Irene Cara never attended the New York City magnet school she helped make famous, the High School of the Performing Arts (since renamed Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art ) but instead a rival institution, the lesser known but equally well-regarded Professional Children's School. The education must have paid off, as the singer-actress-dancer was still in her teens when she was cast as the leading lady in two feature films, Aaron Loves Angela (1975) and Sparkle (1976). Neither one did all that well at the box office (though both now have cult followings), but a flick about that school she didn't attend did, and made her a star, getting her an interview with this one-time mainstay early Saturday afternoon personality:
OK, now to that movie...
An ensemble film if there ever was one, 1980's Fame depicts all four years, freshman to senior, in the lives of seven teenagers attending the aforementioned High School of the Performing Arts, one student of which is the wildly ambitious Coco Hernandez, played by Cara. This wild ambition is wildly on display in the following promotional film (soon to be called a "music video".) Watch:
Ed Koch's Manhattan, back in the day.
Fame's title song won an Oscar. The movie had another Academy Award-nominated song. It didn't win, obviously, but it's still worth a listen:
Maybe two listens. Three listens. Four, five, six...
OK, I said Irene Cara was an actor as well as a singer. Even though Fame is a drama, I couldn't find any heavy-duty dramatic scenes on YouTube (except for maybe the above clip) but she shows a nice aptitude for comedy in the following segment:
This man begs to differ (watch the film if you don't know what I'm talking about.)
Remember this movie? Irene Cara pays homage in this scene from Fame:
Upstaged by a distraught girl and a train. That never happened to Gene Kelly.
The success of Fame led to a whole era of urban-centric musicals, including the one above. Now, the plot of Flashdance, in which a full-time steelworker becomes a ballet dancer, has about as much credibility as Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, but Jennifer Beals is very good in the lead role, and, better yet, Irene Cara (not herself seen in the film) got another Top-40 Academy-Award Winning hit song out of it. In the following clip, she sings "Flashdance (What a Feeling)" in a venue not otherwise known for the latest musical offerings of Giorgio Moroder:
I think Jerry may have exceeded his fundraising goal that year.
It's old hat now, but nobody (at least nobody living in white suburbia) had seen anything like breakdancing in 1984 when Irene Cara helped popularize the fancy footwork (and fancy head-, back-, shoulder-, and asswork) with a song. Her last big hit, here's the computer-animated video:
She's a pixels-packing mama.