Former Hannibal woman earns rare spot in ABC Showcase

Posted: Oct. 30, 2013 9:01 am Updated: Nov. 13, 2013 10:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The Disney/ABC Talent Showcase targets the country's untapped talent, and this year that search has brought Hannibal's Santana Dempsey into the spotlight.

Each year, ABC plugs the showcase's talent into its up and coming shows. Actors such as Jorge Garcia of "LOST" and "Dancing with the Stars'" Carrie Ann Inaba have used the showcase to wedge themselves into the cutthroat industry. More than 7,000 aspiring actors and actresses entered the competition in August, but only 500 received auditions.

After a grueling elimination process, Dempsey earned one of 20 spots in Tuesday's showcase. A network executive from the casting department will now mentor Dempsey for a year as she auditions for ABC Entertainment Group's current series and pilots.

"I hope this gets me into the door to audition more, and hopefully book a principal or supporting role on a TV show," Dempsey said. "But in order to do that, you have to be able to get in the room."

Getting into those audition rooms has been an ongoing fight.

When Vicki and Terrell Dempsey adopted Santana and her sister from foster care in Dallas, the couple shared their own love of theater. As the Dempseys performed in local community productions, the girls accepted small roles.

"The exposure to community theater probably put that seed in her mind," her mother said. "I'm hoping in some small way we've given her a start in her love of theater."

But Santana Dempsey has come along way from her days of performing as an urchin in the Raintree Theater Guild's production of "A Christmas Carol" in Clarksville, Mo. At Hannibal High School, she participated in public speaking competitions, and later solidified her love of performance at University of Missouri.

"She's always had enough positive feedback to keep going," her mother said.

Three days after earning a degree in theater performance, Santana moved to New York and steadily began breaking into the industry. Her face has appeared in advertisements for Starbucks and Pepsi, and she has acted in off-Broadway theaters in New York and in independent short films. She recently moved to Los Angeles to focus on finding a steady spot in network television.

"To not know when your next job is, is very scary," she said. "You just have to be aware of that and believe in yourself when you get into this."

Despite the stress and the odds, Santana remains upbeat and energetic. That spark has earned her a collection of quirky roles. In the showcase, she played a 20-something who attempts to follow verbatim a book on the art of finding love. She hopes those few comedic minutes in front the executives and a year with a mentor may eventually put her before the nation.

"We're hoping that this is the big break that she's been working so hard for, for all these years," her mother said. "I've always thought that she was talented, but it's gratifying for me to know that ABC says she is."