello recovered from a serious back injury in high school, he turned to acting. He began taking acting classing in June 2016 and got his start in commercials. He eventually landed a recurring role in Lifetime's "You," playing a younger version of Penn Badgley's character.
MEAGHAN McINNES, Huntington
Meaghan McInnes' love of musical theater started with roles in local productions, including Blue Bird in "Cinderella" and Zuzu in "It's a Wonderful Life." She appeared in several theatrical productions afterwards, however, her breakout role came when she played the lead in "Annie" at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.
MACI AND MEADOW FERRIGNO, Babylon
Twins Maci and Meadow Ferrigno had their first role at just 9 months old as Uma Thurman's daughter on the short-lived NBC series "The Slap" in 2015. They then played Ruth Wilson's daughter in season 2 of Showtime's "The Affair" and Sebastian Arcelus' daughter on CBS' "Madam Secretary," their first role that required them to learn lines. "Every year they seem to get something," says mom Jennifer Ferrigno, who added that she feels "fortunate that they have this memory as children."
LIAM ATTRIDGE, Ronkonkoma
Liam Attridge began playing guitar at 12 years old and says he's "been singing since birth." He joined the boy band Forever in Your Mind in 2014, six months after it was created on TV's "The X Factor." The group has since played major venues including Citi Field and Jones Beach, where they were part of WBLI's Summer Jam in June 2017.
JENNIFER COLLESTER TULLY, East Northport
Jennifer Collester Tully, who grew up in Setauket and started appearing in musicals at 8 years old. She studied jazz performance in college but eventually went back to musical theater and played Nancy in "Oliver!" and Diana in "Next to Normal" at Theatre Three, John W. Engeman Theater, Take One and other venues. She was also director of production for "Gypsy" at Engeman.
JOSHUA SHUBART, West Islip
Joshua Schubart got his start as an actor in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamboat," in high school. However, his unusual talent for fencing landed him a regular gig doing combat scenes at the Metropolitan Opera, where he got to work with noted director Bartlett Sher. He has also appeared in numerous Shakespeare plays and short films. Schubert has also played a recurring villain on Amazon Prime's "The Tick" and holds a leading role on HBO's "High Maintenance."
KATHERINE LAFOUNTAIN, Bayport
Katherine Lafountain starting taking dance lessons when she was 2, and by age 7 she had her first role in the children's musical "Pinkalicious." She then appeared in many productions at both Gateway Playhouse in Bellport and the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, including "Billy Elliot" and "Mary Poppins." Lafountain also had roles on TV in "Boardwalk Empire" and appeared in a sketch with Paul Rudd on "Saturday Night Live."
JAMES ALEXANDER, Central Islip
James Alexander studied theater at Suffolk Community College in Selden but followed the family tradition of joining the NYPD in January 2012. After getting injured and being confined to a desk job, he left the force in September 2013 to pursue acting. "I just knew I could be happier doing this and felt like it was a better way that I could reach people," he says. His love of Shakespeare led to roles in "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and King Henry in "Henry IV -- Part One" at the Long Island Shakespeare Festival. Soon after, he began a one-year tenure with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company in June 2017.
REBECCA LYNN GOLDFARB, Oceanside
Rebecca Lynn Goldfarb has performed since she was 6, her first job being a TV commercial for a plumbing company and then the musical "Children of Eden." She started acting and singing lessons and eventually landed roles in "White Christmas" at Gateway Playhouse in Bellport and in the Broadway event "The Godspell Cast of 2032." Goldfarb has also performed at the Apollo Theater and portrayed Nina in "In The Heights" at Cultural Arts Playhouse in Syosset.
CLAUDE SOLNIK, Plainview
Claude Solnik began developing an ear for dialogue by listening to conversations among locals while living in Paris after college. He turned his observations into playlets, which were performed as readings at Paris galleries. Since then, he's written six plays that have been performed in both New York City and on Long Island, including "Year of the Iguana," about Tennessee Williams. His play "Nowhere Man," which ran at the Theater for the New City in Manhattan during the summer of 2017, tells the story of a man who was hired as a double for Paul McCartney during the height of The Beatles' success.
STEPHANIE TORNS, Bohemia
Stephanie Torns was a competitive dancer as a youngster and fell in love with musical theater after appearing -- as a male -- in her high school's production of "Oklahoma!" After graduating from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, Torns joined the national tour and later the Broadway company of "Wicked" as an ensemble member and understudy for the part of Elphaba, a role she did get to play. Torns eventually became a part of Sara Bareilles' Broadway adaptation of "Waitress," as Francine Pomatter and also served as Bareilles' understudy.
PARIS RAY, St. James
Paris Ray got her start as an actress in "King Lear" at the Public Theater in 2007 and on Nickelodeon's "iCarly" in 2009. She became a singer and songwriter while in high school and performed two original songs, "Astronomy" and "Get Well Soon," in Gold Coast Arts Center's "Your Big Break" finale. She won the opportunity to record one of her own songs, was featured by ReverbNation and got an opening spot at The Paramount in Huntington.
DOROTHY JAMES, Kings Park
Dorothy James is a puppeteer who began her career as an actress doing experimental theater. She was introduced to puppetry during one experimental show which she said was "very abstract" but that she "really loved it." James soon mastered both full-body and Bunraku-style, a Westernized version of the Japanese puppetry art involving a few people. James was also a puppeteer in Radio City Music Hall's "New York Spectacular," where she gave life to stage versions of the New York Public Library lions and the Statue of Liberty. On the darkly comic puppet musical "Made in China," James performed along side seven other puppeteers who worked on 30 characters.
JORDAN TYSON, Lynbrook
Jordan Tyson began her musical theater career when she did "In the Heights" in high school. "After that experience, I was so in awe of how this one piece of work could bring people together like a family," she said. She continued musical theater outside of school, eventually landing the title role in "Sweetee" at Ford Foundation Studio Theatre in Manhattan. In the production, she played a runaway in the Depression-era South who uses her singing voice to help a minister and a band of orphans.
JOSHUA DE JESUS, Dix Hills
Joshua De Jesus began his acting career in high school and landed his first roles after a semester at SUNY Purchase in City Center Encores! production of "Runaways" and on TV's "Chicago Fire." His biggest role to date came at Manhattan's Theater for the New City where he played the title character in "Wink," whom he describes as "a homeless and androgynous, gender-fluid, nonbinary teenager who's adrift in L.A."
ETHAN HUTCHISON, Middle Island
Ethan Hutchison began his acting career at 4 when he was cast in Hulu's "The Path" as a detective's son. Afterwards, he moved on to play Blue Bordelon on the OWN series "Queen Sugar." Hutchison, who moved to New Orleans to film the show, says on perk of the job has been meeting Orpah Winfrey, whom he says is "the best present giver." he says. His role in the OWN show has won him Young Artist and Young Entertainers Awards and he also appeared in a sketch with Taraji P. Henson and Chris Rock on the "Empire" star's holiday special.
TOM LUCCA, Smithtown
Tom Lucca was working as an accountant when a co-worker suggested that he take voice lessons after hearing him sing in the men's room. Lucca's teacher encouraged him to pursue theater, and, after getting an agent, Lucca got cast as Jud in the national tour of "Oklahoma!" in 2004. Soon after, he co-starred with Patina Miller in John Patrick Shanley's short-lived "Romantic Poetry" for Manhattan Theater Club. Lucca, who works as a physical therapist between acting gigs, also played John Hancock in "1776" at Northport's John W. Engeman Theater, has performed at Birdland in Manhattan, and played John Utterson, Dr. Jekyll's best friend, in "Jekyll & Hyde" at Engeman in 2017.
RAHUL RAI, Old Westbury
Rahul Rai, who started as a dancer, was spotted by a film director who saw him in a high school talent show and cast Rai in the 2012 indie "When Harry Tries to Marry." "I was completely thrown into the deep end with lights, cameras, angles, acting," says Rai, who relished the experience. He's since appeared in a few more indies and played Happy Loman onstage in an all-Asian version of "Death of a Salesman." In 2017, he also landed a role in "Haram! Iran!" at TADA, directed by Rick Leidenfrost-Wilson of Baldwin, a drama about two Iranian teens who face death for being gay.
KYLA CARTER, Sayville
Kyla Carter joined the national tour of "The Sound of Music" at 8 years old, playing Gretl, Marta and Brigitta. Carter concluded the tour in 2017 but has appeared on several television shows, including HBO's "The Leftovers," and as the voice of Hattie the Witch on Nick Jr.'s "Wally Kazam!"
BLAIR GOLDBERG, Plainview
Blair Goldberg, who now lives in New York City, made her Broadway debut at 10 as an understudy for Annie Oakley's siblings in "Annie Get Your Gun" with Bernadette Peters. After studying voice in college, Goldberg got her first post-grad job in the ensemble of "Carrie: The Musical" in 2012, and was part of the original cast recording. She also worked with Jerry Lewis when he directed a stage version of "The Nutty Professor" in Nashville and was in the national tour of "Sister Act." In 2016, she joined the ensemble of Broadway's "Kinky Boots."
MICHAEL VERRE, Wantagh
Michael Verre, a musical theater performer who appeared in "Mary Poppins" at John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, made his stage debut at age 5 in "Frosty the Snowman" and then took acting classes. Since graduating from Queens College, Verre has appeared in numerous productions, many at the Engeman, both in children's shows and main stage musicals, including "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and "West Side Story." He appeared in "Zuccotti Park," a musical about the Occupy Wall Street movement, at the NYC Fringe Festival. Verre's tap-dancing skills can also be seen in a video he and two colleagues did to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling."
JESSE RAY SHEPS, Plainview
Jesse Ray Sheps, who voices Fluffy the hedgehog on Nick Jr.'s "Zack & Quack," started modeling at 4, then graduated to commercials and voice-overs. He landed the role of the sensitive Fluffy over about 500 kids because producers liked his voice and personality. "And they liked my gasp," says Jesse about how he reacted playing a scene at his audition. "Blue Bloods" fans saw him as a boy abused by his father. "I got to wear a cast and I got to meet Donnie Wahlberg," he says. Though the role was much darker than Fluffy, Jesse had no trouble handling his scenes. "I always envision that what's happening to the character is really happening to me," he says. Sheps also appeared in the movie thriller "Devil's Five" and in an episode of "Orange Is the New Black." He also enjoys singing, playing guitar and writing songs.
VERONICA KELLY, Holbrook
Veronica Kelly, a senior at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, made her stage debut at age 6 as Molly in Bayway Arts Center's production of "Annie." She's also graced Long Island stages as Rapunzel in "Into the Woods" and Eponine in "Les Miserables." In "Dragon Slayer: The Musical," Kelly played a waitress with designs on a playwright and getting the lead in his show. This is also the first time Kelly has gotten to create a character from scratch, which she's found very rewarding. "We're constantly changing things," she says. "As actors, our input and ideas are really valued by the director. We're getting to make little moments in the show that are special."
MATTHEW MINIERO, Nassau County
Matthew Miniero started acting to earn money for college. But after his first TV role, as a homeless youth in an episode of "Blue Bloods," Miniero knew he had found his career. "It was cool meeting all of the actors," he says. "The first two days I was nervous, but I got very comfortable after that." He also appeared in an episode of "The Blacklist," which was shot in Glen Cove, as a gangster's son being sold at an auction. Miniero also appeared in indie movie "Yellow Fever" and has performed the songs of Led Zeppelin at KJ Farrell's in Bellmore.
WHITNEY ROSE PYNN, Sayville
Upon graduating in 2011 from the University of Maryland, Whitney Rose Pynn moved to Los Angeles, where she landed an agent quickly. Her first TV gig was as a backup singer in a 2012 episode of Nickelodeon's "Victorious," and she's been on a roll since. Her breakout came playing a member of the Manson family in the '60s-set "Aquarius," starring David Duchovny. "I was supposed to be in one episode as a nonspeaking co-star and I was thrilled just for that experience," Pynn says. "All of a sudden they changed my character's name, and gave me lines and had me keep coming back." Her showstopping moment was when her character tripped on acid. "It felt like the writers and producers were saying, 'Let's see if this girl can actually act,' " she says. She stars in the thrillers "Asomatous" and "Dear Diary, I Died."
AMANDA SWICKLE, Jericho
Amanda Swickle began performing at age 8, and has played Jojo in "Seussical: The Musical" at A Class NY in Manhattan and Flounder in "The Little Mermaid" at Northport's John W. Engeman Theater.