Vicci Martinez has lived many of entertainment’s oldest stories: child prodigy, sudden fame, the inevitable downfall.
Now she has a new one: the comeback.
On July 27, the Tacoma native joins the cast of the hit Netflix series, “Orange Is The New Black.” The dramedy follows an ensemble cast in a women’s prison.
Martinez plays the character, Daddy, in a story arc that spans most of the season. Entertainment Weekly called it a “star-making performance.”
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The role and praise are a welcome relief for Martinez.
She came in third on the first season of NBC competitive singing show “The Voice” in 2011, only to see her career dwindle to the brink of extinction by the summer of 2017.
“In my mind,” Martinez said Tuesday, “it had already collapsed.”
In Tacoma, Martinez, 33, had long been a star: The hometown girl who refused to appear on “American Idol” because its contracts were too restrictive, only to shoot to national acclaim for her searing performances on “The Voice”.
Shortly after the show, she released the single, “Come Along,” featuring CeeLo Green. It made the charts, and albums followed.
But in the entertainment world, success can be fleeting. Martinez returned to Tacoma from Los Angeles in 2014-2015 without an agent or manager. Determined to reboot her career, she started a production company with three other people in the music business.
“The goal was to make the music I wanted to make and have a good time in the town that I was from,” Martinez said.
It ended badly.
The experience, she said, left her broke. She was borrowing money from her mother to pay her bills. She couldn’t even afford to keep her website running.
“It really messed with my head and my heart,” she said. She felt betrayed.
Then Martinez started meditating. And she got sober, putting herself into rehab in 2016.
“I like to drink,” Martinez said. “I was drinking a little too much.”
In mid-2017 she was contemplating taking a year or two off from music.
It was about that time that Martinez said she watched season three of “Orange.” Martinez said she saw an actress on the show who shared so many characteristics with her that she felt jealous of the woman’s career.
“We had the same haircut at the same time — just weirdo things like that,” Martinez said.
Martinez had an epiphany, gleaned from meditation, rehab and Alcoholics Anonymous.
“That is her journey,” Martinez realized. “I am not jealous of her. I can’t compare myself to her, and, really, I just wish I could have been on that show.”
Meanwhile, in New York, the casting director for “Orange” was looking for an actor to play the role of Daddy, a Latina pimp doing time.
Usually, the show hires New York-based actors, Martinez said, but show producers and directors just couldn’t find what they were looking for so they expanded the search.
“How did you even find me?” Martinez recalled asking the casting director. “I don’t even have a website.”
The casting director, Martinez said, just Googled what she was looking for. Martinez’s name popped up. Was Martinez familiar with the show, the director asked.
“Have I heard of ‘Orange Is The New Black?’ Are you kidding me? I watch that show religiously. I love it. It’s one of the my favorite shows,” Martinez said.
She sent in an audition tape.
“Within an hour she said, ‘They love it. We’ll see you in two days’,” Martinez said.
Originally set to be in three to five episodes, her character was greatly expanded.
“I was able to develop the character,” she said. “It’s your typical Vicci. It’s me. They just call me Daddy.”
Martinez showed up on the New York set with a black eye (from a camping trip accident), which intrigued the writers.
The writers began to mold the character to fit Martinez’s personality, which she variously describes as “testosterone,” “not a bad guy” and “for reals”.
In the new season of “Orange,” Martinez’s character develops a crush on Daya (played by Dascha Polanco). There’s a brief glimpse of them, fully clothed, in a shower in show’s new trailer.
Further blurring the lines between reality and non-reality, Martinez is in a relationship with an actor on the show, Emily Tarver, who plays correctional officer McCullough.
“We are super in love,” Martinez said of Tarver. “And we have a music group together. I’ve started to do music again. She’s fulfilling my fantasy of doing duets together.”
Martinez had to keep her casting on “Orange” a secret until now.
It’s the first time she’s acted. She dismisses notions that’s she’s a natural.
“I think I’m a hustler,” Martinez said. “Same way with music. Can I be on a live TV show on NBC? No, but I’ll hustle.”
Martinez has been bitten by the acting bug. She lives in New York now. She’s getting representation again.
The show has made several of its unknown actors into stars and boosted the careers of others, such as Lea DeLaria who performed Friday at Tacoma’s Rialto Theater.
“I really love this world,” Martinez said of acting. And it’s easier to navigate, compared with music.
“There’s a lot more that goes into developing a music career,” she said. Not that she has given up on music.
“I’m going to remember that this stuff can go away in a second,” she said of the entertainment world.