LOS ANGELES – Nicola Lambo is an accomplished network TV and film actress with an equally impressive background in singing. Earning a degree in jazz vocal performance from University of Miami, she embarked on a career as a vocalist for the Walt Disney Company, which led to several tours with acts from ‘NSYNC to Engelbert Humperdinck and renowned artist Michel Polnareff.
With her television work including “Scandal,” “American Crime Story,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Speechless,” and “Baby Daddy,” as well as supporting roles in the feature film “Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt?” and made-for-TV movies such as “Break up Nightmare,” Nicola stepped into her first lead role in the holiday movie “Santa Claws,” a journey into parenthood, with cuddly cats and a Santa who happens to be allergic. She is also honored to be part of the prestigious Smithsonian Institution in the Air and Space Exhibit, an interactive experience where she talks to visitors.
Q: Where did you grow up?
Nicola: I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and spent most of my life in Florida, living in both Orlando and Miami.
Q: How old were you when you first started performing, and what role did you play?
Nicola: I have been performing since the age of 4, playing Mary during the Christmas pageant as my stage debut.
Q: Why did you pursue singing (and then acting) as a profession? Was there a defining moment when you knew this is what you wanted to do?
Nicola: Since my sister and I were old enough to understand, my mother always instilled in us that we could do whatever we put our mind to. She let us dream without borders.
I had no idea singing for a living was even an option for me until my chorus teacher encouraged me to look into it as a way to go to college on a scholarship. Up to this point I relied on my raw talent with no formal education or training. I became determined to make it happen; in my heart of hearts I felt this was my way to make a positive impact.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Q: You earned a bachelor’s degree in jazz vocal performance from the University of Miami. Has this degree been beneficial to you in your professional career?
Nicola: After relentlessly researching the top three colleges and submitting to each, I ended up with a scholarship to the University of Miami and finished with a Bachelor’s degree in jazz vocal performance.
My lack of music theory was a running joke in class, and I became the benchmark: If I understood the lesson, the professors were pretty sure the rest of the class grasped the concepts. This meant I was constantly at the front of the class, scatting and doing ear training exercises.
It was nerve-racking and, at the same time, the best thing that could have happened to me. I was made to fail forward daily, and learned quickly because of it.
Q: How many years have you been a professional singer, and what was your first professional gig?
Nicola: I was scouted and recruited by a gentleman named Bob Franklin on my very last performance for college, singing with the premier group at U of M, Jazz Vocal I, to work under an Equity contract as a vocalist in the Americana a cappella group Voices of Liberty in Disney’s Epcot Center.
From there it wasn’t long before I started performing under contract for “Festival of the Lion King” as a character named Kibibi (aka Nala) in addition to singing in “Tarzan Rocks!” and playing Flora at the “Hoop-dee-doo Revue.” I also performed with Vybe, another a cappella group out of Epcot.
Eventually Disney created a contract for me as a super sub that enabled me to mix it up every week to perform in a variety of shows. This also allowed me the freedom to start taking a few beginner acting classes with the encouragement from a friend.
Q: What were your next steps after performing at Walt Disney World?
Nicola: I started traveling and performing with recording artists all over the world. One of my most cherished memories was traveling with the ‘NSYNC Pop Odyssey Tour as a vocalist with Dante Thomas on Elektra records. I was heavily influenced by Philip Lawrence, my friend and fellow vocalist, to start song writing daily.
When I returned to Florida, I was invited to be part of the original opening cast of “The Lion King” for a brand new Disneyland theme park in Hong Kong and lived there for nine months. This was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for many reasons, but mostly because I got to share it with my husband, who was cast as Tarzan.
Hong Kong was an incredible place. I loved the people, culture, traditions and rituals, and I loved trying the food. I also appreciated the ability to travel to nearby places like Thailand inexpensively.
Q: Did you study a specific technique that helped strengthen your voice and help with longevity in your professional career?
Nicola: I warmed up my voice with exercises that strengthened my breathing and opened up my vocal range before every single show in order to stay healthy vocally.
It is no coincidence that the requirements for my jazz vocal degree, which equipped me with the skills to not just be a singer, but a musician, led me to my first contract performing. I could read music, write music, transcribe charts into my own key, write charts for most instruments, and speak the language of musicians so I could communicate with them well.
Q: Do you have any rituals when auditioning?
Nicola: Before entering the audition room, I verbally give myself permission to have fun. Once in the room my thoughts are of being a problem solver and being of service (something George Clooney does). Once I leave the room, I bless it and release it. My best girlfriend passed this on to me:
“If not this, something better.”
It all comes down to the way you think, your perspective. We have the power to shape our thoughts by the people we surround ourselves with, what we feed our mind, and what we do.
Q: You’ve performed around the world for theme parks, concerts, tours, and then commercials, network TV and films. Do any stand out as favorite moments?
Nicola: I have experienced the bliss of being a full-time actor for the last five years with the help of my brilliant management team. Being on the set of “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder” were both so special to me because Shondaland has definitely been on my radar as something I wanted to be part of.
“Speechless” was one of my first TV comedies to work on, and the freedom to explore my character and add my essence was a ton of fun to experience. “Lethal Weapon” gave me the opportunity to work with Damon Wayans. The advice he gave was priceless, and the time he took to talk with me will stay with me forever.
Most recently I had the absolute pleasure to work with Judith Light in “American Crime Story.” She is one special, uber-talented lady who brings sunshine wherever she goes. She took one look at me my first day and said, “Oh, we’re gonna work together again.” And would you believe it: They called me a few weeks later to recur my role in another scene with her. When she talks to you, she has a way of making you feel important, that you matter a great deal to her. She gives you her undivided attention and listens with great intent and sincerity. It’s such a fantastic quality I’d like to emulate whenever I’m on set.
Q: You transitioned into a thriving acting career in both TV and films. What inspired this transition?
Nicola: While in Hong Kong, we set up a few TV commercial classes hosted by Tony Haris, who was living in California and working with a commercial talent agent at the time. He saw something in me, something he felt was best maximized in California, and the seed was planted.
Q: When you moved to California, did you have a job lined up, or were you taking a chance? How long were you living there before you were cast in a show or gig?
Nicola: The first few years were certainly challenging, simply because it is considerably more expensive to live in California than it is to live in Florida. We definitely experienced a healthy dose of sticker shock at the adjustment to the cost of living.
Tony hooked me up with an agent, an incredible friend offered me and my husband a place to stay to settle in, and we had just saved a bunch of money. We stepped out on faith, but there was such a solid affirmation that it was where we were meant to go.
I ended up singing and traveling those first few years and barely auditioning for TV and film because that was how I was accustomed to making money.
After a little more than a year in California, I met a lovely young lady who walked me right onto a gig singing for Engelbert Humperdinck on a national and international tour. It was one of the most amazing experiences to perform in countries I never thought I would get to visit.
My favorite memory of those first few years was being hired for a performance in Paris, France, where I had to learn 10 songs in French, flew first class, got off a plane, went straight into rehearsal and had 24 hours off to sightsee.
I was on stage not understanding a single word of French, and the artist Michel Polnareff introduced me to an audience of 10,000 people. I didn’t have a clue what was happening. I remember recognizing my name as he said it, taking a bow, hearing them clapping and getting back on the plane to head home. Definition of whirlwind, for sure.
Q: Do you have an agent, a manager, or both? How do you know which agency to select?
Nicola: Shortly after my performance in Paris, I knew I had to make some decisions. For a period of time before our move, I pursued being a singer/songwriter, but the industry was moving in a direction that I didn’t see myself going. My husband and I moved all the way across the country, leaving our families on the East Coast for me to wholeheartedly pursue acting, and I felt that I wasn’t truly giving it full attention.
Then I booked a commercial where I met a young lady who would be exactly what I needed, right when I needed it. She generously took the time to share the fundamental differences between having a manager and an agent, explained that there is timing to this and that it depends on where you are in your career. She expressed how much she loved her manager and offered for me to use her name as a referral.
When I called Midwest Talent the first time, I got the sense right away that they truly wanted to work with me. I told them I had one more manager meeting scheduled, and I will never forget their response: “Oh, you definitely should, so you can know for sure who is a good fit for you. Take the meeting and reach out to me whenever you have made your decision. Just know that we’d be happy to have you on board; but whatever you decide, I know it is for the best.”
I signed with Midwest Talent. It is rare to find representation that fits like a glove, being able to have a true relationship of mutual respect, alignment in career goals, and a sense that they believe in you more than you believe in yourself. I knew I had found a team to rep me.
Something I think actors forget, this relationship with you and your representation is mutually beneficial. You are interviewing them to see if it is a fit just as much as they are interviewing you. By all means, before taking a meeting, do your homework, have your marketing materials, idea of branding and a strong sense of where you are headed in place, but also know that it is a long-term partnership you are looking for to help each other monetize your dreams.
You need to be able to paint the picture of where you see yourself going in order for them to know if they are equipped to help you get there. The clearer you are, the clearer they will be on where you fit in their agency and how to help. Honestly, building real relationships is vital to what we do. It’s a people business, and people in this industry want to work with good people who earnestly care about them and about the work they put out.
From day one, I promised to do everything in my power to bring my “A game” to every audition I had the privilege to go on, and Betty McCormick at Midwest Talent promised to provide me enough opportunity to be a full-time working actor. However, that came with a condition: I needed to stop traveling and singing so I could be here and available to attend auditions, callbacks and bookings. Tall order because that was my financial safety net. But it was just the challenge I needed to get out of my comfort zone and make things happen.
Q: Have you worked any other jobs while waiting for a performing gig?
Nicola: For a period of time I supplemented my income by private tutoring so I could stay in town as well as have the flexibility with my schedule to audition at any time.
Q: How often do you attend auditions?
Nicola: In general I audition roughly 10 to 15 times a week during a busy season from TV to film to commercials to print work to voice overs to hosting. Betty has certainly kept her promise. Whatever you’re looking for, you will find. In auditions, I gravitate toward fellow actors that support and encourage one another.
Q: Do you have a particular workout regimen or diet by which you adhere?
Nicola: My hubby and I decided to wake up at 6 a.m./6:30 a.m. every morning to work out together six days a week before our day gets going at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. Team Lambo! We also say 10 things we are happy and grateful for every morning we wake up and every night before going to bed.
Q: Do you have any special standout moments with any celebrities with whom you’ve worked?
Nicola: My encounter with Bellamy Young on “Scandal” was a highlight. She is a fantastic human being. She knew my name and introduced herself right away, took me to every person on that set who she also knew by name and made me feel so special and welcomed. It just affirmed that Shondaland is where I want to be.
“Success leaves clues … people who produce outstanding results do specific things to create those results.” – Tony Robbins
Q: How important is business and marketing in your career?
Nicola: It is critical and equally as important as honing your craft. We were fortunate that my husband came across an incredible career opportunity and transitioned into something a lot less physical than his previous years as an aerialist/acrobat. He is like a coach for your money; he creates a playbook based on your stats and helps you execute it. Not only are we becoming financially sound, we are being mentored on how to run a successful business and are developing ourselves.
I’ve taken these concepts and began applying them to my business of acting. This is a key component to artists’ success. If you neglect to develop the business side of your acting career as diligently as you develop your skill of acting, it makes it very difficult to have sustainability. I literally know my numbers, how many auditions will lead to a typical booking in order to create my monthly needed income, and it has become somewhat predictable.
Part of his training has been learning and developing his communication skills by attending one-on-one classroom training. I decided to attend with him and read every book he received. Best decision I ever made.
Q: Do you have a favorite book?
Nicola: I have become a voracious reader, choosing to strengthen, inform and fortify my mind. By reading lessons on spirituality, relationships and life from game changers in our community, I’m shaping my perspective and understanding about human nature.
“Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill is my favorite of all time; it helped me to develop my specific acting goal. I wrote out my goal, which I say every morning and night along with my husband, to keep me focused and purposeful.
Q: What show or role is on your bucket list?
Nicola: I’m fueled by the desire to be a series regular on an hour-long network show driven by incredible storytelling that brings fresh perspective, infuses hope, broadens vision and spreads joy to the heart of the viewers. I’m planting the seed that I will become part of Shondaland’s impressive roster of actors very soon. After working on “Scandal,” it is evident that Shonda prides herself on keeping the work environment healthy, happy and positive on and off the set. It says a lot about why she is dominating network TV right now.
Q: What is next for you? What goals have you not reached yet?
- We’re gearing up for Season 3 of “Last Life,” a web series I’ve had the pleasure of being part of all three seasons as Dr. Stanwicke, playing opposite Robert Palmer who is currently on “General Hospital.” This is the final season. You can catch it on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
- “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story“; I’m part of that episode with Judith Light.
- We’re in pilot season right now. I’m excited to see how the season unfolds. I’ve had the chance to audition for a few very intriguing pilot opportunities.
We are all artists in our own right, regardless of our chosen field. We have the ability to create through our own individual unique gifts. and vision for its purpose. I am fueled with a desire to be instrumental in eradicating the “starving artist” mentality in all of us by empowering others through collaborative creativity. You can follow your passion and feed your family by doing what you love with purpose.
Q: What advice do you have for anyone wishing to pursue acting or singing?
Nicola: Your mind is like a muscle that needs to be worked out, but it also needs to be protected from exposure to weak thinking. If you’re not careful, you can easily be distracted by things and people that cause you to lose time, which is the one thing you can’t get back, so I try to be diligent about using it wisely.
If you don’t like the outcome of something, change what you are doing until you get the desired result. I’ve adopted that thought process. Helps keep me on track and visualize my goals in a healthy way.
What is meant for you is yours; no one can take that away. It’s up to you to go after it and get it, create it if necessary.
“You have everything it takes, but it will take everything you’ve got.” – Unknown
See pieces of Nicola’s acting demo reel below, and visit her IMDb page for more (don’t forget to “like” it!):
Connect with and follow Nicola on her journey: