IF YOU GO
* What: Kidz Expo.
* Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1150 Carter St.
* When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday.
* Admission: $7 individual tickets; $25 family four-pack.
* Information: www.showclix.com/event/KidzExpo2013.
"Austin & Ally" stars Ross Lynch and Laura Marano will take photos with fans starting at 12:30 p.m. In order to avoid long lines, cards will be given out, listing a time for fans to return for their photo. Because the number of photo slots is limited, cards will be given out at 11 a.m. on a first-come, first-served basis.
Austin and Ally rock, says Ezra Williams, a local fourth-grader.
Ezra, 9, says he loves the music performed and written by the teenage characters on Disney's popular TV show "Austin & Ally." He says he particularly likes that Austin, played by Ross Lynch, performs the original tunes written by Ally, played by Laura Marano.
Ezra's sister Gretchen Williams, a 6-year-old first-grader, also enjoys the music but is a bigger fan of the show's comic escapades.
"I like Ally. She's funny," the little girl says.
Lynch and Marano are headlining the Chattanooga Times Free Press Kidz Expo on Saturday at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
The TV show, first aired in 2011, is a lighthearted comedy geared to tweens and teens. It focuses on the friendship and ever-changing girlfriend/boyfriend status of teenagers and classmates Ally Dawson, a songwriter, and Austin Moon, a singer. On the show, Moon becomes a local heartthrob after a video airs on the Internet of him singing one of Ally's songs.
Ally is a songwriter and musician but can't perform before a crowd because she has stage fright and that gives young viewers a "great message," says Lindsay Williams, Ezra and Gretchen's mom. The show has a positive theme for youngsters, she says.
"Even if you don't want to be in the spotlight, your passion can be put to use," Williams says. "The underlying message of 'Austin & Ally' is encouraging to kids who are a little like I probably was as a kid. I like that they aren't some unachievable rock stars -- they're regular kids with part-time jobs who have a little bit of local stardom."
In "real" life, both young TV stars have lives that parallel their characters. Both not only act, they're also musicians/songwriters.
Lynch, 17, says in an interview that he equally enjoys his acting profession and his music career. He performs professionally in the band R5 with his brothers and a friend.
"I like them both equally, so I hope to continue doing both throughout my career," Lynch says. "Music is a great break from acting and I really like the change sometimes."
Marano, also 17, wants to be continue combining music and acting.
"I have been writing songs since I have been a little girl, and I honestly write all the time," says Marano, who began performing in TV commercials at age 5. "I 100 percent want to release an album, but, due to my perfectionist personality, I want to make sure it is the best work I can do before I show it to people. I love music so much, and I just want to make sure I can express myself musically in the exact way that I want to."
To further complicate things, add college to the mix.
"I know it seems like a crazy plan, but I want to work as an actress, musician and still go to college," she says. "You look at this plan, and you think, 'Wow, this girl is insane.' I know it is going to be a crazy amount of work, but, with a lot of time management, I honestly feel like I can do it. I have such an extreme passion for all of these things, so why not pursue all of them?"
While both Lynch and Marano still live with their parents, the pair say that they also have a second family -- the cast and crew on "Austin & Ally."
"You spend a lot of time with your castmates, so you get pretty close," Lynch says.
Filming the TV show is a five-day work week, Marano says, so "the set sort of becomes a second home because we are there so much. ... but honestly, it is a lot of fun so it doesn't seem like a lot of work."
Lynch, who was tutored on set during filming, received his high school diploma last December. And because of the demands of acting and performing in a band, he says he didn't do the typical high school activities like attending prom, and, having a social life. "It's a little hard to do sometimes," he says.
Marano, meanwhile, attends a private high school.
"I actually get to attend a high school when I am not working," she says. "It's super cool to be able to hang out with my friends and literally be in a classroom. Not to quote 'Hannah Montana' or anything, but I literally get the best of both worlds."
And she gets to be a typical teenager.
"I definitely do typical teenager things, like hanging out with my friends and go to school dances," she says. "I am a junior, so this is my first year of prom. I am so excited. I am way too ridiculously busy for a romantic relationship at this point. Unless, of course, that person is Harry Potter. Then, I can clear some things off my schedule."
Contact staff writer Karen Nazor Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6396. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/karennazorhill. Subscribe to her posts on Facebook at www.facebook.com/karennazorhill.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...