The last person that 80 members of Howard Middle Schools chorus and show choir expected to see Thursday morning was Glees Coach Beiste.
Actress Dot-Marie Jones, a recurring character on the hit Fox TV series, spoke to the students for more than an hour, taking pictures and signing autographs, and relating stories about her career.
Eighth-grader Jacaura Williams said she is a huge fan of Glee.
It was just a shock to see (Jones), Williams said. I was like, Oh my God!
Jones is in Macon visiting her stepdaughter, Savannah Parham, for her 13th birthday next week. She arranged with choir director Stephana Lynch to speak to the Howard students.
As some of the students filed into the chorus room Thursday morning, some recognized Jones instantly, while others couldnt quite place her.
It was so cute when the students walked in and saw her, Lynch said. I hope they are inspired to stay in school and follow their dreams.
Jones told the students her story of starting out as an athlete and getting a chance break in Hollywood more than 20 years ago. Jones has been nominated for an Emmy Award as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for each of the past two years.
Dont let anybody tell you (that) you cant do something, she told the students. Go for it. Follow your dreams.
The students peppered Jones with questions about her Glee co-stars, including Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, Cory Monteith and Jane Lynch. Jones praised all of her co-stars and said one of her favorite moments on the show was performing the George Thorogood song, One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer with co-star Matthew Morrison.
Hes a lot like his character, Jones said. Hes very endearing.
Jones received squeals of excitement when she told the students she had appeared in episodes of the popular Disney TV shows Lizzie McGuire and The Suite Life of Zach & Cody.
Are they cute? Do you still see them? Do you have their numbers? several of the girls blurted out when Jones talked about Zach & Cody stars and identical twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse.
They were very sweet boys, Jones told them.
Jones told the students she grew up a farm in northern California and attended Fresno State on a track and field scholarship. Jones was good enough at the shot put to qualify for the 1988 and 1992 Olympic trials, but she missed the cut both times.
A friend turned her onto acting when she encouraged Jones to audition for a series called Knights and Warriors, an American Gladiators-style series with a medieval theme. That led to her leaving her job working in a juvenile detention facility.
I love what I do (now) a million times more, because the payoff is so much better, she told the class.
Jones has worked as a guest star in a broad range of TV series over the years, ranging from Roseanne to Chicago Hope. While working as a guest star on Nip/Tuck, she met series creator Ryan Murphy, who later wrote the part of Coach Beiste for her during Glees second season. The role proved popular enough that Jones appears fairly regularly in the series.
When Murphy asked Jones if she could sing, she recalled telling him, Im not Mariah Carey, but I can carry a tune.
Jones said Glee has a more intense schedule than a lot of other TV series, because the cast is required to record their songs and learn complicated choreography in addition to shooting regular scenes. For an episode centered around Michael Jacksons hit song Thriller, the cast started work at a high school football field at 4 p.m. and didnt finish shooting until 6 a.m. the following morning.
The Howard students could barely contain their excitement as they got autographs and posed for pictures with Jones.
Chloe Goss, an eighth-grader, said she wants to be an actress someday.
I want to become an actor when I get older, she said. It was great to meet someone who can give me advice, because she really did that. She came from a small town, and now shes out there doing what she wants to. It inspires me to follow my dreams.
At the end of Thursdays session, the students sang All Thy Gifts of Love, based on a Robert Louis Stevenson poem, and gave Jones a gift bag that included a Howard Middle School choir T-shirt.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.