Hey Jude, here's the role for you


"Star" -- the series that starts its season Wednesday (Sept. 26) on Fox -- has lots of mismatched parts. Some work, some don't ... but the central character remains fascinating. She's Star, building a music career on sheer determination. And Jude Demorest fits the role perfectly; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

This was a casting
challenge that could have stumped people.

“Star” would be
set in Atlanta's vibrant black music scene. Its title character is
young and talented, hungry and hurt and relentless. This requires
someone who's a strong actress, singer, and dancer.

One thing more: Star
is white, but has a voice that ripples with soul and gospel.

Lee Daniels, the
producer, braced himself for a long search. “It took me forever to
find Hakeem and Jamal (for 'Empire'),” he told the Television
Critics Association last year. “Forever.”

But it took a day or
two, tops, to find Star; Jude Demorest walked in. “It was spooky,”
Daniels said. This was a perfect match, “down to the hoops that she
was wearing and the cheap fur that she came in.”

And there was her
voice – one molded by the Detroit gospel sound of Marvin Winans.

The casting came
easily to Daniels ... but it didn't seem that way to Demorest. “I
was sent there for a different role,” she recalled recently by
phone. “I thought: 'Star -- that's the one I want to do.'” After
auditioning her nine more times – just to make sure – Daniels
gave her the role she seems made for.

“In my house, we
always had music,” Demorest said of her Detroit childhood. Her
sister had some Dr. Dre albums, but their mom insisted on gospel –
Andrae Crouch and the Winans family and more.

Those Winans weren't
just voices on record. Seven days a week, Demorest said, her family
went to The Perfecting Church – where the founder and pastor, Rev.
Marvin Winans, is steeped in gospel. He started The Winans singing
group with some of his brothers ... two younger siblings, BeBe and
CeCe, became solo stars ... and his twin brother's daughter, Deborah
Joy Winans, currently co-stars in “Greenleaf.”

Winans started the
church in 1989 and the Marvin L. Winans Academy of Performing Arts in
'97. Both places became key in Demorest's life.

The “Star”
characters have fierce determination. Queen Latifah – who plays a
friend of Star's late mother – talked about that to the TCA: “I
definitely relate to the hunger, the desire, the will.”

Demorest took that
to an extreme: At 16, she heard that her sister was heading to a job
in Los Angeles. “I left school on Christmas break” and didn't
return. “I just left my things in the locker.”

Her sister didn't
have an apartment yet, so they crashed with “a friend of a friend
of a friend, who we'd never met.” None of this was wise or
cautious, but somehow it worked. Demorest got jobs singing and
dancing back-up in music videos. She got an agent and managed some
close stabs at success, including:

-- Being in a girl
group for a year. “We almost landed a TV-show deal, but it fell
through.”

-- Being signed by
L.A. Reid, the hitmaker who had already helped mold Usher, TLC, Toni
Braxton and more. The planned album never happened, but she had her
first sampling of music success: Two of the songs she co-wrote were
recorded by Reid's group, Fifth Harmony. “Work From Home” and
“Down” were No. 4 and No. 42 on the Billboard chart.

-- And doing six
episodes of the rebooted “Dallas.” Alas, her character (Candace,
an underage prostitute) was killed and dismembered.

Then came her ideal
role – albeit an unusual one. As Daniels asked out loud last year:
“Why am I putting a white girl in the middle of this black
environment – with a sister who is half-black and another who is an
entitled, very rich black girl?” It was, he said, “about bringing
these girls together.”

It's a tangled
togetherness. Currently, the others rage at Star for leaving them for
a solo tour. Complicating things, Star is pregnant (as is Demorest,
who is married to music producer Ammo).

Demorest's life
seems complicated ... but she feels Star's is much more so. “She
lives a life without any God. When you have your own God, you are
your own force.”

-- “Star,” 9
p.m. Wednesdays on Fox, after “Empire”; season opens Sept. 26