On Oct. 28, Broadway star Autumn Hurlbert came to KO to take part in a Q&A with the whole school, and then a separate workshop for the theater department. The Goodman Banks foundation sponsored Hurlbert to come visit, and she talked about her experiences on the show, gave advice to aspiring actors, and ran a workshop where she got up and helped people feel the emotion of their song, not just sing the correct notes and lyrics.
Hurlbert’s career launched due to the MTV show “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods.” Since the show, she has been on the national tour of “Something Rotten,” a regional production of “Little Women,” and despite losing the show, was in the ensemble of “Legally Blonde” on Broadway, as well as understudying Elle Woods, though she never went on.
“Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods” was on MTV starting on June 8, 2008. Immediately after the show, the winner, Bailey Hanks, started as Elle Woods on Broadway. “Legally Blonde” wasn’t doing too well in the box office, according to Hurlbert, and needed a way to get more ticket sales. They decided to do this by turning the audition process to replace the current Elle Woods, Laura Bell Bundy, into a reality TV show. After a nationwide casting call, 50 finalists were called to New York City. From there, it was narrowed down to 10.
The 10 girls were placed in conditions unlike any audition. Over a period of eight weeks, they went through intense training intended to prepare them to become the next Elle Woods, a part that is still seen as one of the toughest parts to play on Broadway. The girls ran on little to no sleep or food, and in order to prepare, danced on cobblestone in stilettos, belted while on a spin bike, dyed their hair blonde, and went through intense auditions where, one by one, they were told that they could not be seen as the next Elle Woods.
Despite the ridiculous demands of this “casting process,” Hurlbert made it to the final two, where she found out she didn’t get the role. Despite losing the show, she was asked if she wanted to understudy the winner and be in the ensemble of the musical. Because she couldn’t give up the opportunity to make her Broadway debut, she accepted and later joined the cast of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.”
After making her debut, Hurlbert has played multiple roles professionally and regionally, including the roles of Portia in the United States national tour of “Something Rotten,” Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” and later made her official debut as Elle Woods at the North Carolina Theatre.
Hurlbert called her experience on the MTV show a “dose of humble pie.” She said she believes the show was unfair because they had chosen the winner, Bailey Hanks, from the very beginning. She said that they favored Hanks, giving her extra rehearsals and preference over the other actresses. The outcome would have been very different if it was a normal audition, Hurlburt claimed.
Furthermore, she said she believes she was portrayed really unfairly on the show. For example, she was once fed expired yogurt and had food poisoning, preventing her from rehearsing properly.
As a result, during one of the auditions, she ran offstage and threw up. The producers weren’t allowed to follow her in the bathroom, so instead of letting it be, they took a body double and filmed her in the bathroom instead. They told the audience that the whole situation was caused by nerves, not Hurlbert being sick.
After telling the school about the show, Hurlbert moved into the workshop part of the visit. The actress got out of her seat multiple times to help students. Some of the things she did with the young actors were making junior Braeden Rose sing his entire song while lying on the floor, having senior Spencer Schaller dance around the stage while singing, and making senior Remy McCoy sing while sitting on her hands in order to really understand the meaning behind the song.
Afterward, Hurlbert had time for a short Q and A session with the actors. The actress’ final words of advice? “Everything feels so permanent, nothing is permanent,” she said. “If you want to get something, you just need to take one step every day. If you don’t stronghold yourself into one goal then opportunity comes along. There’s so many opportunities. You won’t have to figure out what you have to do. It’s gonna come find you.”