Utah has produced a lot of talented people, from dancers and musicians to actors and models.
No doubt you’ve heard of big names like the Osmond family or Derek and Julianne Hough—but can you recognize any of these young up-and-comers with ties to the Beehive State?
Millicent Simmonds—actress (‘The Quiet Place’)
17-year-old Millicent Simmonds (who goes by Millie) is a Bountiful native and actress best known for her roles in “Wonderstruck” and “A Quiet Place.”
Named one of the Breakthrough Entertainers of 2017 by the Associated Press for her role in “Wonderstruck,” Millie’s star power has steadily increased over the last few years. As a deaf actress, she’s particularly excited to be representing the deaf community on film.
“I want to show other deaf people that they can do anything, even be in a movie,” Millie told KSL in 2017. “And I really want to try and tell hearing parents to encourage them to sign to their deaf children.”
Tate Brusa—’The Voice’ contestant (season 18)
16-year-old Salt Lake City native Tate Brusa wowed judges with his rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” in Season 18 of “The Voice.” The singer/songwriter made it to the top 24 before being eliminated in the knockout rounds.
Tate was best known for his soulful, raspy voice—something he says he gained from yelling and screaming at his siblings as a young boy. His ability to play music solely by ear led to legendary guest mentor James Taylor calling him a “prodigy,” reports the Deseret News.
Since his time on “The Voice,” Tate’s music career has picked up speed, as have his followers on Instagram.
Kodi Lee— ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner (season 14)
Last year, Utah native Kodi Lee blew everyone away with his amazing piano skills—made even more impressive by the fact that he’s legally blind and has autism.
After receiving the Golden Buzzer from judge Gabrielle Union, which sent him straight to the live shows, Kodi’s audition went viral. His performances of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Lost Without You” won over Americans’ hearts and sent him to the finals.
After a show-stopping and emotional duet of “You Are the Reason” with Leona Lewis in the finale, Kodi earned a standing ovation—and the show’s $1 million prize. He was the first blind person and the first person with autism to win the show.
Since winning America’s Got Talent, the now 24-year-old performer has headlined in Las Vegas, signed with Simon Cowell’s record label Syco, as well as Columbia, and is working on an album.
Kenadi Dodds—’America’s Got Talent’ finalist (season 15)
15-year-old Logan native Kenadi Dodds made it to the finals of “America’s Got Talent” this year, impressing the nation with her country singing and songwriting capabilities along the way.
Kenadi felt extremely lucky to be part of the finals—and though she didn’t win, she told the Deseret News she was grateful for the exposure she gained from the show. It brought her one step closer to fulfilling her dream of becoming a country star—something she had envisioned since sitting on the front row of a Shania Twain concert at the Vivint Arena in 2015.
Kenadi isn’t sure what’s next, but she plans to release an album of original music soon, according to the Deseret News. Her ability to pen her own songs reminded judge Heidi Klum of a “young Taylor Swift.”
“A lot of country songs that I liked (growing up) didn’t quite fit my image lyrically, and I couldn’t relate to a lot of them,” she told the Deseret News. “And so I started writing songs so that I could relate. … Also, you can’t have a career just doing covers. You need to have your original work.”
Ashley Hess—’American Idol’ contestant (season 17)
Former Utah resident Ashley Hess was considered a frontrunner in Season 17 of “American Idol.”
After an emotional performance of Coldplay’s “Fix You,” judge Katy Perry said, “To me, you look like Diana Krall and you sing like Carole King. You are an amazing singer/songwriter and it was amazing and you are really growing so beautifully.”
Unfortunately, Hess was eliminated in the Top 10 Reveal, but her musical passion lives on. Her website features four original songs and states that Hess “is currently writing and preparing to record her first original EP that is set to release in 2020.”
Jordan Moyes—’American Idol’ contestant (season 18)
Following the encouragement of his good friend, Ashley Hess (yes, the same one mentioned above), Provo resident Jordan Moyes decided to audition for Season 18 of “American Idol.” His performance of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” impressed judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie.
“Your guitar playing is my favorite kind of guitar playing,” said Perry, who sang along as Moyes played. “I can hear every note. It’s so crisp and well-tuned, and you are a studied musician. Thank you so much.”
Though Moyes was eliminated shortly after, his brief time on the show helped him accomplish his goal of gaining national exposure. It also led to more listeners and followers on social media.
“I’m a musician with or without the show,” Moyes told the Deseret News. “But it’s exciting to see how this will translate into my own music.”
Pyper America Smith—Fashion model, actress, musician
Pyper America Smith grew up in Utah but moved to Los Angeles when she was 16 years old to pursue a modeling career. With more than 665,000 followers on Instagram, Smith is one of the most recognizable faces in fashion—but her talents don’t end on the runway. She can also add actress and musician to her credits.
Smith told Marie Claire magazine that her secret weapon in the midst of success and fame is her faith.
“Growing up in the [LDS] Church and community in Utah has built me up into this person who can [deal with a place like] LA, which is so busy and crazy,” she said. “If I need time to reflect, I have this huge part of me that I just hold on to. It’s kind of like my rock.”
Pyper and her brother, Lucky Blue Smith (also famous and a model), are members of a band called “The Atomics.” The sibling duo is so good looking and talented it’s like they are still deciding where their ultimate focus will be. Expect to see more of both going forward.
Who will be the next up-and-comer?
With an abundance of talented singers, dancers, and performing artists, it’s only a matter of time before more Utahns come out of the woodwork and into the national spotlight.
* Robert DeBry is retired from the practice of law