Awkward’s Nikki DeLoach Opens Up About Growing Up Mickey Mouse ClubA former Mouseketeer, Nikki DeLoach grew up in the Disney machine, surrounded by soon-to-be superstars like Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. Though that big break came two decades ago, what she learned and experienced there influenced her—and her career—for years to come. She sat down with Snakkle to talk about how. By Danielle Turchiano
In 1993, The All-New Mickey Mouse Club introduced young audiences all over the world to fresh-faced talent that would go on to have decades-long careers on both screen and stage. For many it was the culmination of a childhood dream of performing in more than just local talent shows or pageants, but for Nikki DeLoach, who grew up in small-town Georgia, it was also the big break she needed to prove to her parents she knew what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
“I was actually in L.A. for a talent competition when I was 11, and the agents that were out there scouting talent said, ‘You should pick up and move to L.A.’ And my parents were like, ‘That’s not going to happen!’” laughed DeLoach when Snakkle sat down with her in Los Angeles recently. “And they were like, ‘Well, then you should really look out for a lot of the stuff that they are casting for Disney down in Orlando. They mentioned that they are going to be looking for new Mouseketeers for the show <em>Mickey Mouse Club.</em>’ So I went home and immediately started watching it, like was obsessed with it: sat in the living room with my mom and my dad—I was sitting directly in front of the TV—and turned around and looked at them, and I was like, ‘I’m going to be on this show. I’m going to be on this show!’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, okay, sure you are!’”
But DeLoach was cast and appeared in countless sketches and songs alongside costars like Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling, and Britney Spears in her two-year run on the series.
“We Are Family” was one of my favorites because everybody was in it, even the adults…. And “Linger” was one of my favorites too because it was something so different. It was [very '90s]; it was perfect for the time, but also really different. It was something we hadn’t done before.”
Despite the rosy demeanor of Disney-trained actors, it didn’t take long for DeLoach to learn a hard show-business lesson on The Mickey Mouse Club, but it is one she is thankful for now, because it helped give her perspective in such a competitive industry.
“They had given me leads in some of the songs, and those leads had been taken away from me because other members on the show and their parents were very upset that their kids had not gotten a lead yet—it was very political like that,” DeLoach admitted.
“I already had an insecurity about my voice, and with those things happening it just kind of completely destroyed me… and I remember sitting in Robin [Wiley’s trailer] and she looked at me, and she was like, ‘Your voice is your own. It’s like no one else’s. No one can ever take that away from you. And you have to believe in yourself. Especially when nobody else—it may seem like nobody else—believes in you, you have to believe in you,’”
Once The Mickey Mouse Club was over for DeLoach, she had already solidified what she wanted to do for the rest of her life, but now was the moment to make a choice with what direction she wanted to go in: acting, singing, dancing, or some continued variety show combination. Though she spent a few years in Los Angeles auditioning and working in television and film, she wasn’t happy.
“I was lonely. I was probably, by 10 years, the youngest person on every set I worked on. It was really hard, and in that point in time ‘N Sync was starting to form, and I was going back and forth from Orlando, staying with Miss Lynn and all the boys—and they were having so much fun. And obviously I loved the music so much, so when Lynn called a couple of years later and was like, ‘Hey, I want to put together a girls’ group—let’s do this,’ I was like, ‘Absolutely!’”
DeLoach joined Innosense, an all-girl group, in the late ’90s alongside fellow MMC-er Spears (Spears was later replaced when she decided to go solo instead). Though DeLoach released an album and toured with the group, her desire to act never left her. So when Innosense dissolved, thanks to Lou Pearlman’s mis-managing, DeLoach moved back to Los Angeles and lived out her recording contract while taking community college classes. About a week after her contract was up, she booked an audition for North Shore, and two days later she was in Hawaii shooting the pilot.
“Every time my faith in the universe starts to wane, or I’m like, ‘Oh God, what is happening to my life—why aren’t you showing up for me?’ I think about these moments. Because the cast was already in Hawaii. They literally recast one of the girls after they had arrived there. They recast one of the girls; Kevin Falls had phoned back to L.A. to find this girl… and it’s my first audition in [years]. So at this point I’m like, ‘I don’t care. I’m just going to go in there and have fun with it,’” DeLoach said.
North Shore was only on for a year, but DeLoach was the only female character not to be recast after the original pilot was shot. After her time as M.J.—whom she calls the closest character to her personally because “she’s a bit of a tomboy; she can be friends with the guys and the girls”—came to an end, she went on to a number of projects, including The Net 2.0, Windfall, Days of our Lives, Love and Other Drugs, and guest appearances on procedurals like Cold Case and Without a Trace.
These days DeLoach starts as Lacey Hamilton on MTV’s Awkward, a role she had been actively looking for after nearly a decade of just wanting to work in general. When starting to focus on what would fulfill her creatively as an artist, DeLoach created “these images of fun, and comedy, and being challenged—almost so challenged that I was scared that I couldn’t do it.” A week later, she got an audition for Lauren Iungerich’s new comedy, and she’s now starred on it for two seasons (the third will begin production in January 2013).
“Of course, the universe gives you this thing, and I went, ‘Oh, no, no, no, this is way too good for me. No, no, no, no. Pass.’ I told my agent to pass,” she laughed.
“Because Lacey’s not an easy character, you know? …[But] I talked to my acting teacher, [who] said, ‘This is what you’ve been in class for for years now. And this is what you’ve been working on’… so I just did the work. I came in with my version of it, and luckily it happened to be the version that Lauren was looking for. But it was just another good lesson in kind of like letting go of the fear and letting go of that fear of failure and trusting yourself to just go in there and do the best work you can. At the end of the day, it is out of your hands.”
In addition to Awkward, DeLoach has a holiday TV movie airing this winter and the feature The Devil’s in the Details debuting soon, and she’s working on writing and directing a short film passion project.
“It’s the happiness factor of really and truly not allowing your happiness to be determined on the externals of this industry, or really the externals of anything,” DeLoach advised.
“When you really think about it, at any point in time something can be taken away from you: You can be an athlete and you can be paralyzed; you can be an actress and all of a sudden you never work again…. Whatever it may be, your happiness cannot be determined on that because what if you did lose that? Does that make you less of a human being? Absolutely not. Does it make your importance in this world any less? Absolutely not. So I would say that first and foremost, find what makes you happy inside of you and don’t depend on externals for that.”
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