Exclusive: Ysa Penarejo Talks “McKenna Shoots for the Stars” and New Music

July 13, 2012

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We love the Olympics and one of our favorite parts is definitely gymnastics. So, it’s super fitting that NBC will be premiering “McKenna Shoots for the Stars” July, 14, 2012 at 8/7c! The movie is part of the American Girl series and in the movie, McKenna Brooks is a determined and confident young gymnast in this all-new modern-day adventure. She is on track to make the regional competitive gymnastics team, but off-track in school where she’s suddenly struggling to keep up. When McKenna’s teacher suggests a tutor, she’s embarrassed and desperate to keep it a secret from her friends. Then a bad fall at the gym sidetracks her from her favorite sport. Will she recover in time to make the team? Can she succeed in school, too? McKenna™ needs to focus on her strengths to overcome her challenges — and, with the help of family and friends, find a way to believe in herself again.

We chatted with rising star Ysa Penarejo, who plays Toulane in the film, all about working on the movie and her new music!

What can you tell us about your character Toulane in McKenna Shoots for the Stars? In the movie I play Toulane Thomas who is McKenna’s best friend. McKenna and Toulane have been gymnastic teammates since they were 3 years old. Toulane is sometimes too competitive and puts a lot of pressure on herself to live up to her mother’s expectations.

This is your first movie role. Were you nervous? Yes, I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect or what was expected of me. Rehearsals with the director, Vince Marcello, really helped me get into character. He was very patient with me and great at explaining what he was looking for in each scene.

The movie has a great cast including Ian Ziering, Nia Vardalos, Jade Pettyjohn, Cathy Rigby and Kerris Dorsey. What was it like working with them? It was such a great learning experience, watching each bring their characters to life. I especially enjoyed Cathy Rigby giving me tips on my stretching and tumbling. How cool is that to receive pointers from an Olympic gold medalist!

Do you have a favorite scene or memory from the film? There’s a scene the director called Mission Impossible where Toulane spies on McKenna and uses her gymnastic skills to keep from being seen. I love this scene because it was fun to shoot and I was able to do some of my own stunts.

The film deals with gymnastics and you are a dancer. Did that help you with your role? This is a hard question. Based on the auditioning process, I don’t believe anyone knew of my dance or tumbling skills. The first day in the gym I wanted to show the director, producers and coaches what I could do, and from there they decided to use me when possible.

What do you think viewers will love most about the film? I think viewers will love how McKenna overcomes challenges in school and gymnastics.

The movie includes a lot of gymnastics and the Olympics are coming up. Are you excited for the Olympics? Yes, I am excited about the Olympics. I’m really excited to watch the gymnastics and swimming events.

Not only do you act but you sing as well. What can you tell us about your song “LIKE Not LOVE”? “Like Not Love” is about tween relationships, peer pressure, and making choices. The song is available on iTunes.

Who are your acting/singing inspirations? My acting inspiration is Dakota Fanning because she is an amazing actor who is able to portray different believable characters.
My singing inspiration is Beyonce because she is a great singer/performer, who puts a lot of feeling into her performances.

Any plans for an album? I am in the studio working on my album.

We know this is a tough one, but do you like acting or singing better? I don’t have a favorite. Acting, singing, and dancing are the things I love to do most.

Why should people tune in to “McKenna Shoots for the Stars”? Again, I think viewers will love how McKenna overcomes challenges in school and gymnastics with the support of her family and friends.

Follow @YsaPenarejo and tell Ysa how you achieve your goals or “Shoot for the Stars” on her Facebook wall to win a signed and personalized Blu-Ray/DVD copy of MCKENNA SHOOTS FOR THE STARS along with a free download of Ysa’s new single “Like Not Love.”

Photo: Mike Rozman

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