August 7, 2010 8:57:00 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
She may be only 15, but Ashley Reneé Jordan is already a poised veteran of the Broadway stage, as well as national television and print ad campaigns. For most of the year, the Columbus native lives in New York City, moving with savvy through a world of auditions, subways, late night performances and early morning school bells. There, life is fast-paced, filled with hard work, punctuated by bright lights. Excitement is possible around any corner.
Which may be why, for Ashley, coming home to Mississippi for long summertime visits with her grandparents, Bobby and Reneé Jordan, and the rest of her large family, is so essential. Here, hanging out with cousins, skating, shopping with her grandmother, cooking -- even shelling purple hull peas -- is a welcome change of pace.
"You just can''t get that Southern hospitality anywhere else," she said Tuesday at her granddad''s family business, Jordan''s Barber Shop and Salon on Military Road, across from Lee Middle School.
A dozen conversations buzz in the background as a steady stream of customers come and go. A big screen TV rolls the news; a radio plays somewhere in the distance. Through it all, Ashley sits serene, slight of figure. Her luminous eyes glow in a flawless complexion. This is a familiar environment for her. One might even say it''s where she got her start.
"She was always singing and dancing," her grandfather -- she calls him "Daddy" -- reminisced. "She used to hang out here a lot as a little girl; she''d set up folding tables and pretend she was a talk show host and interview people," chuckled a grandparent who always knew Ashley had a special gift.
''Lion King,'' ''The Color Purple''
For anyone who dreams of "making it" one day, Ashley''s experience should serve as inspiration.
Her path to professional acting began when her mother, Kammie Jordan, took her to a tryout hosted by AMTC (Actors, Models and Talent for Christ) at the Columbus Holiday Inn. From there, she advanced to a major showcase. The charming young singer and actress wow''ed judges and agents, including Shirley Grant Management, with whom she signed.
An eventual move to New York led to ads for television and print, as well the bright lights of Broadway.
The former Hunt Intermediate School student landed a year playing the role of "Young Nala" in the Broadway blockbuster, "Lion King." She portrayed "Young Nettie," "Young Celie," and other characters in Broadway''s "The Color Purple." She''s gotten to meet Oprah and Julie Andrews, and a host of other memorable names in between.
You may have seen Ashley in ad campaigns for PBS Kids, Discovery Kids, Macy''s, Gardisil, NBA Cares, Nickelodeon, Hooked on Phonics, AT&T, Chuck E. Cheese or others.
"It was fun," she said, of making the commercials. "I had a pre-conceived idea of what it would be like. I didn''t know you stayed there all day for a 30-second commercial," she grinned.
The Gardisil project was a mother-daughter adventure. Both Ashley and Kammie wound up on the small screen and in print ads featured in magazines like Oprah''s O.
Kammie, a popular hairstylist in New York, was nervous about the audition, Ashley remembers. "They just told us to interact like we normally would at home, and they liked us and used it."
Performing on Broadway in a long-term role will toughen up any actor. "Broadway kids" juggling eight shows a week, plus school, learn how to prioritize quickly.
"I''d be going to school during the day, then be working in the theater all night ''til midnight, then be back up at 6 a.m. to go back to school," Ashley shared. Integrating work and study wasn''t always easy at her former school. Things are different now.
A touch of ''Fame''?
"I''ll be a sophomore in high school this year, attending the Professional Performing Arts School in Manhattan. They''re very used to working kids. A lot of people compare it to (the movie and show) ''Fame,''"Ashley said. "Every student has a major, in addition to academics; mine is drama."
Her supportive family encourages her to be an individual, to be versatile, to be herself -- and to share some of what she''s learned with other young people who have aspirations for the stage or screen.
As her grandfather observed, "A lot of kids don''t get exposed to much ... They don''t know there''s a whole big world out there."
From Ashley, "You just really have to go do it; follow your dream. ... You''ll have a lot of ''no''s,'' but you have to do what it takes; you have to have a thick skin."
She smiled, thinking back to her own experiences. "Everything will happen to you: You''ll fall on stage, you''ll miss a line, you''ll be sick and your voice will sound terrible, but you have to keep going."
At the ripe age of 15, and gaining maturity with every passing month, Ashley is auditioning, but focused on school and what she wants to do with her life. She has plenty of options.
"I''m leaning toward writing or editing in the fashion industry," she shared. "I''ve always loved to write ... "
But life-altering decisions can wait, at least a while. School begins for Ashley Sept. 8. She misses her mom, who remained in New York this summer, and she pines a little for the Big Apple''s options when it comes to cuisine, but she''s in no hurry to exit the slower lane of life in Mississippi and her hometown of Columbus.
"I really like being here; so many of my family are here ... I''m really a Southern girl at heart."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.