Meet a few lake-area high school alums who are succeeding on stage and television.
Lead singer, American Authors
Minnetonka High School, class of 2005
Zac Barnett still remembers his first band’s big performance in the talent show at Minnetonka Middle School East. “It was cool and we had a lot of energy,” he says. “The reaction wasn’t that bad.” He had formed the band No Lifeguard on Duty with a few classmates, and they played a song by a punk band. “I’ve always been into discovering new music,” says Barnett, who knew he wanted to perform on stage from an early age.
Now, more than a dozen years and several bands later, Barnett is developing his own music as the lead singer of the indie rock band American Authors. One of their songs, “Best Day of My Life” climbed to No. 11 on the US Billboard Hot 100 list, to No. 4 on American Top 40 and was featured in more than one commercial.
Barnett credits the theater department at Minnetonka High School with helping him improve and develop his talent on stage. “They were super-supportive,” he says. “The greatest thing was the support to go after your dreams and keep doing what you are doing.”
After graduation, Barnett studied at Berklee College of Music, where he was president of the songwriters’ club, and formed a band that later became American Authors. “Once we found each other, we were one the exact same page as to what we wanted to do with our lives and career,” he says. “It was fun writing together, performing together and working on music.” They didn’t look back when they all dropped out of school, moved to Brooklyn and focused on music.
Now the band’s debut album is doing so well that they’re on a tour that includes a stop at the Target Center. “I saw my first concert at the Target Center in sixth grade,” he says. “It was Bob Dylan. So this is going to be really cool. I can’t wait.”
When Barnett does happen to tour near his hometown, he makes sure to stop and check in with friends. “My buddy has a boat on Christmas Lake and we go wakeboarding,” he says. “Then we go to Maynard’s. It was my favorite restaurant growing up.”
He urges young artists growing up in the lake region to take advantage of teachers, programs and resources. “Everything from choir, theater and extracurriculars—there are so many cool opportunities,” he says. “Really take advantage of those things and don’t let anything pass you by.”
Minnetonka High School, class of 2006
Raina Hein credits her time on the volleyball court with her success in her post-high-school modeling career. “I played sports my whole life, which really prepared me for competition, focus, determination, rejection and criticism,” says Hein. “If it hadn’t been for volleyball, I would’ve never been prepared for this industry.”
While she prepared to be a college athlete, Hein also discovered she liked being in front of the camera: She modeled, acted and performed during her last semester at Minnetonka High School. What she considers her big break only came after her friends urged her to try out for the CW’s reality show America’s Next Top Model. “I actually didn’t want to try out,” says Hein. “My friends and boyfriend at the time convinced me to go so I could experience what a ‘cattle call’ was like.”
After advancing in the auditions and competing on the show, Hein embarked on a huge adventure. “I learned so much about myself, as in who I am as a person, how I can handle no sleep and how I can deal with trying situations without friends or family,” says Hein. Even though she enjoyed exotic locales like Queenstown, New Zealand, she also had to cope with only getting to talk to her family twice in two months. “Looking back, I’m very grateful for all of it,” says Hein.
Since the show ended, life has been full speed ahead for Hein. She lives in Los Angeles, and is working on a variety of projects. Her modeling resume includes clothing and makeup lines as well as runway modeling for spring and summer collections. Recently, she’s been putting an emphasis on her acting. “It has become my passion,” says Hein. “As long as I’m making steps forward, even if they are tiny, baby steps, I’m happy. It’s a tough industry, so I’m staying patient and determined.”
Her latest acting break came when she secured a lead role in a feature film, To Say Goodbye by Winter Estate Entertainment. “I will spend a lot of time learning choreography for fight scenes and learning how to use a longbow,” says Hein. A few other roles in upcoming movies are still in the works.
Her career might take her all over the world, but Hein still loves to come home to Minnesota. She tries to make it home five or six times a year and spends plenty of time in downtown Minneapolis, St. Paul and around Lake Harriet, though the lake area always draws her back. “When it comes down to it, I love Lake Minnetonka,” says Hein. “My brother and I got a boat last summer and I just couldn’t get enough of the lake—so I plan on coming back a lot this summer.” She enjoys checking out downtown Excelsior, eating a beet salad at 318 and stocking up on treats for her puppy at Fido’s Pantry.
Minnetonka High School, class of 2012
Holly Henry was in the middle of what she calls a “boring gap year of her life” when she decided to try out for NBC’s national reality show The Voice. “My dad and mom used to watch the show,” says Henry. “We would all sit on the couch and my dad would say ‘You should try out.’ ” While she doesn’t consider herself a vocal competitor, Henry tried out anyway—and subsequently cleared all the hurdles to get on the show and win a spot on Team Blake, the vocal team of country-singer judge Blake Shelton.
“I have never had such a huge performance,” says Henry. “I had a gig at a local coffee shop, but going on stage was very frightening.”
Henry walked away from the experience grateful for the opportunity, but more convinced than ever that her passion was not in performing a song, but in the song itself. “I am a quiet person and I want to write my own music,” she says. “That’s the direction I should be going.” She’s released a few singles online and thinks her music is going in the right direction. Ultimately, she hopes to hear other people sing her songs. “I’d like to hear it in the movies.”
Henry’s affinity for music started early, with what she describes as a musical childhood, as her father plays several instruments and her mom sings. She was three the first time she performed, singing “America the Beautiful” at a wedding. “It wasn’t relevant to the setting, but I tried,” laughs Henry. She had vocal coaches and piano lessons, but she says she’s largely a self-taught musician. “I learn best on my own,” says Henry.
Henry still lives in the Twin Cities and she enjoys being outside. “I love this state so much,” says Henry. “I’m a big fan of walking everywhere.” She grew up going on nature walks and spending time in area parks. There, she still finds serenity and inspiration. “I really like it here and I feel like it’s who I am,” says Henry. “I might move to L.A. for a few years, but I’m pretty sure I would come back.”
Minnetonka High School, class of 2011
When Ryan McCartan comes home from shooting episodes of the Disney Channel’s Liv and Maddie or from performing in the show Heathers in New York City, he fills his time trying to see as many people as he can. “I love my family and my friends,” says McCartan. “There’s something about Minnesotans, and you can’t beat it. Minnesota nice is a real thing.”
One of his favorite things is when he shows up at a restaurant and he runs into people he knows. “The night before Thanksgiving, I took a friend to dinner at Maynard’s and I saw people I hadn’t seen in years,” says McCartan. “I really like happy accidents when you show up and everyone is in the same place for the same reason.”
Those happy accidents haven’t always extended to McCartan’s acting career. “I have been lucky,” says McCartan. “But I went out on 154 appointments before I booked anything. There were plenty of pitfalls along the way, but no one talks about those.” In fact, McCartan got what he considers his big break after he auditioned for a role in a Disney Channel show that he didn’t get. That audition gave him connections that helped him land a role as Maddie’s love interest on Liv and Maddie, and guest-starring roles on ABC’s Last Man Standing and The Middle.
“It’s diligence, confidence and a lovely support system, says McCartan. “I have a great family, and whenever I’m having a bad day, they can call and keep me going.”
While McCartan loves TV, he also strives to remain true to his roots on the stage. “It’s so phenomenal,” says McCartan. “I did a lot of theater in Minnesota and at Minnetonka High School, so working in New York has always been a big ambition of mine.”
Locally, McCartan acted on many high-profile stages like the Guthrie Theater, Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, Old Log Theater, and the Children’s Theatre Company. His first role was at the Great American History Theatre in St. Paul. “I played Karl in The Christmas Schooner,” remembers McCartan. “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else [besides acting] by the age of 8, and I’m still doing it 12 years later.”
Though he strays from home often, McCartan is proud to be from Minnesota. “It’s a great social pride for me when people ask me where I’m from,” says McCartan. “It’s nice to see people’s eyebrows raised when they find out you are from Minnesota.” He points to several classmates who have nurtured their talents locally and stepped out to pursue their dreams. “It’s really cool to be a part of that Minnesota legacy,” says McCartan. “Our generation of Lake Minnetonka-ites are doing amazing things.”