Sydney Takes Hollywood
Things are looking up for actress and musician Sydney Agudong, who nearly gave up on her dreams of a life in Tinseltown before she decided to flip the script.
Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Sydney Agudong often experiences those visceral “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore” moments. Whether she’s on the set of a Netflix show or in the studio recording her debut album, that rush of emotion can hit her at any given time to remind her just how far she’s come from her quaint island home.
Having dreamt about Hollywood’s glitz and glamor for as long as she can remember, the Kaua‘i native is no stranger to the stage. Her first experience under the dazzling lights came courtesy of a local healthy baby contest (she got second place). Later, she entered the world of pageantry, theater (she was in productions of Peter Pan, Mulan and Shrek, to name a few) and other avenues that prepared her for stardom.
When it came to her music, though, Agudong kept those cards close to her heart. Until one day, she got into a tiff with her mom, Karen, and penned an entire song during math class as a way to relinquish her remorse. The angsty, pencil-written lyrics became her slightly unofficial debut single, which amounted to the highest regard the Garden Island can offer: air time on KONG Radio.
“It was called I’m So Sorry,” the now 21-year-old says with a sheepish laugh. “Bandwagon Studios had helped me produce it. That was the first time that I thought, ‘Wow, this is possible.’”
Another first Agudong fondly looks back on is the epiphany that she wanted to be on television, too.
“I had the typical moment when you’re with your mom and you’re like, ‘I want to be up there,’ but the funny thing was, I wanted to be on TV to do the game shows,” she says, laughing. “I wanted to do Wipeout because I was so into gymnastics at the time that I didn’t understand why people couldn’t get through the courses.”
As a member of Gen Z, Agudong hints that her childhood somewhat reflected that of Hannah Montana, where she was a part-time regular teen, playing sports and hanging out with friends, and part-time aspiring star. She and younger sister Sienna (featured in MidWeek’s Oct. 28, 2020, issue for her own accomplishments) would frequently fly to LA, hoping the return trip would be accompanied with good news. But, as a lot of household-name celebrities would admit, you get a whole lot of nos before you get your first yes.
“There was the stress of trying to be good at everything all at once,” the Island School graduate recalls. “When you travel back and forth for auditions, it’s such a sacrifice because you’re away from family and friends and school, and you’re putting it all on the line. I think I got to a point where I was getting so many nos that I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right or even enjoyed it anymore.
“I profusely always have to be so grateful for my parents who did this for us because it was such a sacrifice in so many ways — financially, emotionally and physically. Sometimes, they could afford for us to go up to LA for a month or two at a time, which was a big chunk of time, but it was helpful because the longer you’re there, the more chances you have for auditions and booking something,” Agudong says, adding that she was trying out for everything from commercials to Disney and Nickelodeon series. “Sometimes, we could only afford the time, energy and finances for a week. Whenever we got that chance to make it happen, we would.”
As if one’s teenage years aren’t already turbulent times, Agudong felt nothing but defeated, discouraged and disappointed, and so she put her Hollywood dreams on the back burner and had her heart set on going to college in Colorado instead. But with a sudden burst of optimism, Agudong decided to give it one more try, packed her suitcases and headed straight for Tinseltown. With that spark in her back pocket, she began booking roles. She starred in a low-budget film called West Michigan, which is about a 17-year-old girl who struggles to find her place in the world.
“I was excited because I got to play somebody who was kind of mean,” Agudong says. “It was fun to experiment and be free and go outside of my comfort zone.
“(The experience) was so cool. I mean, it was low budget, so filming was quicker and there were some adjustments to it, but I don’t think that takes away from the experience at perience at all. There’s so much to learn when you’re on set, doing it instead of hearing about it. It was really cool because I still feel connected to everybody even though we haven’t spoken in a little while. We created a family.”
That ‘ohana mindset follows Agudong wherever she goes, a nod to the close-knit community she was raised in. She cultivated a similar feeling on the set of Netflix’s On My Block, her first TV show appearance. It’s a far cry from an obstacle course game show like Wipeout, but that didn’t take away from the fun of filming it.
“I got to play Jamal’s (Brett Gray) girlfriend and date to prom,” she says. “I was extremely grateful and lucky to have the cast and crew that I had because they were already family and had been there for seasons before. It was their last season, so they just wanted to have fun. They were so welcoming, which I know is not always the case on a set.”
Coming up, Agudong stars in a yet-to-be-released interactive web series called Find Millie Martin, where she plays a social media influencer whose friend goes missing. Meanwhile, production is currently underway for At Her Feet, a project she can’t spill too much information about, but says it’s filming on the Big Island and includes “known Hawaiian actors that will be really fun to shoot with.” As far as her dream role goes, Agudong would love to work with Marvel or DC, but more than that, hopes to compose her own script, adding that it would be a coming-of-age story.
“I’m not really sure what my purpose is as far as (writing my own movie) goes, but right now I feel the urge and calling to speak and bring to the surface mental health and the normalcy of how things can appear when someone is going through something that you have no idea about because you can’t see it,” she explains. “Hopefully people can either relate to it and feel better or learn something that they didn’t know before.”
Outside of showbiz, Agudong plays another character: Jayne Doe, an alter ego of sorts and the moniker in which she released music under.
“The meaning of ‘Jane Doe’ is an unidentified female, but in general, I think my biggest point was that I wanted to make sure that people knew we’re one of the same,” she says. “The things that I’m going through are things that everybody is going through and vice versa. It’s not to say that it devalues any sort of feelings but it’s more of a way, like, I’m unidentified because I don’t know who I am yet — none of us do — and that’s the whole point.
“I was growing up with that whole perfectionist side; I wanted to be good at everything and I wanted to know everything and answer the questions I had about everything. That was the biggest thing about my mental health, too. It came crashing down when I realized that I actually don’t know anything. There should be a comfort to that.
“I wrote something down about the whole point of Jayne and the music: ‘I’m constantly and comfortably sitting in the middle of an identity crisis.’ That’s what I feel like I go through at any point in the day. I don’t know what I’m going to do next — and that’s OK, that’s the point of it and that’s why a lot of my music is going to resonate with real life.”
So far, Agudong has recorded and released Welcome To Hollywood, a song that depicts her conflicting relationship with the place that she always yearned for.
“Even though it’s saying ‘welcome to Hollywood’, there’s a weird mix of feelings you tend to feel in the song,” she elaborates. “There’s a melancholiness to it, there’s a heartbeat, there’s a rush, there’s energy, there’s this lackadaisicalness to it.
I was going through a lot of mental health struggles during that time when I moved out to LA. I had culture shock. I think that people don’t realize and take into account that … it’s a very vulnerable thing to try and chase your dreams — to put yourself out there, to get your heartbroken over something that you want so badly.”
Agudong teases that the album will release before the end of the year. Till then, she’ll be working hard and having fun while her career continues to escalate. She attributes her down-to-earth outlook on life to her local-style upbringing.
“Growing up in Hawai‘i gave me and my sister humble beginnings and helped us stay grounded,” she says. “We were very accustomed to different cultures and backgrounds, which gave us a really nice foundation for our own morals and the way we go about things now.”
Unlike Dorothy, it takes Agudong a little more than just three ruby-red heel clicks to go back to home. But she’s comforted knowing that it’s only a six-hour flight away — and forever in her heart.