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'Fame': Why aren't Naturi Naughton and Collins Pennie already stars?

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Yesterday, I hopped to my local movie theater, purchased a ticket for the Fame reboot, and began preparing myself for the exciting performances that would soon appear on-screen. After all, these musical numbers would come courtesy of an awesomely talented, young, breakout cast, right? Well…kinda. Though the cast might have been hindered by their own material — the film paled in comparison to the gritty 1980 version, thanks to a clear effort to make the film more accessible to the High School Musical set — I left the theater only remembering two names: Naturi Naughton and Collins Pennie.

Irene Cara was the breakout of 1980’s Fame. So it’s only fitting that Naughton, the actress reprising Coco Hernandez’s musical numbers, would be the obvious standout of the 2009 version. As Denise Dupree, Naughton blew me over on numbers like “Out Here On My Own,” and made the rest of the cast look like amateurs (though, admittedly, as performing arts students, that was what they were supposed to be). Except, of course, for Collins Pennie, the actor who played the tortured Malik Washburn with such intensity, I wondered why he doesn’t have a more expansive resume.

Because, honestly, when it came down to it, Denise and Malik were the only two characters in the film with clear talent. Yes, Asher Book’s Marco had a nice voice, but his lovesick dorkiness throughout the film distracted from his vocal gifts. (And surely, the best singer at a performing arts school would at least come close to comparing to the Adam Lamberts of the world, right?) SYTYCD‘s Kherington Payne, as Alice, wasn’t nearly as technically proficient as other ballet dancers featured in the film. And as for Kay Panabaker’s Jenny…well, does anyone understand why the wannabe actress who could neither sing nor act was accepted into the school in the first place?

Am I being too hard on the cast? And do you, like me, think Naughton and Pennie were sublime in their roles? (That is, if you even saw the film — from preliminary box office figures, it looks like many of you skipped.) Let’s make these two bona fide stars, yeah?