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 as Lydia Grant on Fame
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. She also has her own dance studio and is a regular guest judge on So You Think You Can Dance.
Erica Gimpel as Coco Hernandez on Fame
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. 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. Gimpel was also a judge on the Irish reality-competition series Fame: The Musical.
Lee Curreri as Bruno Martelli on Fame
Then: That hair! That faraway stare! That way with the keyboard! 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. 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.
Valerie Landsburg as Doris Schwartz on Fame
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. (And she beat out a young Madonna, who auditioned unsuccessfully for the role.)
Now: In addition to appearing on shows like Nip/Tuck and The Unit, Landsburg is a director, musician, and acting coach.
Cynthia Gibb as Holly Laird on Fame
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. 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. Read our full Catching Up story on Cynthia Gibb.
Janet Jackson as Cleo Hewitt on Fame
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. She still appears in occasional movies, most recently in Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married and its sequel.
Carlo Imperato as Danny Amatullo on Fame
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. 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. He’s since owned gyms, built movie sets, and had a family.
David Greenlee as Dwight Mendenhall on Fame
Then: The awkward hall monitor Dwight Mendenhall won over popular girl Holly, and the two became fast friends. 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. He regularly appears at sci-fi and fantasy conventions to speak about his role as Mouse on another ’80s series, Beauty and the Beast.
Jesse Borrego as Jesse Valesquez on Fame
Then: Jesse Valesquez was a tough-guy dancer with a sensitive soul. 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.
Now: Since Fame, Borrego has worked extensively in film (Colombiana, Con Air) and TV (Dexter, ER), as well as in numerous stage productions.
Lori Singer as Julie Miller on Fame
Then: Singer played soft-spoken cellist Julie Miller, who originally has trouble fitting in with all the larger-than-life personalities at the school. 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. She made her first television appearance in years in a 2011 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Nia Peeples as Nicole Chapman on Fame
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.