Meet Maddie Baillio, the Student-Turned-Star of Hairspray Live!

Two weeks ago she was studying for finals, and now she’s Tracy Turnblad.

Texas native Maddie Baillio published her first-ever tweet earlier today — and for a newcomer to social media, she had an impressive 140 characters to share:

— Maddie (@MaddieBaillio) June 7, 2016

Baillio, who just completed her sophomore year as a musical-theater student at Marymount Manhattan College, has landed the role of Tracy Turnblad in NBC's live musical telecast of Hairspray. The announcement was made early this morning on the Today show, where Baillio met her soon-to-be onscreen mother Harvey Fierstein. Though the December 7 broadcast will mark her professional debut, Baillio will be sharing the national platform with seasoned stars like Fierstein (reprising his Tony-winning role), Martin Short, Jennifer Hudson, and Derek Hough, who together compose an impressive collection of stage and screen credits.

"This is the first day that I've ever been really interviewed before," Baillio told TheaterMania immediately after NBC broke the exciting news that she'd been keeping a secret for over two weeks. "It is crazy but I woke up at 3am so I'm kind of on a no-sleep high right now." Fortunately for her, good things seem to follow early-morning wake ups.

Maddie Baillio will star as Tracy Turnblad in NBC's Hairspray Live! on December 7.
Maddie Baillio will star as Tracy Turnblad in NBC's Hairspray Live! on December 7.
(© Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

When did you find out you were cast as Tracy?
It was two Fridays ago. I was at a callback early in the morning. They asked me to come to get in a wig and makeup, so they interviewed me and said, "You can go home, we have enough for today." So I went home, took a nap, and in the middle of my nap I got a call from someone at Telsey and Company saying that they wanted me to come and finish that interview. So I came in with that makeup still on but kind of not because I was asleep. We continued the interview where we left off and the director Kenny Leon walked into the room with this big envelope and said, "OK Maddie, Harvey Fierstein just e-mailed this to me. He wants you to read this. It's a part of the script so just pull it out of the envelope and look into the camera and project." So I pulled it out and in big bold letters it said, "The role of Tracy Turnblad in NBC's Hairspray Live! will be played by Maddie Baillio." It was all kind of a blur. I'm not sure if I cried or not.

How did you first hear about the audition?
I remember seeing on Facebook that there was a big open call, but I wasn't really planning to go to it. I have no idea why — I think I was just so nervous. But the night before the audition at three a.m. I woke up and decided, "OK, I'm gonna get up and get ready and go to this thing." I went to Telsey and Company where the auditions were being held and there were already so many girls there at 6:45am. That was my first big audition in New York — it was my first audition in New York. And so I got there and I was number 344 in line, which is my new lucky number. I waited in line until about noon and then I was seen by Bernie Telsey.

What did you sing for him?
He asked everyone to prepare a short portion of "Good Morning Baltimore." I did the second chorus because it showed a lot of spunk and personality and I felt really confident with it. And then he was like, "Great, can we hear you sing the last part of the song?" which is a part I did not know. So I definitely flubbed those words a bit but I guess something worked because I'm Tracy!

As a Texas native, what made you decide to go to college in New York City?
Everything is in New York. I knew that eventually I'd want to start auditioning — I didn't realize it would be this soon. I just wanted to get a feel for how living in New York was. It's great to have the best of both worlds going back to the simple easy life during the summer in Texas and then coming back here. I love [Marymount] so much, and I'm excited to go back, but right now I'm excited to focus on Tracy.

Maddie Baillio as the title character in a Marymount Manhattan College production of Dracula The Musical.
(© Susan Cook)

Has your family been supportive of your choice to move to the city and pursue a career in performing?
They're very supportive. Nobody in my family has any artistic abilities whatsoever. My mom works in human resources at NASA and my dad works in a hospital in an ER. So I have no idea where it came from. But they are so supportive. They just want me to be happy and go for my dreams.

What was your first introduction to Hairspray?
I saw Hairspray in a movie theater. I saw the musical remake and I fell in love with the show, mostly because of Tracy. I'm like, "Hey, that's a girl that looks like me and acts like me!" That has been a dream role of mine ever since.

Your version of Hairspray will also get to reach kids all across the country. Is that exciting, to be able to bring musical theater to places that don't have access to Broadway?
I wish these NBC live shows were happening when I was a kid. I'm so obsessed with them — ever since The Sound of Music. They just keep getting bigger and better, and right when I saw the first, one I really wanted to be a part of one.

What do you hope viewers take away from your performance?
I hope I get to inspire girls like me. I have never done anything professional before and I just landed this role, which is huge. I would tell them to never give up on your dreams. If you work hard enough and if you have a good attitude, then it'll probably work out for you.