Superstar For The Preschool Set
Kimee Balmilero, who left for a role in Miss Saigon the day after graduating from Castle High, is now a star on a popular TV show for kids, Hi-5
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Kimee Balmilero on the set of
Unless you have a child who is age 8 or younger, you probably don’t know Kimee Balmilero. But for millions of youngsters and their parents, Kimee Balmilero is a superstar. She co-hosts the award-winning children’s television show Hi-5, which goes into more than 85 million homes across the United States.
This Castle ‘97 grad and proud “Bright Kid” - one of Ron Bright’s former students - is one of five cast members of Hi-5. The real key to being on the show, she says, is knowing how to connect with kids without talking down to them.
“Kids can tell when you’re not honest,” she says.
When on tour in Los Angeles, Kimee was delighted to meet one of her fans holding a sign: “Lauren Loves Kimee.’”
So do millions of kids, especially those of Asian ancestry. Deb, Lauren’s mom, tells Kimee: “She’s so happy to see you on TV because she’s not used to seeing someone that looks like her.” Lauren is a quarter Japanese, a quarter Filipino and half Caucasian.
The perky Balmilero agrees on the importance of kids identifying with people on television. “Growing up, I didn’t see anyone on TV that looks like me either,” says Balmilero. “The first person I identified with was Nancy Kwon from Flower Drum Song, and of course, later on Lea Salonga.”
Representing others is an important value that Balmilero, presently a Los Angeles resident, is aware of and that she takes very seriously. “It’s so special for Hawaiian kids, Asian kids and Filipino kids,” admits the 26-year-old Filipina about being a role model. “When you come home, and children that are in your life are fans, you’re like their favorite auntie, and it means so much to me.”
Like her cousin Stacie’s daughter Kea, lots of kids across the country know the songs and dances of the show - including the children of some celebrities.
“Matt Lauer’s and Al Roker’s children are huge fans,” she adds - the Hi-5 cast has been on the NBC Today Show twice. Kimee counts Lori Loughlin of Summerland and Anne Heche’s children as fans too.
Hi-5 is a weekday half-hour television show geared toward preschoolers featuring five performers of different nationalities in skits, songs and dances, with children in the studio playing along. On the air since February 2003, it airs locally at 6:30 a.m. on The Discovery Kids Channel, and at 7:30 a.m. on The Learning Channel. The crew of Hi-5 are all called by their first names. Kimee, who represents Asians, specializes in puzzles and patterns to help with math and logical thinking. In her segment, a purple-and-green puppet named Jup Jup plays tricks on her that she never sees.
Also part of the show, Karla represents African Americans and focuses on movement to emphasize physical activity and coordination. Shaun, representing Native Americans, helps identify shapes, colors and sizes. Curtis, a Caucasian man, creates music to show melody, rhythm and beat. Jenn, a Caucasian woman, has fun with words to expand keiki vocabulary.
Last year, they appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City and performed Living in a Rainbow at Macy’s Herald Square on the Crazy Critters float. They also toured live to sellout crowds of families in Connecticut, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Green Bay, Raleigh, Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. The group also visits children’s hospitals, and volunteers with Toys for Tots and Make-A-Wish.
Meeting the children and their families is one of the best rewards, Balmilero says.
“The parents are so awesome,” she confides. “You get thank yous. Parents say ‘Hi-5 has helped so much. My kids are doing better in school.‘One parent even said that their child did a Hi-5 song at show-and-tell.”
Not only are youngsters and parents appreciative of Hi-5, but national organizations are recognizing the show’s merits. They have three DVDs out and a few CDs. Their CD Jump and Jive with Hi-5 won a Parents Choice Award in 2004, and the Music Magic DVD won the iParenting award for 2004.
One of the latest ventures for the five entertainers is their Christmas CD, It’s a Hi-5 Christmas
They tape the show in Australia for audiences in United States and Canada, five episodes a week. There’s also a parallel Hi-5 show with Australian characters. When the fivesome is down under in Sydney, they each have their own apartment in the same building near Chinatown.
Each week, they get a stack of scripts about 12 inches thick. After two and a half days of rehearsals, they tape five episodes with five different colorful costumes. The three girls get five different hairdos. Fancy ribbons, barrettes, curls and crimps for the ladies are a part of the look.
Balmilero nearly missed the audition for Hi-5 in 2002. She was living in New York, performing in the Broadway show Mama
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