08/09/09 — StageStruck veteran actress is headed for bright lights, big city

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StageStruck veteran actress is headed for bright lights, big city

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 9, 2009 2:00 AM

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Hailey Best is seen walking in New York City, which will soon be her home. The former StageStruck star will be trying her hand at acting and singing in the Big Apple.

Hailey Best's list of possibilities for her future have included everything from kindergarten teacher to a career in politics or law.

But after all the exploring and all the wondering, she is back to where it all started, to a dream she first discovered when she 3 years old -- the stage.

And now the 18-year-old has decided to take her shot, moving to New York City for the next year.

She and mother, Kim, recently traveled there to sign a lease on an apartment and to check into managers, agents and auditioning possibilities. Hailey plans to officially make the move in early September.

"I already have six auditions lined up for national tours," she said. She might have to head north earlier, however, because other auditions are starting to come in.

"I have an audition every single day from Aug. 20-29," she said.

It's all been a whirlwind, says the Eastern Wayne High School graduate, who spent the past year at the North Carolina School of the Arts. Until recently, her plan was to study vocal performance, specifically in opera and classical music.

But that was before an online search led her to an audition for the role of Kim in "Bye Bye Birdie." She and her mother made the trip to New York City in early April.

"There were 2,000 people in line," Hailey recalled. "I was number 1,200. Originally, I wasn't supposed to be seen because there were too many, but they called me back. Several times. They called me back to audition with new scenes and songs and dances."

In the span of two or three days, the field was narrowed down to two girls. Hailey was one of them.

"They gave it to the other girl who had been on Broadway for two years," she said.

Little did Hailey know that her journey was just beginning.

"A month after that, all of a sudden I was getting phone calls from agents, managers, casting directors wanting to represent me, get me jobs," she said. "That didn't even cross my mind at first because I was college-bound. ... But everything just kind of fell into place and wonderful opportunities headed my way."

Another opportunity also helped cement what would become her decision to move to New York.

This summer she had her first taste of getting paid to act, when she appeared in "High School Musical II" at the N.C. Theater in Raleigh. The experience, and several castmates from New York, taught her much about the ins and outs of performing, she said.

At the same time, a catharsis also took place.

"Every night I came off the stage crying. It was the biggest rush," she said. "It was like a happy cry, like I couldn't control myself. During the finale every night, I would start crying. I knew -- this is what I'm meant to do."

"After the first real performance, she called me and said, 'We need to talk,'" Mrs. Best said.

"It's just a different world (getting paid)," Hailey said. "It's the real world of performing, and I loved it."

She might have been new to the paid end of it, but Hailey was a veteran in terms of experience. In fact, in theater circles, she is what they call a triple threat -- singing, dancing and acting. She took lessons in tap and jazz, and trained in ballet for 13 years.

She also appeared in an array of roles -- from the lead to a chorus member -- in StageStruck, where she still raves about the directors, fellow performers and opportunities.

"It obviously gave me the foundation to move on and start my career," she says now.

And while musical theater might have been her initial bent, she now has a broader vision for herself. Film offers, TV and print modeling have all been mentioned by the pros in New York.

"I would love to use some of that money to pay for college or support my career," she said.

College is definitely still on the horizon, albeit perhaps in a different way. She is considering taking online classes or pursuing other schools of the arts. Her backup would be a degree in communications or marketing, she said.

The bright lights of the big city might beckon, but Hailey is not oblivious to the harshness of the business. She has already experienced some of it -- being critiqued before auditions, told to change her look, lose her Southern accent.

And while she says she "takes direction well" and is ambitious and willing to work, there are some lines she is unwilling to cross. She said she will rely on the Christian values learned from her parents and grandparents and will take the responsibility of being a potential role model to younger performers very seriously.

For her, she said, it has never been about being a "star."

"It's totally the art," she said. "It's not the fame or the awards. Right now it's about doing what I love."

She said she is constantly amazed by, and grateful for, how many people in her hometown have supported and encouraged her. That, along with the love of her family -- which also includes father Michael and younger brother Elliott, 15 -- and friends will do much to sustain her when she is 500 miles away.

"It's not easy, but my parents have been wonderful," she said. "They're like my rock. I could not have done half of what I have done without them. They have instilled in me what a person needs to survive any job."