30 Under 30

While out in Hollywood, most young celebs are more famous for their hard-partying antics than for their achievements, Fairfield County has produced its own roster of players — actors, musicians, athletes, environmentalists, designers, filmmakers and activists —poised for the big time.



Best All-Around
ALISAN PORTER

Lovable Curly Sue is back in a big way. age: 27. profession: Actress, singer/songwriter, dancer/choreographer background: Staples High School; member of the Staples Players. claims to fame: Star of Curly Sue opposite Jim Belushi; Bebe in the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line — reprising the role her mother played in the first national tour. discovered: Singing in a hotel lobby, after which she was put on Star Search and became the youngest winner ever at age five. favorite place: The cliffs of Malibu or the dance studio. on city life: “I still hang out in Westport during the weekends off. Getting away from Times Square and breathing some country air for 24 hours is a must.”

Best Buddies
IAN MANHEIMER AND ALEX JACOBS

Best friends since age four, these web innovators urge political discourse. age: Alex: 24; Ian: 25. profession: Web innovators. background: Staples High School. claim to fame: Glassbooth, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing people into the political process. It has been featured on CBS Evening News and in the New York Times and Wired and was named “Best Political Website of 2008” by CNET. the key to success is: Ian: “Letting go. The things that keep you from success are not often limits in capacity, but fictional limits in your mind.” i'd do just about anything for: alex: “A chance to compete on Iron Chef.my generation will be remembered for:  Ian: “The great turning. We are the first generation to grow up with a free and wide communications platform — the Internet. This has facilitated a rise in consciousness among young people.”

Home Coming King
DREW MCKEON

This performer played just about everywhere. age: 26. profession: Drummer. background: Staples High School. top gigs: In the Caribbean with Jimmy Buffet; on a stadium tour supporting Billy Idol; on the drums and mandolin with Viggo Mortensen at a preschool. influence: “My impossibly cool parents who are unconditionally loving and supportive of a son whose life decisions/haircuts are often ‘questionable’ at best.” in high school, I should have been voted: Most Tragic Eyebrows. but i was actually voted: Homecoming King.

Best Dancer
MARY ELIZABETH SELL

This self-proclaimed class clown exudes nothing but grace on the NYC stage. age: 22. profession: Member of New York City Ballet’s corps de ballet. background: Grew up in Wilton; joined the School of American Ballet at age 10. first frivolous thing i’ll buy when i’m rich and famous: “All the handbags, shoes and makeup my closet can hold. Come to think of it, I’d buy a bigger closet.” i’d do just about anything for: “The lead role in Swan Lake.” key to success: “The harder you work, the more successful you will be, and the more gratifying that success will be.” heroes: “My four brothers who always make me laugh.”

Most Creative
PJ DE VILLIERS

Artist PJ de Villiers draws from experience. age: 27. profession: Artist/designer. clients: Universal Records, Random House Publishers, Gary Gersh, Blades Board & Skate, Brooklyn Circus, Victory Records. background: Wilton High School. i’d do just about anything for: “An exhibit of my work at MoMA.” first frivolous thing i'll buy when I'm rich and famous: “Tons of shoes.” superpower wish: “The ability to go back and learn first-hand from remarkable artists like Caravaggio or Rembrandt.” the key to success is: “Hard work and determination, not being afraid to fall, learning from mistakes, keeping good company, staying positive, setting long-term goals and sticking with them, and, most important, believing in yourself and taking pride in what you do.” biggest influence: “My wife, Sunniva, and my family.”

Biggest Gossip
JEN GARCIA

This celebrity interviewer’s gift for gossip landed her in celeb-mania. age: 27. profession: Writer, People. claims to fame: Interviewing A-listers, such as Scarlett Johansson. background: Staples High School. favorite piece of clothing: “No matter how thin you are, a girl can never go wrong with a pair of Spanx.” top celebrity encounter: “George Clooney. I have never been more terrified.” i couldn’t live without: “My Blackberry is glued to my hand.” superpower wish: “Mind reading. Who doesn’t want to know what Tom Cruise is thinking?”

Class Hot Shot
KYLE MARTINO

He left college to play pro soccer alongside David Beckham, but school is back on the radar. age: 27. achievements: 2002 MLS Rookie of the Year; 1998 Gatorade High School Player of the Year; Columbus Crew (2002-06); LA Galaxy (2006-08), where he sustained likely career-ending injuries. background: Staples High School. hero: “My father. He has showed me how to live, how to love and how to cheer for the Irish no matter how bad they are.” three things i’d take on a desert island: “Guitar, all of Charles Bukoswki’s works and a Wave Runner.” in 100 years my generation will be remembered for: “Miss Teen South Carolina’s answer to the question about Americans’ inability to locate the U.S. on a world map.” up next: “I have been approached by ESPN but first I am going back to school.”   

Best Looking
LYDIA HEARST-SHAW

The heiress to the Hearst publishing fortune is no shiftless socialite. age: 23. profession: Supermodel, actress, designer, columnist. why you know her: Great-granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst; daughter of Patty Hearst; Columnist of “The Hearst Chronicles” in Page Six Magazine. where you’ve seen her: As the face of Louis Vuitton, Prada, Bottega Veneta, MAC and Escada campaigns. background: Wilton High School. superpower wishes: “Telepathy, telekinesis and shape-shifting.” charity work: God’s Love We Deliver and Designers for Darfur. on channeling Hemingway: “I always envision myself being a Hemingway type — sitting in a dark corner with my glass of, I guess it would be my glass of tequila and lime juice.” up next: An eco-friendly line of fitness wear.

Best Dressed
FRANK LAURITA

Works (and laughs) with celebrity designers Eve and Jay-Z. age: 25. profession: Manager of Marketing/PR for Signature Apparel Group (Artful Dodger, Fetish and Rocawear). background: Staples High School. favorite place: “Las Vegas; it has an energy like no other city.” first frivolous thing i’ll buy when i’m rich and famous: “A 1959 Fender Stratocaster guitar.” i'd do just about anything for: “Approval of the SIRIUS and XM satellite radio merger; I’m a big Howard Stern fan.” instruments i play: Guitar, drums, bass guitar and the theremin. on celebrity style: “Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp always look cool.”

Most Individual
TED THOMPSON

Don’t be fooled by his modesty, this bard is sure to make his mark. age: 27. talent: Writing. biggest achievement: “I’m a Truman Capote Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.” Graduates include Robert Penn Warren and Philip Roth. background: Staples High School. favorite place: “I moved my desk into a closet and put up curtains so that I have a small, dark, focused place to work. My girlfriend and I call it ‘the cloffice.’” key to success: Persistence. favorite clothing: “I have a T-shirt from the Compo Playground construction of 1990. It makes me think of how exciting that project was when I was in first grade. They told us there was going to be a haunted house, a pirate ship and a human slingshot.”

Most Likey To Be on Reality TV
RYAN O’NEILL

Handpicked by Westporter Michael Bolton to join NBC’s Clash of the Choirs, this local musician is well on his way. age: 30. profession: Singer/Songwriter, Actor. claim to fame: Lead vocalist on Clash of the Choirs. background: Staples High School. favorite piece of clothing: “My brown corduroy hat; I wear it all the time.” quality i most admire: Honesty. hero: Stevie Wonder. favorite place: “My California king bed.” I’d do just about anything for: “My own private sushi chef.” the key to success is: “Willing, not dreaming.”

Most Likely to Succeed
DANIELLE MERLIS

The young musical prodigy has success (and Ben & Jerry’s) on her mind. age: 17. talent: Cellist. background: Staples High School. biggest achievement: Playing a benefit concert with Chris Brubeck and Triple Play; Principal Cellist with Norwalk Youth Symphony. i’d do just about anything for: “A pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie.” the best thing in life are: “Its natural wonders.” i couldn’t live without: “Vitamins, Bikram yoga and gluten-free products.” in 100 years my generation will be remembered for: Social networking. superpower wish: “Super strength to carry my cello.” quality i most admire: “Sincerity.”

Most Likely to Make a Difference
DAVID BURSTEIN

In his documentary 18 in ’08, Burstein calls for political action. age: 19. claim to fame: The film 18 in ’08, about youth voting, is the product of two years of interviewing political leaders and candidates, policy makers and activists. Burstein also cofounded and directed the Westport Youth Film Festival. background: Weston High School. deserted island must-have: “Collected works of Bob Dylan.” instruments i play: “I used to play the piano but my teacher told me my hands were too flat and that I should play the clarinet. Then my clarinet teacher told me my hands were too curved, so I should play the piano.” hero: “My parents have been my best teachers.” quality i most admire: “Desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Most Easygoing
EMILY DELLENBAUGH

This sailor cruises to the top. age: 18. talent: Sailing. biggest achievement: ISAF Youth World Champion 2007. background: Joel Barlow High School. role model: “My parents. Dad [who has been in three America’s Cup campaigns] is a big one; he got us into it and still gets everything ready for our regattas. Also my coaches and my sister.” favorite accessory: Sunglasses. on competition: “If I am competitive, it only comes out on the water.” the best things in life: “Make you laugh.”

Best Hair
BRIT & ALEX SMITH

They still have great hair, but the “Sheer Blonde Twins” are stepping it up. age: 22. profession: Singer/songwriters, models. claims to fame: Their single “Let It Go” made its debut in the movie Step Up 2; John Frieda Sheer Blonde Campaign. background: Wilton High School. first frivolous thing i’ll buy when i’m rich and famous: brit: “A Mercedes or maybe a Ferrari. I think it’s great to see a girl in her own sports car for a change.” key to success: Brit: “Believing in yourself and never letting anyone get in your way.” i’d do just about anything for: Alex: “Coldstone Creamery ‘Cookie Doughn’t You Want Some.’” talent i’d most like to have: Alex: “I’d love to be an amazing drummer.” up next: Debut album, produced by Dallas Austin (Pink, Madonna) and Tricky Stewart, is scheduled for release this year.

Most Spirit
JULIE CHU

A loyal and dedicated young star, on and off the rink. age: 26. claim to fame: Two-time U.S. Olympian in ice hockey; first woman of Asian descent to play for the U.S. National Hockey Team. background: Grew up in Fairfield; Choate Rosemary Hall. beginnings: At age 8, Julie begged her father to let her switch from figure skating to hockey lessons to be like her older brother. nickname: “Saint Chuey,” because of her kind nature. lucky charm: “My grandmother Lai Fong.”

Best Deserted Island Companion
TUCKER POST

This Peace Corps volunteer developed curriculums for schools in Senegal and Thailand. age: 27. profession: Peace Corps volunteer and teacher. background: Wilton High School. pre-peace corps: “A job at a school with students from 40 nationalities. I developed the music curriculum and taught West African rhythm ensemble, guitar, recorder and general music.” my generation will be remembered for: “Learning to live in balance with each other and the world, and saying no to reality TV.”  i’d take to a deserted island: “A guitar, Bob Villa from This Old House and a seafood chef.”

Best Voice
TORI LETZLER

At age 15, Tori toured the world with Cirque du Soleil, now she’s off to Italy to study with Juilliard’s finest. age: 17. claim to fame: Touring with Cirque de Soleil’s Quidam as the ingénue soprano Zoe; singer in the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus. background: Staples High School. on cirque du soleil auditions: “They would say, ‘You’re a flea, a dinosaur, a flea on a dinosaur,’ and I knew right away that this was definitely not the Met.” favorite place: Dubai. musical influence: “Amy Lee showed me that it was OK to have a different-sounding voice.” deserted island must-haves: “A photo album, a keyboard and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” up next: Studying classical voice and Italian in Urbania, Italy, with faculty members from Juilliard and Eastman Conservatory.

Best Athlete
JAMES BLAKE

The most determined, well-received and successful “unlucky” athlete we know. age: 28. profession: Professional tennis player; ranked 8th in world. background: Fairfield High School. a tough beginning: At age 13, Blake was diagnosed with scoliosis and was confined to a plastic brace for 18 hours a day until he left for Harvard. low point: In 2004, Blake fractured the C7 vertebra in his neck. While recuperating at home, his father lost his battle with stomach cancer. Then Blake developed shingles, which temporarily paralyzed the left side of his face. heroes: Arthur Ashe and Martin Luther King Jr. ritual: Blake does not shave once he’s on a winning streak.

Best Musician
JOHN MAYER

The multiple Grammy-Award winning artist lives for music. age: 30. profession: Singer/ songwriter. background: Fairfield High School. beginnings: At age 8, Mayer was inspired to take up the guitar after watching Michael J. Fox play “Johnny B. Goode” in Back to the Future. biggest influence: Stevie Ray Vaughn. dream: “I want to be able to design a Nike Air Max.” peculiar pastime: Vacuuming. “I just love to see an array of dust and bits of paper … go from being there to disappearing with one stroke,” he told Newsweek. key to success: “Choose who you want to be.”

Most Likely To Be on Broadway
JUSTIN PAUL

Making his way down the Great White Way. age: 23. profession: Musical director. background: Staples High School; Staples Players. claim to fame: Paul, along with Benj Pasek, co-produced the musical revue Edges: A Song Cycle; recipients of the 2007 Jonathan Larson Award (at age 21, they were the youngest winners in the history of the foundation). beginnings: “I grew up singing in our church, which uses African-American gospel music.” first score: A Music Theatre of Connecticut’s production of Pinocchio. “I was in seventh grade and my brother was playing Gepetto and he didn’t have a song, and I thought he should.” up next: “I want to keep writing for the NY theatre scene, and hopefully, Broadway. [Benj and I] want to work as writers and artists and creative people and dramatists, and we’re down for whatever.”

Best Actress
KATHERINE HEIGL

Raised as a Mormon, the Hollywood actress continues to lead a balanced life. age: 29. profession: Actress. best known as: Dr. Isobel “Izzie” Stevens on Grey’s Anatomy (she won an Emmy) and lead roles in Knocked Up and 27 Dresses. background: New Canaan High School. first lead role: Rebellious teen opposite Gérard Depardieu in My Father the Hero. favorite sporting event: NASCAR. downtime: To knit and spend time with her dogs. on being raised mormon: “I’m so grateful I had that sort of black-and-white environment because it made it much easier to just be a kid. Life gets complicated and gray early enough,” she told Reader’s Digest.

Most Outgoing
DAVID WISWELL

This cyclist has never taken the easy route. age: 25. profession: Professional cyclist. background: The Taft School. claim to fame: Representing the U.S. at the World Championships and racing for a top-level European cycling team. favorite place: Ghent, Belgium. first frivolous thing i’ll buy when i’m rich and famous: “The Dodge Challenger from Vanishing Point.” talent i’d most like to have: “It would be so cool to be a crazy John Bonham- type drummer.” i’d do anything for: “A chance to race in Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders.” quality i admire: Individuality. the best things in life are: “Never easy.”

Best Actor
PAUL DANO

Indie actor finds his niche alongside the best. age: 24. background: Wilton High School. best known as: The young Evangelical preacher Paul Sunday who antagonizes Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood (Day-Lewis recommended Dano for the role after they filmed The Ballad of Jack and Rose); Dwayne in the award-winning film Little Miss Sunshine. a regular guy: Dano lives in Manhattan’s East Village with friends and is studying literature. side project: Vocals and lead guitar for a rock band called Mook. anti-hipster: Although he lives in a neighborhood, he says is fashionable and eclectic, self-proclaimed low-maintenance Dano doesn’t consider himself part of the hipster crowd. “I don’t like tight pants on guys.” collects: Music T-shirts. up next: The voice of Alexander in Where the Wild Things Are, slated for release this October.

Most Intelligent
JARED COHEN

age: 26. profession: Policy Planning Staff for the Secretary of State, where he is responsible for counter-terrorism, counter-radicalization, youth and education, public diplomacy, Muslim world outreach and some Middle East/North Africa regional issues. background: Weston High School. claims to fame: Author of Children of Jihad: A Young American’s Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East and One Hundred Days of Silence: America and the Rwanda Genocide. appearances: Colbert Report, CNN, ABC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, BBC, Comedy Central and the Discovery Channel. hidden talent: Wood carving.

Most Dependable
TIM CONNELLY

After seven months in Iraq, this Providence graduate and Marine Corps Sergeant deserves some home time. age: 28. profession: Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps. background: Wilton High School. position: Dog handler. “The dog I have now, Polly, finds explosives, but I also train combat tracking dogs.” i’d do just about anything for: “A safe return.” talent i’d most like to have: Creative writing. superpower i’d like to have: Bulletproof. i’d take to a deserted island: “My wife, a hammock and a cooler of beers.” up next: Finishing his Corps assignment in December.

Most Likely to be Seen in Class
JUSTIN LONG

The “Mac Guy” is finally making himself seen. age: 30. profession: Actor. best known as: “People just refer to me as the Mac Guy,” Long told the Washington Post. “There’s no excitement or awe in their voice. It’s just like, ‘There’s a chair. There’s a tree. There’s the Mac Guy.’” Also known for his roles in Accepted, Dodgeball and Jeepers Creepers. background: Fairfield Prep. beginnings: In high school, he migrated from sports to the drama scene because his older brother was there and so were lots of “cute, cool, actress-y type girls.” personal best: Fulfilled a childhood dream by playing Alvin in Alvin and the Chipmunks. “The eight-year-old in me is prouder of that than anything else I’ve done.”

Class President
RICKY ULLMAN

Disney star turned…guitarist, drummer, dancer? Ullman isn’t ruling anything out (except for singing). age: 22. profession: Actor. background: Fairfield Warde High School; class president. best known as: Star of the Disney Channel’s original movie Pixel Perfect, ABC Family’s Searching for David’s Heart, NBC’s Growing Up Brady, and the Disney Channel’s Phil of the Future. last seen in: 2008’s Prom Wars. side project: Drums in the indie band Goodbye Ian. social activist: Ullman is a goodwill ambassador of Teen AIDS Prevention (TAP). hidden talents: Guitar and drums, ballet, jazz, tap and hip-hop — anything but singing. “If I recorded an album, it would probably be entitled The Shower Sessions.” guilty pleasure: Tim Tams candy. celebrity crush: Natalie Portman.

bonus
Young Word Maven
KAYLYN PAUL

She likes surprises, but Westport Magazine thinks this contributing writer has lined up a great future. age: 25. profession: Writer. background: Wilton High School. biggest achievement: MFA in Professional Writing. best things in life are: Unexpected. my generation will be remembered for: Internet lingo.

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