In 2011, Sutton Foster was asked to perform at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington D.C., honoring singer and actress Barbara Cook. Foster asked her brother Hunter, who’s also an actor, to be her date. Before the event, all of the honorees and special guests are invited to the White House. Coming from a small town in Georgia, the siblings were simply overwhelmed.
“We’re sitting in the White House and President Obama is standing 10 feet away from us talking with the honorees,” she said. “So we looked at each other and we’re thinking, ‘How did this happen?’ ‘How did we get here?’ ”
Not coming from a showbiz family, Foster, 38, had few artistic influences growing up and discovered her talent almost by accident.
“I grew up doing some dancing like any young kid who takes ballet,” she said. “Our local community theater needed dancers for their production of ‘Annie.’ But I was cast in ‘Annie’ because I could sing. I didn’t know I could sing but I had a natural singing voice. I just fell in love with performing.”
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This weekend, the two-time Tony Award-winning actress and singer will make her Center for the Performing Arts debut. Backed by her trio and with singer Megan McGinnis, Foster will perform popular and show tunes from her CDs “Wish” and “An Evening with Sutton Foster: Live at the Cafe Carlyle,” plus selections from her many starring roles on Broadway.
A multi-talented artist and performer, with acting, singing, dancing and visual art in her repertoire, Foster has won Tony Awards for best performance by a leading actress in a musical for the role of Millie Dillmount in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in 2002, and for her performance as Reno Sweeney in “Anything Goes” in 2011.
There is something to be said for being in the right place at the right time. In Foster’s case, it’s also been about learning and growing, and taking advantage of the opportunities that have come her way.
At the age of 15, Foster landed a spot on the popular talent show “Star Search,” a talent show with only two people competing against each other each week. Although she didn’t win, Foster was grateful for the opportunity and has nothing but praise for what television has done for young aspiring artists.
“I’m a huge ‘American Idol’ fan. It’s a very exciting show,” she said. “I’m amazed at the talent that has come out of that program. It’s an opportunity for really talented people to reach a broader audience.”
She joined her local community theater and left high school to join the national tour of “The Will Rogers Follies” directed by Tommy Tune. She later attended Carnegie Mellon University for one year, but left to pursue a theatrical career full-time. After traveling across the country performing in various ensemble shows, Foster eventually made her way to New York.
“Sometimes, people early on will limit themselves as to what they should or shouldn’t do,” she said. “Say ‘yes’ to opportunity. Because you never know who you’re going to meet, who you’re going to work with.”
The entertainment world is a competitive business with no absolute guarantees of success. But with hard work and determination, Foster is proof that anyone can achieve their goals, as long as they stay true to themselves and don’t lose perspective, both personally and professionally.
“I think you have to keep working on moving forward and keep saying yes; keep challenging yourself with new opportunities,” she said. “But you also need to be kind. You want people to like you and to work with you. It’s really smart to be a good worker and to be kind and respectful to those around you.”
In every sense, Foster’s journey to success and potential for the future certainly defines living the American dream.
“I think I just want to challenge myself creatively and artistically in my career, and also to just challenge myself as a human being in my relationships and in my life,” she said.