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You can’t stop the beat of this Tony Award-winning musical sensation!

Ashley Spencer

Age: 22

Currently: Making her Broadway debut as Hairspray's toxic blonde Amber von Tussle, after achieving national notoriety as first runner-up on the reality series Grease: You're The One That I Want.

Hometown: Canton, Ohio

At the Ballet: Spencer spent her early childhood studying dance and joined a local ballet company at age 10. She felt she'd found her calling—until an injury to the bone and joint in her big toe made it impossible to go on point. "It was hard, but I was like, 'I have to find something else in the arts to do,'" she recalls. "I'd grown up watching old musicals like Show Boat and White Christmas with my mom, so I turned to acting and singing and thought, 'Oh my god, I love this.'"

Becoming Barbie: Spencer passed on attending college and built her resume doing theater in her hometown. Her first major break came at 20 from an open casting call on ABC's Good Morning America for the touring production Barbie in Fairytopia. "My mom saw an ad in our hometown newspaper and bought me a ticket to New York," Spencer remembers. "I was freaked out because I'd only been to the city once when I was 12. Now here I was, staying with a friend of a friend in Greenwich Village, with no idea where I was going." Yet she landed the role, fulfilling two childhood dreams in the process: "I got to play Barbie; I mean, I loved her growing up. And I got to fly in the show, too. That was incredible."

Go Greased Lightning! Returning to New York, Spencer took a waitressing job—and kept her eye on a rumored revival of Grease. "When I hear about something and I really wanna do it, I won't let go of it," she says with a laugh. "I'd been hearing about Grease for months, and was like, 'When is this happening?'" Sidelined with an illness during the New York auditions, the young actress was determined not to miss out, "so I spent all my money to go to L.A. I didn't even tell my parents, because my Mom would've totally freaked out. But it ended up being the best decision ever!"

Reality Check: Spencer wasn't deaf to the negative comments You're the One That I Want drew from theater purists, an attitude she still find frustrating. "A lot of people thought we were a joke, and we weren't," she says of the televised casting call. "Everybody was really talented, which people who actually watched the show could see. It was a great opportunity for producers and America to see actors they might never have seen otherwise. If I had the chance, I'd definitely do another [reality show]." As for the two winners, Spencer says loyally, "I went to opening night [of Grease] and I definitely feel that Laura and Max were the best part of the show. I loved it, and I was really happy for them."

You Can't Stop the Brat: Used to playing wide-eyed ingenues, Spencer gets to be downright nasty as Amber in Hairspray, a show she's been a fan of for years. "I'd seen it four times," she confesses. "And since I usually play sweet, strong characters, it's so much fun and so different to play the brat." Spencer joined the company just three weeks before the arrival of Lance Bass as Corny Collins. "I was so tickled, because I was a big 'NSync fan growing up," she says of appearing on Broadway alongside a pop star. "And he's the sweetest guy. With someone so high profile, I didn't know what to expect. But honestly, he's the most delightful person to be around."

You've Got to Believe: While enjoying her Broadway debut, Spencer hasn't forgotten how tough looking for work can be. "I stood on line at, like, 4am to audition for The Little Mermaid. I was all, 'I'm gonna be Ariel! I'm gonna do this!' The casting director didn't look happy… maybe I'm too old," she jokes. Her key tip for success is to stay positive, even when things don't work out: "A lot of people get discouraged after waiting in line over and over. It's not gonna fall into your lap, but if you really want something, go for it. It can happen."

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