Thirty-three years ago, Jodi Benson made her underwater debut — in a manner of speaking — and she credits all her successes to the Lord.
Benson, 61, became an accidental household name for her swirling vocal performance in the The Walt Disney Company’s animated film, “The Little Mermaid,” which debuted in theaters in 1989.
During a recent appearance on CBN’s “Quick Start” podcast, Benson explained that her iconic role in the beloved Disney classic was nothing short of serendipitous. In the mid-1980s, the unwitting star-to-be was in New York City, where she had landed a role in the short-lived Broadway production, “Smile.”
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The musical, created by Marvin Hamlisch and Howard Ashman, lasted a meager six weeks. To most, that would’ve been a harbinger of things to come. But that wasn’t the case for Benson.
During a workshop session for “Smile,” Benson created her character, Doria, who sang a song called “Disneyland,” performed in the show’s first act and at the end of the musical. At the same time — unbeknownst to Benson — Ashman was working with Disney on “The Little Mermaid.”
Feeling guilty for the untimely demise of “Smile,” Ashman extended an olive branch to a handful of the musical’s cast members, inviting them to audition for the role of Ariel in the animated Disney movie.
“It’s kind of like this wonderful little gift that we were given as we were walking toward the unemployment office,” she recalled. “It was just one of those bizarre situations that we thought, ‘No one’s ever gonna get this. None of us are gonna get this job.'”
Benson pressed forward anyway, laying down a vocal sample on a reel-to-reel tape recorder in a bathroom after listening to a cassette tape of Ashman singing “Part of Your World.”
“I just imitated him and read a couple of scenes, and that was it,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s a really fun experience. That was a fun thing to do today.’ And a year later, I got the call that I had gotten the job and from a pager with a roll of quarters on 16th and Broadway on a payphone and called my agent and said, ‘What’s up?’ And she said, ‘You got it. You got Ariel.’ And my response was, ‘What is an Ariel?'”
“And here we are,” Benson added.
While the way things have unfolded have blessed Benson, there is no doubt the progression of her career has been — as she called it — “strange,” and evidence of God’s “sense of humor.”
“Every step of my journey in my career over the last 42 years has all been God-ordained with a wonderful sense of humor, I think,” the celebrity said. “I think it’s the way that He keeps me humble, He keeps me attentive to knowing that He’s in charge and I’m not.”
“Because every single step of my journey has been very unique — and doesn’t really make any sense — just gives me even more of the confirmation to know that He’s in charge and I’m not,” Benson continued, adding, “I love the way that He pulls things together for me because, a lot of times, it just doesn’t follow a normal sequence of events — but I’m used to that now, after 42 years. I’m used to things being just kind of crazy, out-of-sync, chaotic.”
That, she acknowledged with a smile, is just “how God works in my life.”
Reflecting on where she’s been and where she is, Benson said her life has been a “tapestry” woven together by the hands of God.
“I really do correlate it to a tapestry,” she said. “So when you have this beautiful tapestry with these woven pieces of fabric and strings and all that, and, on the top of it, it’s just gorgeous and put together and it makes sense.”
“But when you turn it over, it is just a bunch of stray pieces of string in knots,” she continued. “It is a mess on the backside. That is kind of how I feel like my life has sort of evolved. The back sort of looks chaotic and messy but, when you put all the pieces together, and you see the journey of these decades in my life, it has made this incredible tapestry that is just totally God-ordained.”
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