Madison Reyes is a watchful guardian of her remaining normalcy. Reyes, who made her debut in Netflix’s Julie and the Phantoms, is the latest teenage girl taking center stage on TV. She’s happy to have the platform, not only to enact change but to also remind followers she’s an average teen just like many of them.
Believe it or not, Reyes manifested her collaboration with Julie and High School Musical director Kenny Ortega. The latter debuted when Reyes was just 18 months old, but the movie franchise was a lifeline for Reyes in her hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Little did young Madison know that in a few years, she’d be starring as Julie, the grief-stricken teen who rediscovers her love for music thanks to a group of ghosts in Ortega’s remake of the Brazilian TV series. For Ortega, it was perhaps just another project; for Madison, it was an answered prayer.
“I looked at Vanessa Hudgens and was like, ‘I want to be able to perform and be an actress and sing around the halls.’ High School Musical inspired me to audition for my performing arts school. That was my biggest dream as a kid!” Reyes tells Remezcla with a laugh.
I know what I’m looking forward to and what I’m trying to achieve.
Gen Zers are growing up in a social media ecosystem that was in its infancy during HSM’s heyday, and the gray area between feeling like you know a lot about someone versus actually knowing them is only heightened by celebrityhood. But this boricua is having none of that.
“I have my goals. I know what I’m looking forward to and what I’m trying to achieve,” she says. “As long as I keep my goals at the end of the hallway, all those other doors that are on the side, whether it be distractions or hanging out with friends or seeing someone post something, don’t matter. I have to keep my eye on the prize,” she explains.
Reyes adds that although she now has a large platform (over 500,000 Instagram followers), she doesn’t feel the need to share content on social media every day if she doesn’t want to. Although Reyes is guided by her own boundaries regarding social media and interacting with fans, she’s relieved that there’s no vitriol surrounding the show.
“I was more prepared for the hate,” she recalls, “but the fact that we haven’t gotten any, and it’s just so positive… I’m grateful that we don’t have to deal with that.”
Two years have passed since Reyes auditioned for the role of Julie. Reyes sings and plays the piano on the show, so it’s no surprise that she was most eager to share the original songs from the show. Since the show’s release in September, Reyes has continued her homeschooling, something she started since filming wrapped in December. She’s also taken up listening to Boyz II Men and learning how to play the guitar with castmate Charlie Gillespie.
More than anything, Madison Reyes is a 16-year-old who truly loves her job. She comes most alive when discussing her career, what she’s learned from the experience, and what she can transfer to her day-to-day at a time when everyone is being asked to reflect and grow.
If you can go higher, go higher.
“I definitely learned from Kenny [Ortega] to push yourself and break the expectation that you might have for yourself, go beyond that and don’t just get there and just stay there. If you can go higher, go higher,” she explains.
“I’d like to say that it’s the [Latine] representation, but it’s also just how normal she is. With these types of shows, you can get lost in that magical world of the main character. What’s so great about Julie is that, although she’s going through this time of uncertainty and mystery with these ghosts, she still stays grounded. She still has challenges that she has to face as a teenager who cares about her family,” she tells Remezcla when asked about Julie’s most relatable qualities.
Whatever’s next for Reyes, whether that’s a second season of Julie and the Phantoms or a feature film, there’s no doubt that she’ll stay true to herself and her roots. She knows who she is and that is enough.