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Guided by voices: The rising star of YouTuber Carlie Craig

Coral Springs native @carlie_craig bringing impressions of Ariana Grande, Lorde, et al., to @ImpressionsUSA.

The end of the school year in South Florida, when academic achievement is appreciated, valedictorians venerated, salutatorians saluted. But fear not, parents of the less serious scholar: There is a future for the class clown.

Take Carlie Craig, voted class clown at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, class of 2009. On Tuesday, May 31, the Coral Springs native will turn the skills she perfected at Douglas and at Next Stop Broadway Summer Camp at the Coral Springs Center for the Arts into an appearance on USA Network's "First Impressions."

Led by Emmy-winning actor and former "Saturday Night Live" star Dana Carvey and host Freddie Prinze Jr., "First Impressions" is a weekly 30-minute competition, with three amateur impressionists performing a variety of improv challenges for a $10,000 prize. Tuesday night's celebrity panel also will include Kate Flannery, who played Meredith on "The Office."

"That was super neat. 'The Office' was my jam in high school," Craig says.

Craig can't talk about the specifics of how the competition turns out, but says she performs many of the comedic impersonations that have brought her minor YouTube and Instagram fame, including her spot-on spoof of Boca Raton pop star Ariana Grande.

"I've got the cadence of her voice down pretty good, her mannerisms, the way she skips around on stage," Craig says. "She's a wonderful, talented artist, but her whole image is very funny to me. The way that she sings about being so dangerous, but she basically looks like a little girl, I think is just so hilarious."

Craig points out that her impersonation is helped by being the same petite size as Grande. But she's also got the vocal skills. Craig's ability to sing her impressions gives her an edge, according to no less an expert than Carvey, who surprised Craig when he plopped down in the next chair while she got her hair and makeup done before the show.

"Oh, my God, he was so nice," Craig says. "I told him that my shtick was I do singing impressions, and he loved that. He said that's the greatest secret weapon to have. It was just amazing."

A Florida State graduate, Craig now lives in Los Angeles, where she has a job that none of her high school guidance counselors could have predicted: assistant, producer and performer on the YouTube channel of Todrick Hall, an actor and singer whose videos have generated more than 300 million views. (Hall is on tour, stopping July 27 at the Broward Center.)

Craig began honing her career as a celebrity mimic with middle-school impressions of Britney Spears, and credits the Douglas theater program and year-round tutelage from staffers at Next Stop Broadway for her success. She lists the "fearless" talent of Carol Burnett atop her list of comedy role models.

But it was Craig's own YouTube video of her best impressions, posted in January, that caught fire. She believes producers of "First Impressions" saw the video, which helped her get an audition.

Now up to more than 670,000 views (her channel has more than 24,000 subscribers), the video titled "Celebrity Impressions/Carlie Craig" includes seven impersonations: Grande, Emma Stone, Shakira, Gwen Stefani, Lorde, Kristin Chenoweth and Iggy Azalea. Craig says she's now trying to "crack" Anna Kendrick and Jennifer Lawrence.

"Everybody that I impersonate, I make it people that I really love, so it's coming not from a hurtful place, but a place of admiration," she says.

"First Impressions" airs 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays on the USA Network. For more information on the show and Carlie Craig, visit USANetwork.com and YouTube.com/CarlieCraig.

bcrandell@southflorida.com

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