Corbin Bleu surprises hopefuls at ‘High School Musical 4’ auditions

ANAHEIM – Standing in front of two famous but fictitious “East High Wildcats” banners, 18-year-old Christian Blair looked out at a collection of imaginary sports jerseys.

“Which one says, ‘Today’s the start of something new? ” he asked, his expression a mix of excitement and anxiety, interpreting the line from a script.

Sunday’s open casting call for “High School Musical 4” at the Anaheim Convention Center was the start of something new for the Disney Channel and thousands of actors like Blair coming from across the nation to audition.

A decade has passed since the first film in the series aired, elevating the careers of actors like Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens to star status.

Sunday’s open casting call was a first step in identifying potential stars from thousands of hopefuls. Groups were brought in 10 at a time to read the same set of lines, and casting directors pulled aside standout performers to get their information for more auditions at later dates.

Can the Disney Channel capture the same magic as with the first three films? Judy Taylor, senior vice president of casting and talent relations for Disney Channels Worldwide, said she hopes they can find a new cast that can become as iconic as the original one.

“We got so lucky on ‘High School Musical’ that it was pretty much a home run in terms of the casting,” Taylor said. “You just believed on such a basic level that they were these characters. To try to do that again is exciting and daunting at the same time.”

Taylor helped cast the first three films, and she got a chance Sunday to surprise the auditioners by bringing out actor Corbin Bleu, who played Chad in the series.

Bleu told the hundreds of screaming fans in a pre-audition waiting room that making the films wasn’t about becoming big movie stars, but rather about working hard, bonding and sharing that feeling with the rest of the world.

“I think that’s why we had that lightning in a bottle magic,” Bleu said in an interview. “I hope these kids capture that. The feeling that they’re feeling now – it’s about sharing it.”

Despite Bleu’s words, the thought of stardom was still on the minds of those auditioning. Blair, who flew here from Portland, Oregon, for the audition, said he felt a sense of urgency.

“Even if it’s not prominent in your feelings, you still feel like this is important, so don’t mess this up,” Blair said. “It’s High School Musical. It’s got that weight behind it.”

While in the hours-long line to register for the event, Mater Dei High School junior Cassidy Sledge joked that she had been planning what dress to wear on her first red carpet until her sister suggested she focus on the audition first.

Sledge, an Anaheim resident, said she knew her chances were slim given that 13,000 people submitted auditions online via the Disney Applause app, in addition to all the people at the convention center, but she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to audition.

“I won’t beat myself up if I don’t get it, but it’s still a really big want,” Sledge said. “It’s definitely been a thought in my head, what a role like this could mean.”

While Sledge prefers singing and dancing to acting – she also aspires to attend The Julliard School in New York – she said “High School Musical” is perfect because it combines all three.

“I love that bond, the energies that come from making music with a group of people,” Sledge said. “You get to harmonize, dance, sing … it’s perfect.

Not all the kids auditioning felt the pressure of potential stardom. Thirteen-year-old Marissa Salazar and her mother, Nicole Mariscal, made their way to Anaheim from Fairfield, Calif., near Sacramento. Bleu‘s appearance made Salazar’s day.

“To be able to try out, see everything and see ‘Chad’ was amazing,” Salazar said after her audition, still brimming with energy. “When I saw him, I started crying, and I think I almost passed out.”

Contact the writer: 949-667-1933, and @ChrisMYee on Twitter

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