Sydney Bell gestures to her voice coach, a mic in hand. She’s ready to sing a popular show tune, one she’s heard performed but never sung. “Life is juicy,” she sings, following the lyrics of Don’t Rain On My Parade.
Then she hits a high note and holds it. Seconds tick away while her voice rings true. The 15-year-old draws praise from her vocal coach, Bob Westbrook. “It was her first time to do that track. Sydney didn’t know when the note would end but held her air well.”
Sydney can’t predict where a musical piece or acting role will lead, but she gamely takes on each challenge. Last fall, she went to an audition, doubtful she had the skill to portray a blind and mute 6-year-old child. Yet when she was chosen to portray Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker at Germantown Community Theatre, she stepped into a place of darkness and isolation. “How could I act like I can’t see and hear and make it believable?” she wondered.
At the first rehearsal, the director gave her earplugs and a blindfold, took her outside, and sent her to explore. It was a scary primer, experiencing the world as Helen must have. As an actor, Sydney knew the flow of events in the play but couldn’t show it. In one scene, the teen steeled herself, trying not to flinch as another actor raised a bucket of water over her head. “Maybe I flinched a little,” she says with a grin.
Her height (she’s just 4’ 11”) was an advantage in playing young Helen. At first, Sydney had reservations about taking a role that lacked the hip factor. “But I’m glad I did the show, because I don’t care so much about what people think about me. You have to face your fears, not think about what others think of you, because then you can’t do your best.”
Finishing the play last month, Sydney’s now back to belting out show tunes and contemporary hits. “She has a repertoire that won’t quit,” says Westbrook. The homeschooled student from Cordova has acted since she was a tyke and started singing at age 9. For her age, her resume is impressive: she won a lead role in America’s Most Wanted, a featured role in ABC’s Nashville, and was an extra in a Hallmark Movie Channel production. In local theatre, she acted in Ruthless, The Secret Garden, and Annie. This year, she also has a small role in the film, Holy Ghost People.
She seeks the best in training, using Skype for long-distance acting lessons with Craig Damico of Broadway Dreams Foundation. With her mother, Lisa Latham, Sydney visits New York City at least five times a year to audition for Broadway roles and take acting workshops or vocal classes. She juggles, can speak with a British accent, she even drives a four-wheeler — special skills that help her win roles.
She came close to landing the part of daughter Jane Banks in the Broadway hit, Mary Poppins, and continues to aim for the Great White Way. “Some people do this to get rich and famous. I like doing it because I like acting,” she says. “She’s a little girl with a huge voice,” admits her mom. At a local fair, she was approached by a modeling/acting agency, who she impressed. Later, she showed her stuff at an iPop! Las Vegas convention. “She was one of 15 kids from a group of 3,500 picked to do the showcase. Then we knew she had talent,” says Latham.
Next, Sydney won the 2010 Mid-South Fair Youth Talent Competition (ages 12 and under). “When it’s no longer fun for her, we’ll stop,” says Latham. After high school, Sydney plans to move to Los Angeles to pursue film work.
Browsing online, you can see her song covers and original comedy skits as well as music videos on YouTube. An iMovie Expert, Sydney gives her friends roles in her videos, creating old-fashioned fun with high-tech tools. Even my daughter is a fan. “I saw Sydney in the comedy Ruthless at Germantown Community Theatre. She was hilarious!”
The entertainer’s life is one long, fun Saturday for Sydney Bell. She’s following her dream and won’t let anything rain on her parade.