Age & Hometown: 25; Philadelphia, PA
Current Role: An over-the-top, Tony-nominated Broadway debut as reluctant psychic Oda Mae Brown in Ghost.
R&B Roots: The vivacious Randolph originally pictured herself becoming an R&B singer. “At home, it was always Motown and that late '80s/early '90s R&B like Jodeci pumping through the speakers,” she remembers. But her focus started shifting around age 16, after seeing an all-black ensemble sing classical music at a Christmas recital. “I went up to the woman who impressed me the most and said, ‘You gotta teach me how to do crazy riffs, sing really loud and really long,” she says, laughing at her naivete. “Just the worst ever. We started having voice lessons, and she slowly started sneaking classical in. She would play recordings of Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman and Maria Callas, and I remember thinking that opera is the ultimate art form. They just give all of themselves.”
Opera Diva: While studying opera at Temple University, Randolph began feeling that she needed to study acting in addition to voice. As the lead in Aida, she recalls, “I was like, ‘OK guys, if I’m being buried alive, I feel like something should be going on with her.'” While copying music one day, she heard screaming. “I peeked into this door and it was an acting class,” she says. “I stood and watched; it sounds so cliché, but it was this moment of recognizing something within myself.” Randolph became an acting major her senior year and, as graduation neared, again felt pushed in a new direction. “The head of the theater department said, ‘Here are the top five grad schools. These are your audition dates. You’re going. ” Her first audition was for Yale. She got in.
Getting Ghost: Fresh out of Yale, Randolph got a heads-up on the Ghost audition. “They were looking for someone 40 or 45, so everything on paper was no, no, and no.” But the casting director said yes. Two months after landing the Broadway production, she was tapped to play Oda Mae briefly in London. At first, she thought a question about her passport meant she’d booked a Nestle commercial in Uzbekistan. “I thought, ‘Yes! I’m going to be a chocolate fairy in a harness!” Instead, she hopped on a plane to London, script in hand. “I got off book on my red-eye,” she says. “I got there on Sunday, jacked up like a mo-fo, saw the show and had my first rehearsal Monday.” She also found a shortcut: She didn’t learn the lines that ghost Sam feeds her to repeat to his girlfriend Molly. “Keeps it fresh, right?” she jokes. The Tony nominating committee agreed, and Randolph soon found herself chatting with Audra McDonald. “She was the first Broadway actor I ever met,” the young actress recalls. “And I cried.”