Conservatory student Kendyl Yokoyama (B.F.A. '21, musical theater) helped bring the 2018 Oscars audience to its feet in Keala Settle’s showstopping performance of “This Is Me” from the movie musical The Greatest Showman. Yokoyama shares her experiences working with Settle and being part of a powerful performance that instantly became a viral phenomenon—and that brought her face to face with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
How did you get involved in this performance?
An audition call was sent to me by East West Players, a regional theater company that I am associated with in Los Angeles. Since I had been home recovering from an illness, I was relieved that they were asking for video auditions, so I sent one in. A couple of days later, they called me back to perform some material from “This Is Me.” Then, Jason Michael Webb, the Broadway music director of The Color Purple, asked me to stay and sing a song of my choice. The next day, they emailed me and invited me to the final callback. As soon as I was done with the acting callback, they told me that I was cast!
What inspired you most during this process?
Definitely working with Keala Settle. I will never forget when she came to our rehearsal for the first time. Just her presence in the room lifted everyone’s energy so much. She was kind, gracious, and fierce; she is everything I could have ever imagined and even more. How she was able to fearlessly show all of herself, be that vulnerable every time she sang the song, and how she touched everyone in that audience was unbelievable.
Describe the feeling of performing on the Oscar stage.
The Dolby Theatre is huge, beautiful, and the sets were stunning. I just couldn’t believe that I was dancing and singing on the Oscars stage, next to Keala Settle, with all the TV cameras flying all around us. The energy that was generated by that performance is something I will never forget. And to perform in front of people that I have looked up to for years was definitely a surreal moment.
Did you have a sense that the performance would be one of the highlights of the Oscars and go viral?
To be honest, I did have a feeling that it would be one of the highlights of the evening. Before the Oscars even happened, the song had already gone viral, as it had become an anthem for people around the world. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul were looking for artists who were dynamic and diverse to represent and celebrate our talent and individuality, and this performance felt so powerful in rehearsals that I thought it just might get a standing ovation.
What does it mean to you to have performed a song with such a powerful and positive message for a worldwide audience?
It was very liberating, and it reminded me that I am worthy and special, and that my dreams are real and achievable. It gave me determination and confidence in myself that I will continue to bring more Asian-American representation and ethnic diversity to the stage and screen.
Did you have any memorable celebrity encounters?
Besides the thrill of getting to work with Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, and Jason Michael Webb, I also got to work with Alex Lacamoire, the music arranger for Hamilton, and many others during the rehearsal process. During the performance, I had the opportunity to go to the front row of the audience and perform right in front of Octavia Spencer and next to Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep! This was one of the scariest things I have ever done, which is why it was so completely rewarding to see that they were all really into it. Octavia Spencer congratulated me and, as I was walking out, Viola Davis smiled at me and said, “Great job, sweetheart!” which, needless to say, melted my heart.
What did this experience teach you as a performer?
It drove home how important it is to be a collaborative and grateful artist and to continue to stay grounded and focused. The process was so fast and there were so many distractions—I had to keep reminding myself that I had a job to do. When Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the music writers of Dear Evan Hansen and The Greatest Showman, and Jason Michael Webb cast me as part of the 10-person “recording choir,” I got to record “This Is Me” with well-known Equity artists. Being the youngest and least experienced by far was a bit intimidating at first, but once I started working with them, they inspired me to push, challenge, and believe in myself.
(Photo Credit: Chris Pizello/AP)