Disney VP of casting seeks out today's youth

What would a Disney Channel movie be without a talented, charismatic, yet wholly accessible star? A ratings flatliner.

It’s a fact that the Disney Channel’s movies and series have launched some serious stars in the last decade, and Disney Channel VP of casting and talent relations Judy Taylor’s eyes are a big part of that success.

“A keen eye is invaluable, an innate love of actors and making a good match,” says Taylor of what makes her a good casting director. She started out in the casting shop of Mike Fenton and Jane Feinberg in the 1970s, when they were working with directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Roman Polanski.

“We always want terrific actors that make it look easy. But the spin here is that at Disney we want relatability, that the kids are thinking, ‘We’re watching ourselves.’ We try in our storytelling to (also) have the parents be comfortable,” she says.

“High School Musical” was special for Taylor because it was the first musical the Disney Channel produced: “The auditions were different, since we had the dance phase, the singing phase. It took on kind of a different character. And then you saw the kids and their roles all falling into place.” When that happens, it’s magical, she says.

Taylor doesn’t limit her talent searches to L.A., reaching out to New York, Chicago and various regions for prospects. The Disney Channel discovered its new star, “The Wizards of Waverly Place’s” Selena Gomez, in Austin, Tex.

“We’re in an age now that you can’t leave any stone unturned. I’m very open to kids, wherever they come from. (As a casting director,) you go everywhere. You go to plays, showcases, comedy shows. You have to take every avenue,” Taylor adds. “We don’t even limit our searches to the U.S. and Canada. We’re looking in Australia, New Zealand and Europe.”

Recent breakthrough: Selena Gomez from the “The Wizards of Waverly Place”: “We found her in a talent search a few years back”; David Henrie of “The Wizards of Waverly Place”: “He’s had a terrific career.”

Role model: The people who gave Taylor her first casting biz job: Mike Fenton and Jane Feinberg. “They’re risk takers, and it was great watching them work with great directors.”

What’s next: Disney Channel’s next musical, “Camp Rock,” starring the Jonas Brothers.

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