By Matt Fernandez
Signal Staff Writer
Hollywood is just a stone’s throw (and a good hour in moderate traffic) away from Santa Clarita, and the town has often made appearances on the big screen. Actors are often spotted around town, but some of Awesome’s own young residents are making names for themselves in Tinseltown.
Connor Finnerty is the young Derek Hough. That is to say he played a younger version of the celebrity dancer in the music video for “I Believe in You” by Michael Buble.
Originally from Roseville, , Finnerty first began dancing for fun in front of his family and eventually began to take lessons. At age 12, Finnerty auditioned for a talent agency and was one of five people out of over200 applicants that was signed. Now at 16, the Valencia resident has worked with stars like Nick Cannon, DJ Khaled, Janet Jackson and Pharell Williams.
“I didn’t start dancing seriously until 10 and before that I would put on a show for family and try to do a Michael Jackson freestyle because he’s one of my biggest inspirations,” Finnerty said. “I didn’t think I would like the classes at first, but the more I took the more I fell in love with the art. My favorite style of dance is hip hop because I can dance to the lyrics and tell a story with my movement.”
Though he got his start in dance, Finnerty said his main goal and current passion is acting, and he’s going to in the upcoming Brat series “Sunnyside Up,” which will premiere in October, as one of the leads, Otis.
“I would watch shows on Disney Channel and would try to reenact some of the scenes because I was just that into it,” Finnerty said. “One of my biggest accomplishments was when I got my Screen Actors Guild card. It’s so surreal to me that all this is happening and that I’m living my dream.”
Finnerty also has a Youtube channel where he posts dance videos and vlogs, and said he still finds it weird when fans recognize him in public and want to meet him. Before becoming an actor, Finnerty said that he used to be very shy but through auditioning and booking jobs, he has become a more confident person.
“The first time someone recognized me it gave me a warm feeling to know that there are people out there who care about my career,” he said. “Some people have cried when they met me, and I can understand that kind of reaction for big actors, but I never thought that would happen to me so it sometimes feel a little weird. I will get messages from kids saying how they look up to me and it makes me feel like my work means something because I want to leave a positive impact.”
As a child in the world of entertainment, Finnerty says that he feels blessed but remains wary.
“I’m so lucky to be a kid in Hollywood and doing work that kids in other states are dreaming of doing,” he said. “You have to watch out for people who would try to take advantage of you and use you, and it sucks buts that how some people in the world are. I’ve had to become good at sensing that.”
His mother Carol said that though she felt her son would pursue a career in entertainment as an adult she never thought he would have this much success at such a young age.
“It’s been great to watch him grow and still see how he has remained the same person and not let the success change him,” Carol said. “Part of the reason we chose Valencia when we moved down here was because it was removed from Hollywood so that when Connor isn’t working, he could have a normal life.”
Finnerty currently works on roughly ten projects per year and though he is currently working every day, he recognizes that entertainment is a volatile industry and despite juggle work, auditions and dance classes he still keeps on top of his education.
“With acting you won’t always be working and education is an important backbone to have and fall back on,” Finnerty said. “It’s great to continue learning and it helps keep you grounded. I do plan to go to college and study history or something in technology and computers.”
As a kid with the nickname “Hollywood,” Jailen Bates almost seemed destined for stardom.
“His uncle would call him ‘Hollywood’ back when we lived in Indiana so I always knew he would be an entertainer,” said Bates’ father, Maurice. “Jailen was always just such a character, and he was always very animated with something to say.”
Bates caught the acting bug when he saw a flyer for a community theater production while on his way from piano practice, and asked his father if he could audition. Though he admits acting is hard, Bates fell in love with the expressive storytelling of theater and the potential to explore different characters.
“Acting is not easy to do and it’s important to have a solid foundation,” Bates said. “Community theater is important because it’s a perfect place to establish the basics of acting before you can become a movie star. That’s why I think it’s so important for communities to support the arts and allow them to grow.”
In 2014, Bates moved to Santa Clarita from San Francisco and enrolled in the Santa Clarita School of Performing Arts where he was discovered by a talent agent. Now 13, Bates has starred in shows like “WITS Academy,” “Superior Donuts,” “Dr. Ken” and “Gwen Stefani’s You Make It Feel Like Christmas.”
“It’s extremely humbling to be able to work with such big name talent on networks like Nickelodeon and CBS because I know there are kids out there who would kill to be in my position,” he said. “Acting is all about learning and growing and each step of this journey has been my favorite because I’ve just grown and learned so much as an actor and as a person.”
In June, Bates and fellow actors Arlington Randolph and Andrew Amaru started the “Every Freakin’ Friday” channel on Youtube where they talk about a range of topics from music to sports. As more people enter the entertainment field, the actor said it is critical to staying relevant, building up a following and landing roles.
“We create weekly episodes doing fun stuff and discussing different topics, and I usually discuss weird, creepy stuff like recent UFO sightings,” he said. “No acting gig is ever promised so creating your own content is the future. You play so many roles in theater and television that you sometimes forget who you are, so it’s somewhat strange to be yourself on Youtube but that’s what makes it such a special platform.”
Bates recognizes that being a child actor puts pressure on him to grow up quickly, but the young star said that he wants to retain his youth. In order to stay young and to maintain some stability of mind, Bates has learned to limit himself from taking on too many projects when it feels more like a job than a passion. Additionally, he opted to stay in school rather than be homeschooled in order to accommodate his career.
“Staying in school and being around kids helps me keep my youth — where in Hollywood I’m surrounded by adults which makes some people grow up faster,” Bates said. “Getting good grades is also such a big part of my life and sometimes I worry about balancing that with work. A lot of actors don’t go to college, which is fine for them, but I think it’s important to have something to fall back on. I love studying history and science, especially chemistry, and my goal is to attend Juilliard or NYU for dramatic arts.”
Maurice said his son’s journey has been transformative and has made him very proud.
“The first time I saw him on stage, he was 4 and he was learning how to read, so his brother helped him learn his lines and that was the proudest moment of my life,” Maurice said. “The first time I saw him on screen was for a Clorox wipes commercial, and I just thought that he can really make it in this business.”
Skydiving changed Justin Tinucci’s life and and then fame happened almost by accident.
When he was 7 years old, Tinucci began competing in indoor skydiving tournaments with his sister. Footage of the two Tinuccis soon spread across the internet and the siblings soon achieved viral fame.
“We were the world’s youngest professional indoor skydivers and we beat a team of Air Force cadets at our first competition, and we realized we were pretty good at this sport so we began competing at national and international competitions,” Tinucci said. “People picked up on it and we were interviewed on ‘Good Morning America,’ we were featured on the cover of ‘The Wall Street Journal’ and Ellen DeGeneres called us out to Hollywood to interview us on her show.”
Tinucci’s first real taste of Hollywood came three years later, when he and his sister were featured in an episode of “iCarly” featuring talented internet stars. While all the other cast members auditioned for their roles, the Tinuccis were the only ones who had been invited to appear in the episode for a real accomplishment.
Tinucci went back to his native Colorado, but now he had been given his first taste of the arts. Tinucci went to a talent agency’s open casting call which his grandparents had seen in a newspaper and was invited to come to Los Angeles. Though he only intended to stay in Los Angeles for one summer, he booked the role from his first audition and found enough consistent work to permanently relocate to Los Angeles. Since then, Tinucci has appeared in “The Muppets,” “Big Love,” “Lady Dynamite,” “The Goldbergs” and “AP Bio.”
“My dad is the youngest of 11, and there are no artists in my family, so if my sister and I hadn’t started skydiving, I probably would have just played football and gone to university in the middle of the country doing nothing related to the arts,” he said. “I feel like if I had stayed in Colorado, I would have been turned off from acting because I don’t think that kids there would have understood it It just feels so much more real here in L.A. This really is a magical town.”
Through his various auditions, Tinucci noticed that there was more work available to actors who had musical talent, so he learned to play guitar.
“Singing never became my thing but I picked up the guitar and I was in an indie, alternative band in high school that toured a couple of times and even won a national music video competition,” he said. “I picked guitar because I thought it would help me get a girlfriend. When I compose I like to stick to piano because it’s very linear and easy to work mathematically.”
During his junior year of high school, Tinucci wavered back and forth between whether he wanted to go to college for acting or for music, not wanting to leave either behind. Luckily, he discovered the art of film scoring and was able to pursue a degree that married both his passions.
Now a student at California State University Northridge, continues to act professionally while also developing his passion and portfolio of film music.
“I didn’t know this would be the path of my life until I was 16 and not having any musical background in my family I was missing a lot of the technical training that a lot of the people in my classes have had for years,” Tinucci said. “I really appreciate my education and going to school really helps with networking and building connections. School is also a safe place for me to fail and I would rather fail now and not have any really serious repercussions than later down the line when I’m on someone’s payroll.”
Tinucci’s mother Jennifer said that she is proud to see her son’s continued commitment to his education and bettering himself.
“We were just a normal family from Colorado and never would have expected this would happen to our lives,” Jennifer said. “We would never have let him start acting if he didn’t understand that education is number one. There are so many parents out here that are just after the fame and don’t understand that this career isn’t forever and you need to have an education or skill as a backup plan.”
Currently, Tinucci’s musical interest lies in exploring the synthesis between sound design and technology.
“These days you can record yourself eating watermelon and turn it into an EDM song,” he said. “I have a theory that all music that hasn’t been heard before currently exist in the way that all the digits of pi exist, and as a musician it’s similar to math in that you’re dealing with frequencies that are already there. It’s a path you dive down and it’s a matter how deep you dive.”
Tinucci aims to attend the University of Southern California and hopes to one day work on a project where he will both act and create the soundtrack.
“I’ve always thought of acting as a way to step outside myself and music is a way for me to step inside. They are yin and yang for me, and I discovered my identity through music,” Tinucci said. “The first time I saw myself on TV, I wondered if anyone had seen the episode and were going to approach me on the street and that has never happened to me. I’m not going after fame.It would just be a byproduct of me doing the best work I can.”