Former ‘Fame’ TV star Hufsey helps others ‘light up the sky like a flame’

You feelin’ him?

That’s like asking the Florida coast whether it feels a hurricane.

"You feelin’ me?" Billy Hufsey half-asks/half-declares after making a showbiz point in which so many words are emphasized that it’s the unemphasized words that feel emphasized.

Big man. Large personality. Enormous enthusiasm. Can single-handedly raise the bar for stage parents everywhere. That Hufsey isn’t one himself hardly matters.

"I have a girl here who nine months ago could not sing!" he says. "Is she here?" he asks his assistant. "Bring her up here! Bring her up!"

Ushered into his office, 14-year-old Lenae Rodriguez is asked to belt a few bars and immediately launches into a Christina Aguilera-like riff mysteriously soaring out of her petite frame.

Pipes? Brassy. Attitude? Sassy. Billy — even at 52, he’s a "Billy" not a "Bill" — beams.

You’re at the Billy Hufsey School of Professional Performing Arts in Henderson — that’s Billy Hufsey, as in whirling-dervish dancer Christopher Donlon on NBC’s "Fame" from 1982-87, then as Emilio Ramirez on "Days of Our Lives" from 1988-91 — where right now, a small, boisterous theater full of kids, tweens and teens, in tryouts for a production of "Bye Bye Birdie," are stomping their feet to "We Will (We Will) Rock You" (stomp! stomp!). Where in a next-door studio, the ’80s-era teen idol — his flowing curly hair of 30 years ago now sheared into a more appropriate (if still-longish) ‘do befitting a 21st-century middle-age man — addresses students in tones that make pedestrian instructions sound like cheerleading.

"When I meet my maker, he’s not going to say, ‘What kind of car did you drive?’ He’s blessed me," Hufsey says in what sounds like a permanent mantra for the talent-turned-teacher. "I think it’s my job later in life to help other kids live the dream that I once lived."

Without prompting, the one-time boxer-turned-disco dance champ-turned-TV hoofer/singer/actor will flat-out tell you: "What I lacked in innate ability I made up for in fortitude and tenacity. I said, ‘You’re not going to outwork me.’ "

Before you look up his old "Fame" videos on YouTube, we’ll catch you up: Though a singing career and guest appearances on sitcoms and lower-rung movies followed the series smash that highlighted his resume, health problems (misaligned discs in his neck that triggered major pain) sidelined him into a brief career as a banker before he embraced coaching in Los Angeles, where he still spends part of every week, though now living in Las Vegas with his wife.

That professional ethic — work your tailbone off, kid — informs what he does here at his two-floor, Silvestri Lane school, where he employs eight teachers for about 40 students. While proud of his own experiences in theater and "the arts," this isn’t the Las Vegas Academy, or even a version of the performing-arts school lionized in "Fame." This is a showbiz preparatory.

"What we teach here is television, movies, how to become a pop singer, it’s the next level," he says (actually, "enthuses" would be more accurate than "says").

"The acting technique is different from theater because you can’t do it so big, you have to bring it down. For a theater singer trying to be a pop singer, I can’t send a young kid to audition for a Disney or Nickelodeon series and sing something out of ‘Les Miz’ (‘Les Miserables’). They need to sing Hilary Duff or Selena Gomez."

Don’t believe him? He sends in two more teens to deliver some tunes with "American Idol"-esque gusto. Brassy? Check. Sassy? Check-a-rooney.

We come now to the testimonial portion of our story — feel free to save it as a brochure:

■ "I knew nothing about vocalizing. He would teach me things other teachers didn’t teach me. I’m like, ‘Wow!’ " — Rodriguez.

■ "I was kinda nervous with Billy at the beginning (must’ve been all his rocket-like energy desperate for a launch pad). It took me awhile to understand what he was saying. I never trained with somebody this hard." — Spencer Leon, 12.

■ "He teaches you to be confident in yourself. Other (teachers) say, ‘That was great, now where’s the money?’ " — Peyton Bivona, 11.

■ "It’s the most professional work I’ve ever done, I feel like I’m finally progressing. He pushes us hard and pushed me to audition." — Devyn Zobrist, 13.

■ "It’s really cool here. Billy is so much fun. We were watching ‘Fame,’ like, ‘Oh my God, Billy!’" — Jazlyn Cadiente, 8.

■ "He focuses directly on you and (tells you) your strengths and weaknesses and what to work on. … I saw videos of him on YouTube and it’s like, ‘He just did a triple pirouette. What is he doing?’ Then he would sing. I was like, ‘I really want him as my teacher if he could do that.’ " — Kristin Goodhart, 15.

That concludes the blatant ego-stroking portion of our story. (Just put the check in our direct deposit, Billy.)

Hottest heat of Hufsey’s career? Decades ago (recounted on VH1’s fleeting "Confessions of a Teen Idol" series in 2009). "Fame" fame long ago dissipated. Yet, given his passion for propelling the careers of kids who are, essentially, him 30 years ago, there’s nothing about him that smells of ’80s leftover.

Memories? Cherished.

"(‘Fame’) was the best show in the world," he says. "I get chills thinking about it and what came out of it. I remember doing shows in London and with Janet Jackson, 20,000 people at (New York’s) Jones Beach. I sang at the Golden Globes, I look out — Streisand! Travolta! Heather Locklear! I worked with Milton Berle, Carol Burnett! I’m a lucky cat."

Now, however, is now. "Some are still living that ’80s thing and that’s OK, but I’ve let go," he says, but admits: "Putting smiles on people’s hearts — sometimes I miss that."

You feelin’ him?

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@review journal.com or 702-383-0256.

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