Flashback: The Stars of TV’s 'Fame' 30 Years Later

Debbie Allen as Lydia Grant on Fame

For any kid who ever dreamed of making it as a performer, or who felt the struggle to fit in at high school, this show, which ran from 1982 to 1987, is an icon. All those dramatic story lines intercut with full-production song-and-dance numbers felt authentic because so many of the kids really were aspiring musicians and dancers.

They may not have been perfect, but we loved them for it. Let’s look back at the show 30 years later...

Debbie Allen—Today

Then: One of the few cast members who was in both the 1980 movie version and the TV series, Allen played the cane-tapping taskmaster dance instructor Lydia Grant, whose quote “fame costs, and right here is where you start paying—in sweat” is the stuff of TV legend.

Now: Allen, who has won Emmys and a Golden Globe for both acting and choreography, continues to appear steadily in TV series including Grey’s Anatomy, Everybody Hates Chris, and A Different World.

Erica Gimpel as Coco Hernandez on Fame

She also has her own dance studio and is a regular guest judge on So You Think You Can Dance.

Then: When she auditioned for Fame as a teen, Gimpel was actually a student at New York’s esteemed High School for Performing Arts… where the show was set! She then had the unenviable task of taking over the role of Coco Hernandez—and the title-song vocals—from Irene Cara.

Erica Gimpel—Today

But Gimpel owned Coco, bringing vitality and strength to her TV performance.

Now: Gimpel has had roles on series including Veronica Mars, Touched by an Angel, and Boston Legal, as well as a six-year run on ER. Her debut album was released in 2010.

Lee Curreri as Bruno Martelli on Fame

Gimpel was also a judge on the Irish reality-competition series Fame: The Musical.

Then: That hair! That faraway stare! That way with the keyboard!

Lee Curreri—Today

As Bruno Martelli, first in the movie and then in the series, Curreri charmed us all as the piano-playing prodigy with a distinctive delivery and sense of humor. (Sho-Sho-Sho-Shorofsky, played by Albert Hague, was Bruno’s mentor/nemesis.)

Now: He hasn’t changed a bit! Well… except for the hair, maybe.

Valerie Landsburg as Doris Schwartz on Fame

Curreri’s acting career didn’t continue much past Fame, but his musical gifts have kept him plenty busy producing and scoring movies, TV shows, and commercials.

Then: Doris Schwartz was the plain Jane among the kids, the serious actor who struggled with being short and wide and not looking like she thought she should. But she had some of the show’s best songs, like “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Hi-Fidelity,” which was a hit in the U.K.

Valerie Landsburg—Today

(And she beat out a young Madonna, who auditioned unsuccessfully for the role.)

Cynthia Gibb as Holly Laird on Fame

Now: In addition to appearing on shows like Nip/Tuck and The Unit, Landsburg is a director, musician, and acting coach.

Then: Gibb joined the cast in season 3 as Holly Laird, the new-kid drama major. Snakkle Exclusive! Gibb tells us, “Fame was a life-changing job for me.

Cynthia Gibb—Today

It stretched me outside of my comfort level on a daily basis. Everyone was so talented. I look back now and wish that I could do it all over again: I would appreciate it so much more today than I was able to while in the middle of it—we worked over 60 hours a week, so we were just hanging on for dear life!”

Now: She had memorable turns in movies like Youngblood and The Karen Carpenter Story and has since worked steadily in TV movies like A Nanny for Christmas.

Janet Jackson as Cleo Hewitt on Fame

Read our full Catching Up story on Cynthia Gibb.

Janet Jackson—Today

Then: Miss Jackson was already exhibiting some of her signature moves when she joined the cast in season 4 as the fresh-faced Cleo Hewitt, a dancer who had a thing for Gene Anthony Ray’s Leroy Johnson.

Now: In her younger years, Jackson appeared in a number of TV shows (Good Times, Diff’rent Strokes) before becoming, oh, just one of the most successful female recording artists of all time.

Carlo Imperato as Danny Amatullo on Fame

She still appears in occasional movies, most recently in Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married and its sequel.

Then: Not only did Danny Amatullo have some of the show’s best punch lines, but he also spent much of his time chasing the ladies.

Carlo Imperato—Today

Okay, so he could be kind of cocky and hotheaded, and his musical numbers—like “Friday Night”—maybe had more swag than they altogether needed, but there’s no doubt that Danny was one of the show’s most memorable characters.

Now: After Fame, Imperato appeared in a couple of TV show episodes (including Friends) but has remained largely out of the limelight.

David Greenlee as Dwight Mendenhall on Fame

He’s since owned gyms, built movie sets, and had a family.

Then: The awkward hall monitor Dwight Mendenhall won over popular girl Holly, and the two became fast friends.

David Greenlee—Today

When he was given the privilege to direct his own play, Dwight infamously chose to do a musical based on the Dewey decimal system.

Now: In recent years, Greenlee has focused on stage and voice-over work.

Jesse Borrego as Jesse Valesquez on Fame

He regularly appears at sci-fi and fantasy conventions to speak about his role as Mouse on another ’80s series, Beauty and the Beast.

Then: Jesse Valesquez was a tough-guy dancer with a sensitive soul.

Jesse Borrego—Today

His illegal-immigrant status led to not one but two girls trying to marry him to keep him in the country—and one of his teachers offering to adopt him.

Lori Singer as Julie Miller on Fame

Now: Since Fame, Borrego has worked extensively in film (Colombiana, Con Air) and TV (Dexter, ER), as well as in numerous stage productions.

Then: Singer played soft-spoken cellist Julie Miller, who originally has trouble fitting in with all the larger-than-life personalities at the school.

Lori Singer—Today

While a truly gifted cellist, she turned out to be not the best singer, ironically.

Now: Singer left the show after only two seasons to pursue a movie career, starring opposite Kevin Bacon in Footloose and, nearly a decade later, in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. A concert cellist, Singer has performed around the world.

Nia Peeples as Nicole Chapman on Fame

She made her first television appearance in years in a 2011 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Then: Peeples’ lovely Nicole Chapman was sweet, popular, and talented—which made the fact that the series killed her off in a drunk-driving accident all the more heart wrenching.