“You only get to be Annie once in your life,” said Candice Payne, emphasizing her statement with a shake of her short blond hair, now dyed red. “My mom dyed my hair for me for the play,” she said ruffling it with her fingers. “But I think I like it better blond.” Even while she’s sitting still, energy seems like a compressed spring in her slim frame. Someone bustles in with the message that the curtain goes up in ten minutes. Candice turns to the mirror. Even though she is just 11, she applies stage makeup to highlight her eyes and darken her lashes with the expert strokes of a professional. Her costume for the first act is the baggy dress and sweater of an orphan. The curly wig and distinctive red dress needed to create the character of Little Orphan Annie hang nearby.
Candice played the part of Annie six nights a week for more than a month before sold-out audiences in Salt Lake City. She gave up a lot for the chance to star in one of her favorite plays. She had to forego a chance for a movie and a television series, but it was worth it. She always wanted to play the little red-headed girl that sings about hope and looking forward to tomorrow.
Performing in public started when Candice was three in her hometown of Arcadia, California, where she and her family still live. The stake president called Sherma, Candice’s mother, to ask if three-year-old Candice would speak in stake conference. It was to be a tribute to grandparents. Her mother wondered if she had heard right. Surely the stake president didn’t want Candice. He must have meant nine-year-old Tasha who was well-known for her public speaking abilities. But no, he asked for three-year-old Candice.
Sherma remembers Candice’s first public performance. “She learned her talk and prepared to sing ‘In My Grandmother’s Old-Fashioned Garden.’ She always had a good memory if she could sing it. The day of stake conference came. It was a huge crowd stretching all the way to the back of the hall. Candice got scared. When it was her turn, she climbed onto the stool in front of the podium. She put her hands beside her eyes like blinders, so she wouldn’t see the people. She just froze. I stood beside her to help, but it was no use. Finally, I said, ‘Just sing your song.’ As soon as the music started, she put her hands down and sang.”
Candice soon got over any stage fright. She joined a group of little girls that performed in the stake. “I love dancing and singing,” said Candice. “It always came easy to me, and I like it.” And people love watching her perform.
For Candice, the sheer joy of dancing, moving, stretching, acting, performing, is something that motivates her life. She likes to do things well. “I remember going to a birthday party for one of my friends. They had hula hoops at the party, and the others were really good at it. They could keep the hoop twirling and could do some tricks with it.” Candice tried the hoop and it kept slipping off her hips and clattering around her feet on the ground. Frustrated but determined, she marched home and asked her mother if they could buy a hula hoop. “I was going to learn how to do it. I kept practicing until I was good at it.”
Candice has natural athletic ability which shows in her easy movements on stage and in dance. It also shows up in school activities. “Weren’t you one of just a few of your sixth grade that qualified for the Presidential Medal for Physical Fitness?” asks her dad, Barton. Candice grins and nods yes. “Wasn’t it just you and three other boys that qualified for the medal?” her dad asks again trying to remember the details. Again, Candice smiles and nods. This energy and ability also translate well into her performing routines.
“People kept telling us to get her in show business,” said Candice’s mother. “We’d hear that time after time. But no one told us how.” Candice joined a professional performing group, and the Paynes were introduced to an agent who accepted Candice as a client. She was featured in a dairy drink commercial. A television producer saw her perform and wanted her to try out for a part in a proposed television series. She got the part. She was approached about auditioning for a movie.
Then the opportunity to play Annie was offered to her. Candice had wanted to play the spunky orphan ever since she had seen the play. Shortly after attending the play, she had a bad case of flu, and while she was recuperating she would lie on the couch in the front room and listen to the tape of the music from Annie. “I listened to that tape over and over and learned all the songs,” said Candice. “I wanted to be Annie more than anything.”
Even though Candice can really belt out the melodic theme song of the play, her particular favorite is the opening number that she performs with the other girls in the orphanage. With the enthusiasm of a typical 11-year-old, Candice said, “I like the song ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’ best because we get to jump on the beds and have pillow fights.”
Did Candice have any difficulties while playing Annie? “The worst time was when the dog that was playing Sandy was supposed to come to me. Instead it just ran off the stage, and I had to run after it and bring it back onstage for the rest of the scene,” she said. “Then there was the night that the dog thought the microphone was a mouse and started batting it with his paws.” Aside from the dog coming up with the unexpected, the play was a rousing success as the critics and nightly standing ovations acclaimed.
Candice’s parents wonder about where Candice’s talent may lead. Her mother said, “I don’t feel like we as parents have the right to deny her the opportunity to develop her talents. But on the other hand, we don’t want her talent to create false values and expose her to things in life that would be detrimental.”
Candice has already had to face a situation where she was asked to perform a song which had lyrics she objected to. In her performing group, her director told her to just not sing the objectionable part and join in later. Candice chose instead to sit out the entire number backstage. “It was completely her decision,” said her mother, Sherma. “I wasn’t even there when she made the choice to stay out of the number.”
Candice is the youngest of five children. Her older brother, Bart, and three sisters, Dawney, Julie, and Tasha, are proud of their little sister. She’s been performing for them since she was old enough to walk and talk. And as Candice finishes playing Annie, she is like the little heroine of the play, secure in the folds of a loving family, with a talent for entertaining others, and just thinking about tomorrow.