published Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Chattanooga Kidz Expo guest Victoria Justice is a star on the rise

  • photo
    Victoria Justice plays Tori Vega in "Victorious" on Nickelodeon. Justice is the featured guest at the inaugural Kidz Expo on Saturday. Photo by Nickelodeon

CHARACTER PHOTO SCHEDULE

Victoria Justice isn't the only famous face attendees will encounter at the expo. More than a dozen costumed characters and special guests will attend and are scheduled for photo sessions throughout the day.

• 11-11:30 a.m. Miss Tennessee contestants

• 11:30-12 p.m. Tennessee Aquarium Penguin Genni Gentoo

• 12-1 p.m. SpongeBob SquarePants

• 1-1:30 p.m. The Cat in the Hat

• 1:30 -2 p.m. Ronald McDonald

• 2-3 p.m. Freddie Falcon

• 3-4 p.m. Dora the Explorer

• 4-4:30 p.m. Curious George

• 4:30-5:30 p.m. T-Rac

• 5:30-6 p.m. Clifford the Big Red Dog

• 6-6:30 p.m. Coca-Cola Polar Bear

VICTORIA JUSTICE

• 3-4 p.m. Fan Photo Session

• 4:15-4:45 p.m. Q&A

IF YOU GO

• What: Kidz Expo.

• When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday.

• Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1150 Carter St.

• Admission: $7 general admission; $25 family four-pack; free for ages 3 and younger.

• Phone: 757-6914.

• Website: www.timesfreepress.com/kidzexpo.

At an age when most people's greatest concern is finding time between attending parties and studying for final exams, Victoria Justice is juggling three careers.

Justice, 19, began acting professionally at age 11 as an extra on "Gilmore Girls" followed by roles on several kids TV series, including "Zoey 101" and "iCarly." Now, she is the star of the Nickelodeon teen sitcom "Victorious," which is in its third season.

On March 31, the series broke "iCarly's" three-year streak by winning the Favorite TV Show category at the 2012 Kids' Choice Awards.

An accomplished vocalist, Justice will hit the road this summer for her first tour and is working on her first solo album. She also will make her big-screen debut on Oct. 26 as the lead in the feature comedy "Fun Size."

Saturday, fans will be able to have their photo taken with Justice and ask her their most pressing questions during her appearance as the guest of honor at the inaugural Times Free Press Kidz Expo at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

She recently spoke to the Times Free Press about her entrance into show business, writing songs for her new album and the pressure of being a role model.

Q: At what point would you say you first felt successful? When did you feel you had "made it"?

A: I was definitely first discovered by [TV producer] Dan Schneider when I was 12 years old. That was when I was first introduced into the Nickelodeon family. Playing Lola on "Zoey 101" was probably my biggest introduction to this audience and gave me a great opportunity.

Q: You are working on your first solo album and have your first feature film coming up in October. Does it feel like your career has shifted into a higher gear?

A: Definitely. I'm being given incredible opportunities, but at the same time, I think it's because I've been working so hard for so many years. [Laughs.] I think a lot of people see what I do ... and it all looks so fun and glamorous and easy; but in reality, I work super hard. For example, last year, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 21, I only had six days off.

It takes a lot of focus, and I have to sacrifice a lot, but at the end of the day, it's worth it to me. My parents used to say that "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity." I feel like I've been preparing for this for a while now.

Q: Growing up, was it your dream to be a singer or an actress? Or something else?

A: I loved both. Although my acting career is the thing that jump-started me and was the thing that jumped off first, music has always been a huge passion of mine. It's kind of dream come true that on my show "Victorious," I'm able to be an actress and play comedy ... but also have music.

Q: Next February, you're turning 20 years old. Is that something you've been thinking about lately? Do you think you'll have a crisis about no longer being a teenager?

A: [Laughs.] No, I think it'll just be another birthday, you know? I think 20 will be an exciting year -- new adventures, new challenges, new experiences. I'm leaving behind the teenage years and moving into another chapter.

Q: Do you see it becoming harder to relate to your "Victorious" character, who is a teenager, as you become older?

A: I think as I grow and get older, I'll start playing older roles. I don't think I'll be playing high school forever. [Laughs.] Being an actress, that's the coolest part, to be able to really explore that world of new characters and show people your range and what you're able to do. I'm looking forward to that.

Q: When the show ends, will it be hard to leave Tori Vega behind?

A: Yeah, definitely. I love playing Tori Vega, and I love "Victorious." It's really a dream job for me right now. It's incredible. Although it will be extremely sad [when it ends], I'll always look back fondly on these times.

Q: Where are you at in the process of making your album?

A: I've written a bunch of songs now. I feel like, as this process has continued, I'm becoming a stronger and stronger songwriter, which is really exciting for me. I feel like the music I've been working on has been getting better and better. I'm working on it and taking my time. I don't want to put out an album just to put something out. It has to be perfect and not rushed. That's important.

Q: Has it been hard to find time to write material for your album with all the things you're trying to juggle right now?

A: Yeah, it's been really hard. It's whenever I have free time on the weekends or spare time in my bedroom. It's been really crazy. I'm just trying to find the time when I can.

Q: Does being in the spotlight make you feel a sense of obligation to set a good example for younger viewers?

A: There is definitely an obligation for me to set a good example, especially right now with being on Nickelodeon. I think it's important. I am in the public eye a lot now, and the things I say and do are setting examples, and I'll try to be the best role model that I can be. Everyone makes mistakes, at the end of the day, but I'm staying true to myself. That's all you can do.

Q: What message do you hope your work -- your show and your music -- communicates to young people?

A: The message is "victorious," basically. It sounds cheesy, but in a way, Tori Vega is discovering herself and following her dreams. So if you love something, don't be afraid to be who you are because that's what makes you unique and special. That's the message the show gets across, and I think it's a great thing.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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