Township Teen Portrays Young Michael Bivins In BET Biopic About New Edition

Dante Hoagland, a 13-year-old township resident, will portray a young Michael Bivins later this month in the BET production of “The New Edition Story.”

Dante Hoagland has come a long way since voicing the letter “U” on Sesame Street.

The 13-year-old township resident has appeared in a movie with Woody Allen, in music videos, commercials and in independent movies.

But it’s his latest role that Hoagland – and his mom, Nicole – believes will put him over the top.

Hoagland gets to demonstrate his singing and dancing chops as the young Michael Bivins in BET’s production of “The New Edition Story,” about the Boston-based group that is credited with spawning the “Boy Band” craze of the 1980s and gave rise to stars such as Bobby Brown.

The biopic is slated to air Jan. 24, 25 and 26.

“This is huge, because New Edition is huge,” Nicole Hoagland said.

Her son’s road to the role started in the spring of 2016, when his manager, Dave McKeown of Teaneck-based Shirley Grant Management, called Dante to tell him about the audition for the movie.

He went, but it wasn’t a cut-and-dried affair.

“Originally, I was supposed to go there and sing a song,” he said. “And when I got there, they said you have to read a script, and they gave me a script for Bobby Brown. But when I went in there to read the script, I guess they figured I wasn’t fit for Bobby Brown, so they just let me sing a song, and we left.”

“Two weeks later, I got a call back for the same job,” Hoagland said. “When I got there, they gave me another script, for Ronnie DeVoe, and still I guess they figured out that I was not right for the role, so they still let me sing a song.”

Hoagland was called back for a third time, during which he sang another song, he said.

“Then I waited like three months, and my manager called and he said you got the job for the role of Michael Bivins,” Hoagland said, breaking into a huge smile. “I was so excited because it took me this long, I kind of wanted to get myself out there because I knew how big this movie would be. So I got so excited when I heard I got the job.”

Well, preliminarily got the job, as he would later discover.

Hoagland, who said up to that point his dancing was mostly “freestyle,” was told he’d have to take dancing lessons, and then attend a two-week “boot camp” with other potential cast members.

He studied with Ms. Sherri at American Dance Studios in Edison, where he learned choreography for the New Edition hits “It Isn’t Love” and “Candy Girl.”

With the song choreography pretty much under his belt, Dante and his mother flew off to Los Angeles for the boot camp, which, Dante said, turned out to be something different than what he anticipated.

“I thought it was going to be like the Army, where you run and stuff,” he said. “But when I got out there to do it, it was more like a producer session, where they let you sing a song you want by New Edition, or anybody you want in New Edition, and they give you a script to see if you can build a chemistry up with the other people.”

Most of the other actors were switched from role to role during boot camp, but Dante pretty much stayed with the Bivins character, he said.

“When it came down to the scenes where we had to act, they switched us out to see if there was better chemistry,” he said. “When it came to the dance scenes, they switched a couple of the others, but they just let me do what I needed to do.”

The actors performed before the movie’s director and its producer, the singer Baby Face.

“My legs were just really hurting,” Dante said. “I was trying to still keep a smile on my face and not show the pain.”

Dante models the jacket he was given by the show’s producers.

After boot camp, Dante and his mother returned home to Somerset to wait for the call that eventually came.

They were in her car, about to leave, Nicole Hoagland said.

“When the phone rang, I saw it was his manager so I handed him the phone, because I was getting ready to drive. So I hear Dante on the phone, ‘oh hi Dave, Ok, mm hmm.’ Then he gives me the phone, and he’s like, yeah, he booked the role of Michael Bivins. I was like, What! I was ecstatic. He’s so laid back.”

There was yet another flight to Los Angeles, and another boot camp. But this one was a little different.

This time, the actors also performed for the real New Edition, Dante said, a prospect that he said didn’t rattle him at all.

“I kind of felt good, because I knew I was going to do good,” he said. “I don’t get nervous and all that when I see a big star. I was just being myself, kept a smile on my face and said hi to everybody.”

“It was pretty fun, just trying to like be like Michal Bivins,” Dante said. “Try to dance like Michael Bivins; that kind of stuff is hard because some people don’t have the mentality to do that.”

Bivins – who Dante refers to simply as “Mike” – would call him during the filming to check up on him, Dante said.

“Me and Mike, we talked,” he said. “He would call me and ask me how the day went and how my scenes went, and did I do the stuff he told me to do. He would give me tips. Michael has this kind of bop when he dances, and you have to have that kind of tough Boston accent.”

The production company brought in a dialect coach during the boot camp to help the actors with their “tough Boston accent,” Hoagland said.

“It wasn’t really hard for me, it was just like learning words,” Hoagland said. “I picked up on it quick. I felt like I didn’t have to use the Boston accent, Michael had this deep voice when he was younger, you just had to have the deep voice, and that was really it.”

Mom and son were back in Franklin in time to attend her older son, Dylan’s, graduation from Franklin High School.

But they’ll all be back out in California the week of the show’s airing, helping New Edition celebrate their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Nicole said.

This all started when Dante was five years old, and would video himself, and sometimes his older brother, singing songs and then put them up on YouTube.

One day, McKeown saw one of the videos, and emailed Nicole.

“We loved how he said, ‘we love to daaance,’ and we called him in,” McKeown said in an email.

“Dante has always been fearless, confident, and funny,” McKeown said. “That’s what we saw, and that is why he is successful. And having a great family helps too.”

Dante’s first professional gig was a voice-over for the Sesame Street children’s show.

“The first time he was on Sesame Street, you would have thought he won an Academy Award,” Nicole said, laughing. “All he said was, ‘umpire, underwear,’ and I was like, ‘ooohhh! My baby’s a star!'”

From there, Dante appeared in a student film called “Crossing Fear,” and he also appeared in a Spike Lee anti-smoking commercial.

Then there was Woody Allen.

“He played alongside Woody Allen in ‘Fading Giggolo,'” Nicole said. “He played Woody Allen’s son, so to speak.”

“Woody Allen was funny, he was fun to work with,” Dante said. “John Turturro too, they were fun to work with.”

“Woody Allen let me wear his hat,” Dante said.

Nicole Hoagland, who is a school district crossing guard, said he may be more excited about her son’s latest acting job than he is.

“I grew up with New Edition,” she said. “It just so happens that Michael Bivins was my favorite. I am super excited. I’m really so proud.”

Dante went through the township school system through Conerly Road School, when Nicole and her husband Michael – a school district security guard – decided that he should be home-schooled to allow for his frequent absences from school due to his burgeoning career.

“It’s just more flexible, where he can log in and do lessons,” Nicole Hoagland said.

As for her part, Nicole said she is a “New Age stage mom.”

“I’m not totally engrossed in everything,” she said. “When I’m on set, I kinda just lay low, I just let Dante do his thing. He’s got a manager. People know my presence, but I’m a quiet presence. I just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

Thinking about his future, Dante said he’s just going to enjoy what’s happening and see where it goes.

“I feel like if this keeps going good, I’ll just keep doing this,” he said. “I’m just going to ride the wave till possibly things blow up.”


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