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Tue, July 16

Disney dream comes true for former Kingmanite

Alexa Russo poses on the set of Disney’s “Austin & Ally,” the show where she will make her Disney debut Sunday night. (Courtesy)

Alexa Russo poses on the set of Disney’s “Austin & Ally,” the show where she will make her Disney debut Sunday night. (Courtesy)

KINGMAN - When Alexa Russo was growing up in Kingman, she had one thought in mind as she repeatedly watched her favorite Disney shows.

Russo, who lived here until she was 14 with her parents, Joe and Michele Russo, wanted to be an actress performing on the Disney Channel. After begging her parents to send her to acting camp and relocating with them to Los Angeles so she could attend Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, Russo's dream finally has come true.

The 19-year-old will be making her Disney Channel debut at 9:30 p.m. Sunday in the role of Hazel, the manager of a beach club, in the episode "Beach Clubs and BFFs" on the Disney show "Austin & Ally." The episode will replay at 7 p.m. Monday. Russo also will appear as Hazel in an upcoming Christmas episode in a few weeks.

"I really thought that if I put effort into my dream, it might happen," said Russo, 19. "Once I moved to Los Angeles and saw how hard it was to get jobs, I realized it might not come true. But it turned out to be my path. It just shows that if you keep working and put love and energy into your dream, even though the odds are against you, it can happen."

Now a freshman studying musical theater at PACE University in New York City, Russo originally signed as a 16-year-old with Abrams Artists Agency in Los Angeles in hopes of fulfilling her dream. By the time she turned 18, Russo resigned herself to the idea that she probably wouldn't get the chance to act on the Disney Channel. Instead, she decided to pursue school on the East Coast so she could become more educated in her craft.

Then Russo's agent called her July 29 about auditioning for a role on "Austin & Ally," a Disney Channel sitcom entering its third season about two very different musicians, extroverted singer and instrumentalist Austin Moon and introverted songwriter Ally Dawson. The casting director handling the audition was the same one who cast the crew of "Hannah Montana," a popular Disney Channel sitcom starring Miley Cyrus.

"I said OK, thinking this would be my last hurrah before I went off to school," said Russo. "I decided to go and just be myself. I was nervous, but I had so much fun and I gave it my all. There was an almost immediate connection with the casting director and it all felt so right. As I was driving home after the audition, my agent called me and said I had a callback for the next day. I was so excited that I was freaking out and screaming."

Russo was one of eight girls called back to audition before writers and casting directors, including one from Nickelodeon's "All That," a live-action comedy and variety show. After the audition, Russo got a call from her agent, who said the decision was between her and two other girls. Two days later, she found out she had been chosen for the part. It was, she said, one of the best days of her life.

Because the role of Hazel was a new addition to the show, Russo said she got to add her own style to the character. The writers created a basic format and direction for Hazel, said Russo, and she decided to make the character the opposite of her boss, who is sassy and snarky. Russo also got her first opportunity to perform in front of multiple cameras instead of a live audience.

"When I lived in Kingman, my dad sent me to acting camp in Los Angeles," said Russo. "We got to tour Hollywood Center Studios, where they film all the Disney Channel shows. I remember thinking then that it would be a dream come true to be able to film there with them someday. It actually happened, and it was an amazing thing to finally be on the other side."

Russo, who said she loves quirky and comedic acting that brings joy and provides an escape for audiences, plans to return to Los Angeles next summer for more auditions for Disney shows.


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