While most 9-year-old girls are commonly asked questions like what's their favorite color or where they want to go for pizza, former Toledoan Alyson Stoner is responding to a different kind of query:
“Aren't you the little girl dancing in Missy Elliott's video?”
Yes, Alyson is the young girl who is not just dancing, but putting a sweet, girl-next-door face on the often raw, in-your-face world of rap and hip-hop music. Now living in the Los Angeles area, Stoner shined in several solo dance spots in Elliott's “Work It” and “Gossip Folks” music videos, released last year. Her talent agency's phone has been ringing off the hook ever since.
Vibe magazine described her dancing talents as “off the hook” - slang for unbelievable. VH1 profiled stats on her in its Pop Up Video. She's chilled on music video sets with Trina, Ludacris, and Timberland - all high-profile names in the hip-hop and rap industry. She's freestyled on stage with singers Angie Stone and Faith Evans, and studied with the industry's best-known dance choreographers, including High Hat and Fatima.
As a result of her appearance in Elliott's videos, Stoner has appeared on the shows of Dick Clark, Wayne Brady, Maury Povich, Ellen DeGeneres, and Jay Leno. The Warner Brothers' entertainment show, Extra, recently filmed Alyson for an upcoming segment on her budding stardom. And she's joined Elliott, who appeals to a wide rap, electronic, and hip-hop fan base, on stage at various concerts and appearances, including the 30th annual American Music Awards, and MTV's Fashionably Loud.
All the dancing buzz is in addition to Stoner's regular acting gig on the Disney Channel's Mike's Super Short Show where she helps promote Disney's upcoming features and shows in the form of a skit.
Stoner was born in Toledo and attended Maumee Valley Country Day School. She followed in the footsteps of her older sister Corey - now 15 - and studied dance with Joanie and Betty O'Connell, and later, with instructor Julie O'Connell. She also attended Toledo Gymnastics Academy, and played organized soccer, softball, and basketball.
LuAnne Hodges, Stoner's mother and former executive secretary at Owens-Illinois, said the decision to relocate the family to California developed after her daughter attended an International Modeling and Talent Association convention in New York. Stoner was a success at the convention, which she attended with Toledo's Margaret O'Brien's Modeling & Talent Agency; she received callbacks from numerous Los Angeles and New York agents.
“Alyson had just turned 7 and we journeyed out here in September of 2000. We were just going to spend about six or eight weeks out here at first,” said Hodges.
The long-term stay in California became more of a reality when Stoner's stepfather, John Hodges, a retired technical director from O-I, took a video of Alyson to her current talent agency and they signed her. The calls started rolling in and sealed the Hodges' decision to move the family permanently from Toledo to the West Coast. Stoner lives at home with her older sisters Jamie, 13, an avid basketball player and athlete, and Corey, who has won numerous dance competitions and inspired Alyson to dance.
“I was totally ready to move out here and I'm really having fun,” said Stoner of her family's move more than two years ago.
“I like acting and dancing, and playing sports, and gymnastics. I think I've been interested in performing since I was born, and when I saw my sister dancing, I thought, ‘I want to do that,' so I started learning how to dance.”
Corey and Alyson have danced with the likes of Wade Robson, well known for his choreography work with Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, and the group N'Sync. Alyson has also performed with choreographer Debbie Allen and singer Howard Hewitt in the play Brothers of the Knight.
Other immediate relatives, including Alyson's father, Charlie Stoner, and maternal grandmother, JoAnne Adams, reside in Toledo. Last year, Mrs. Adams flew to California and got to sit in on the Elliott video shoots with her granddaughter.
“Missy treated my mother like a queen. They were calling her Grandma and my mom got a flavor of what Alyson does,” said Hodges.
Alyson, who attends a regular school rather than being tutored like many child stars, said a typical day is a lot of eating fast food in the car on the way to an audition or video shoot, which can sometimes run until late at night. It is not unusual for her to have four auditions in one day.
What makes Stoner such a hot commodity is her pint-size and mainstream appeal, because she's not the first 9-year-old to bust a hip-hop move in a video. Bottom line, she is a cute little white girl, with all the wide-eyed appeal of the girl next door — tearing the house down with hip-hop dance — an edgy expression created from the streets and experiences of African-American and Latin urban youth.
Stoner, who measures in at just over four feet tall and weighs 55 pounds, has studied hip-hop only since her move to California two years ago, but because of her perky, high energy, it looks as if she's danced in that style for years.
Her mother said while the family enjoys Alyson's career and recent success, she wants to make her daughter's life as normal as possible, while also giving equal time and attention to her older daughters and their activities.
The family also keeps a protective eye on the types of work that Alyson is offered.
“As parents we always have fears of Alyson getting involved or associated with something that's not a nice show, or an R-rated show. You don't always know,” said Hodges. “Especially with the videos, sometimes when they put it all together it comes out different than what you expected. Often it's very difficult for us to decide.
“One time we had a movie audition and we turned it down because it had some content that was not appropriate. We really try to monitor what type of things she's involved in.”
While Stoner appears to be soundly grounded in all her success, she still enjoys the occasional brush with stardom.
“I still keep in touch with a lot of my friends at Maumee Valley on AOL and they're like, ‘It's so cool and you did a good job in the video.' ” She said. “And then when I'm out, some people will like stare at me for awhile and then they'll come over and ask me, ‘Do you act?' or ‘By any chance haven't I seen you on Disney or in the Missy Elliott video?' ”
She said the bonus of working “in the business” is the entertainers she gets to meet.
“I saw Justin Timberlake at the [American Music Awards] and he recognized me, and when I was on stage dancing with Missy, I looked down and I saw Ashanti and she was enjoying the music, and she smiled at me, and I just put it on for her,” said Alyson.
Still, with all the attention she's received from dancing, Stoner admits that acting is still her first love.
“I would like to get a bigger part in acting, but dancing is a close second,” said Stoner, who may just get her chance. She recently landed a role as the daughter of actor Steve Martin in a Twentieth Century Fox film titled Cheaper by the Dozen.