Universal Orlando Resort’s 2012 Summer Concert series, in Orlando, Florida, kicked off with a bang on June 9 with a concert from the main cast of Victorious, the popular Nickelodeon television show that follows teenager Tori Vega (Victoria Justice) and her friends through life at a performing arts high school. The cast performed songs from the show’s new soundtrack, Victorious 2.0: More Music from the Hit TV Show (in stores now)—including the brand new single, “Make it in America,” co-written by Justice—and other hits from the show, such as “Freak the Freak Out.”
This year, Universal is celebrating 100 years as a movie studio. The special Summer Concert Series, which runs from June 9 to July 14,, will also feature Lupe Fiasco, ZZ Top, Al Green, Josh Turner, 3 Doors Down and more. Before the concert, TFK Kid Reporter Audrey Hill sat down with Justice and other Victorious cast members—Leon Thomas III (“Andre Harris”), Daniella Monet (“Trina Vega”), Elizabeth Gillies (“Jade West”), Avan Jogia (“Beck Oliver”), Ariana Grande (“Cat Valentine’) and Matt Bennett (“Robbie Shapiro”)—to talk about the concert and the success of the show, now in it’s third season.
Victoria Justice (“Tori”)
You had roles on other Nickelodeon shows before Victorious, including Zoey 101 and iCarly. How did it feel to have Nickelodeon create a show staring you?
It was very flattering. It was honestly like a dream come true, working with an amazing cast and (creator/producer) Dan Schneider. It’s kind of based off my life because I went to a performing arts middle school when I (moved) to California. The writers are always open to hearing our opinions, and each of the characters has their own personality.
How does it feel to kick off the Universal Concert Series?
It is an honor. I get to see my family and friends. It is great to be back home (in Florida).
What can fans expect from the concert tomorrow?
A great performance and a lot of energy from the crowd. I want everyone to sing along!
Your character Tori started to feel the pressure of stardom in the recent episode “Tori Goes Platinum.” Do you relate to her experience in your real life?
That episode was about people trying to change who I was. I don’t think I have had that experience in real life. My family has always stressed to me to stay an individual; otherwise, you won’t be happy as a person. I have a very good head on my shoulders, and I have always been very strong-willed when it comes to things like that. I know who I am.
Are you working on a solo album?
I am. I have been writing for about two years now. I have written over 20 songs, and I want to continue to write until the end of this year. I want to really take my time and not rush things, so I can give it 150%.
Season 3 of Victorious featured an homage to “The Breakfast Club,” including your cover of “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” Are there any other classic movies or songs you’d like to see the show cover?
I would want to do Grease. I just saw it again, and it reminded me of how many great songs there are in the movie.
Leon Thomas III (“Andre”)
The characters of Andre and Tori are very close. Are you the same way off set?
Yes, Victoria and I are very good friends. We have grown up together and it is great to see her success.
How do you compare with your character?
With both have a very big passion for music. We play a lot of instruments and writing songs is important to us.
You have been working on your debut EP, Metro Hearts. What can fans expect?
Fans can expect the first look at me as an artist. Everything that I have done so far that has been released has been an interpretation of (my character) Andre. This a first look at me, Leon Thomas.
The Victorious 2.0 soundtrack features your duet with Victoria, “Countdown.” What is your favorite song that you have done so far on the show?
My favorite song would have to be “Song To You” because I wrote it when I was 14. To see it on the show a couple years later and people really enjoying it is an amazing experience.
Ariana Grande (“Cat”)
You were born and raised in Florida. Did you come to the Universal Orlando and Disney World theme parks often?
Yes, we came at least once a month. It’s good to be back and I love it. It is so much fun.
How does it feel to be in Orlando to kick off the Universal Summer Concert series?
Amazing. It feels great and I love being here with my castmates, and we are having so much fun!
You said on your Twitter account that you will be singing a “never before heard duet” with Victoria Justice…?
Yes, and I hope it makes everyone wants to get up and dance. I love it.
How similar or different are you from your character Cat?
We have a lot in common and we are very different at the same time. Cat is very optimistic, and she doesn’t judge anyone, and she sees the world with rose covered glasses. I try to be that way, and I get inspired by Cat because she is so free-spirited. But at the same time, she can be a complete bumbling idiot, and I hope people do not perceive me that way personally.
You are working on your debut album. What kind of music can fans expect to hear?
It is 50’s and 60’s inspired pop. A throwback to Motown, mixed with today’s pop. It is a concoction of everything I love thrown together. I love it. It’s like a story. Each song is a part of my life, and it is very personal.
You starred on Broadway in the musical 13. What differences are there between acting on Broadway and television?
With Broadway, there is an intimacy that you have with the audience. With television, there is an intimacy with a small group of people, and you have the option of doing something over again. On Broadway, anything can happen and you keep going. I would go back to Broadway in a heartbeat. I miss it.
Matt Bennett (“Robbie”)
Who came up with the idea of Robbie having a puppet?
Dan Schneider, the director, came up with the idea. He said he got the idea from the comedian Jeff Dunham. I took ventriloquist classes, and I have learned the craft over the years. I like working with a puppet, it teaches me to do more things with my face, like being more expressive.
Outside of Victorious, are you working on any projects right now?
Ariana, Elizabeth and I started something called “Stoop Kids,” where we post videos online, and we actually have quite a following. They are just fun videos. I also have a web series put out CDs called Warm Fuzzies. The second one is coming out soon.
You wrote the songs “I Think You are Swell” and “Broken Glass,” which were featured on the show. Do you prefer to write comedy?
I like to write anything with clever lyrics, and I like wordplay. I’m not a dark and depressing guy so I like to make people feel happy.
Season three of Victorious featured a tribute to “The Breakfast Club.” Are there any others coming up?
Yes, we are always open to that, and there is an episode coming up called “The Hambone King” and that will be a tribute to Rocky.
Elizabeth Gillies (“Jade”)
You have acted on Broadway in the musical 13 and on television. How is acting for Broadway and TV different for you?
It’s very different. I really miss Broadway sometimes because of the live audience. It’s very gratifying and fulfilling to be in front of a live audience because you can feel their presence. With TV, you do many takes and it gets cut up and you do not get that gratification right away. You have to wait till it comes out. On the other hand, TV is good because you get a second shot at something; you can try it again or change something. Broadway is a one-shot deal.
Jade has a unique sense of style, wearing mostly dark clothing. Is your personal style more similar or different from Jade’s?
It is similar, but I dress a little more earthy in real life—more of a hippy-vibe than a goth-vibe. You will see in upcoming episodes that Jade is starting to wear more color.
Do you have any plans for recording an album?
Yes, I have been working on something for the past year, so there may be something coming out in the near future.
You’ll be doing a live Q&A session at Universal. Do you enjoy getting to meet fans?
Yes, I really like to hear from my fans. It brings back memories of the shows. Sometimes, we forget about certain episodes.
Daniella Monet (“Trina”)
In the show, Trina does not have the talent that her sisters and friends do, but in real life you are extremely talented. Is it difficult to portray a character that is so different from you?
I really enjoy playing anything other than myself. I don’t find it difficult, I find it more experimental and fun.
Did you always know you wanted to act?
Yes. At a young age, I had a lot of energy and was very chatty, and my mom said, “We need to put her in something.” Things started falling into my lap, and I got lucky, and I continue to enjoy it so much and look forward to more.
Aside from more Victorious episodes, what else do you have coming up?
I have A Fairly Odd Christmas (movie) coming up and the Fred 3 movie is coming out soon (on Nickelodeon).
I read that you are a vegan. When did you decide to become a vegan?
I became a vegan when I was about 12 years old. It was a gradual process. I stopped eating meat at a young age and then it slowly progressed. I am not the only vegan on the cast.
Avan Jogia (“Beck”)
In Victorious, you play Jade’s boyfriend. She is sarcastic and not always good-natured, but you look past that and find the good in her. Are you like that in real life?
Yes, I will communicate with anyone, no matter who they are, where they are from, rich or poor, anyone.
At what age did you start playing instruments?
When I was nine, my parents said, “Play the guitar,” so I took lessons. I struggled, and then when I was 15, I just picked it up and started playing more. I was self-motivated. You really can’t do anything unless you really want to do it, and that is what I did.
You were recently in the Nickelodeon movie Rags. What was that experience like for you?
It was really fun for me. I’m all for stretching myself and playing different characters. It came together for me really, really well.