By ROGER CATLIN
Special To The Courant
3:51 PM EDT, April 22, 2014
PASADENA, CALIF. — After she finished eighth on the ninth season of "American Idol" and performed in its summer tour in 2010, then teen singer Katie Stevens of Middlebury moved to Los Angeles to take advantage of all the opportunities that were sure to come.
But they never did.
When the "Idol" money ran out to pay her rent, she ended up working at a cupcake shop.
"It was funny," Stevens, now 21, recalls. "People would come up and say, 'You look familiar.' And I'd say, 'I get that all the time.'"
She didn't mind doing honest work. But the Sprinkles Cupcakes shop was right next to CBS Television City where they shoot "American Idol" live shows twice a week.
"Sometimes I'd even park on the CBS lot," she says. "It was hard for me. Not to have a job but considering where I was, I thought my life would be somewhere else by now."
She had tried to meet with music producers and go on auditions for acting jobs to no avail.
"I had a moment one of those days where I felt, nothing is happening for me. Nobody wants to work on my music with me, nobody wants me to be on their shows. And it was kind of at my rock bottom point, I got my part."
A casting director who thought she was finished completing the cast for a new MTV comedy saw her face in an email that had been overlooked.
"She saw my face and said, 'I want this one to come in,'" Stevens says. "It was like a chance thing."
But it was a talent thing that landed her the job —- lead on the new comedy "Faking It," starts April 22 on MTV alongside its popular show "Awkward." Created by Dana Min Goodman & Julia Wolov, the show's cast includes Rita Volk, Gregg Sulkin and Bailey Buntain (of "Bunheads" fame).
But the girl nextdoor who sang so powerfully on "Idol" won't be singing anytime soon on the show. Nor is she playing everyone's vision of the "girl next door.''
Stevens plays Karma, a high schooler who can't get noticed at high school until everyone thinks she and her girlfriend Amy are gay. Then they become the cause célèbre in the school set in Austin, Texas, even though she still has her eye on the cute guys.
Playing a pretend teenage lesbian may be a shock to those who remember her as the sweet teen from "Idol," and Stevens, over lunch at the TV Critics Association winter press tour following a press conference, is sorry about all that.
"It will be shocking and I apologize to anyone who will be shocked," she says, "but at the same time, for me, it was exciting because I feel this is the direction that the world is going in and you know, if you can't beat em, join em."
So the Katie Stevens the world knew is cussing, has her blouse go see-through when beer is spilled on it, and kisses her girlfriend to convince the school they're gay —- all in the first episode.
"I feel like it will cause some controversy," Stevens says, "But there's something to be said about controversy. I feel that a lot of things that we find controversial are things that we know to be true and we try to shy away from, or hide from."
At its core, she says, "Faking It" is a coming of age story, "about a kid finding herself, and figuring out who they are"
Stevens herself said she shied away from telling anyone she was a finalist on TV's biggest show when she went in for the audition.
Carter Covington, who developed "Faking It" [serie and has previously written for "Hart of Dixie," "Greek" and "10 Things I Hate About You," says he wasn't aware of Stevens' "Idol" credentials.
"He was like, 'Why have you been on so many talk shows?'" Stevens says. "And I was like, 'Because I did "American Idol."' And he was like, 'What?'"
"She was hiding the fact that she's an incredibly gifted actress," Covington says. "She has a girl nextdoor quality that I find just bewitching."
So even after she got the part, while she wasn't exactly hiding her "Idol" past, she didn't go out of her way to bring it up, either, she says. "I don't' want people to say 'You're good, for a singer.'"
Singing may be part of the role of Karma at some point, she says, "But it will be done in a non-gimmicky, organic kind of way.
"I think that everything happens at a certain place in time," Stevens said at the press conference, "but 'American Idol' got me out here. It got me being able to do what I love, which is both singing and acting.
"And when people ask me which one would you choose, it's very hard for me because I get a different release from doing each of them."
Dreams Do Come True
She mentioned the many music tryouts over the past few years and "getting a little hopeless —- because L.A. is that town where you could really get broken down. And I walked into this audition, and it was just meant to be. I loved the script and the characters, and I was just really hoping to get a chance to bring Karma to life, and it was amazing to me."
So after auditioning in August, shooting the pilot episode in September, the show was picked up in November and shooting resumes soon for the series that begins in April. "It's very exciting," she says.
"It's really great to not only have been seen by America for my singing talent," Stevens says, "but now they are going to get to see me in this different light thanks to MTV."
And it's ironic that it is MTV, a network that has changed as much over the years as Stevens has.
"I grew up watching MTV during the 'TRL' days. I grew up watching music videos" she says. She dreamed of being on MTV back then, but of course "you dreamed of having a music video."
But she adds, "it's cool MTV has gone from videos to shows, and this is the first type of show like this," with this kind of subject matter.
Kissing girls doesn't make her uncomfortable, she says.
"I'm comfortable with who I am and me kissing a girl doesn't make me a lesbian," she says. "It's the character that I play and I am getting in touch with that side of myself in trying to bring the character to life."
Susanne Daniels, president of programming at MTV says the idea of the show is to reflect that "everybody fakes it. We all do it, especially during high school which can be a long and frustrating four years. This time of life can be so challenging. You're trying to find your own identity, make friends, and ideally become somewhat popular in the process. Some teenagers try on different personalities almost like they change clothes to see what fits. This is a comedy that explores friendship, sexuality, and discovery through the eyes of teens who don't yet know who they want to be or who they will become."
Stevens says it's most important to portray her character as relatable. "I don't need to think about, 'oh, people are going to think I'm lesbian,' 'people are going to think I'm controversial.' I'm thinking about who's going to love this character and who's going to see her come out of her shell and like her. That's what's important to me. Because everybody's going to have something bad to say, or some controversy to stir up."
And sometimes, she thinks of her old job.
"What's funny is that the first day of shooting, Gregg got a box of cupcakes from Sprinkles," Stevens says. "I said if I was still working there, I probably would have boxed them for you."
"FAKING IT" starts April 22 at 10 p.m. on MTV.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct an error stating the names of the show's creators. Carter Covington, the developer, was incorrectly listed as the show's creator. "Faking It'' was created by Dana Min Goodman & Julia Wolov.
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