TAMPA — Lauren Mayhew was a childhood fan of Trolls dolls when their only standout characteristics were crazy hair and bellybutton jewels.
That was before they starred in cartoon movies, television shows and musical albums, before they were a pop culture phenomenon.
“She had at least 20 Troll dolls,” said mom Sharon Mayhew. “She kept them all in her bed.”
Someday, Mayhew will likely have her own Troll doll.
The Tampa native and 2006 graduate of Berkeley Preparatory School is among the newest members of the Trolls ensemble that since the first movie was released in 2016 has included Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel and Gwen Stefani.
Mayhew voices Val Thundershock in the TrollsTropia cartoon series now streaming on Hulu.
“It is mind-blowing,” said Mayhew, who returned to Tampa from New York during the pandemic. “I was such a huge fan. I was super into them and now I am one of them.”
TrollsTopia begins where the Trolls World Tour movie leaves off.
In that film — released earlier this year — Queen Poppy learns her Pop Tribe is one of six representing musical genres. There are also the Techno, Funk, Classical, Country and Rock tribes. Poppy travels the world to bring together the isolated tribes as friends.
Fast forward to the new TrollsTopia series.
Poppy hopes to further unite the tribes by inviting them to live together in one village that she dubs TrollsTopia. Mayhew’s Val Thudershock is the Rock Tribe’s purple-haired ambassador.
“While most Trolls high five, Val would rather smash a guitar to show her excitement,” emailed a spokesperson with DreamWorks Animation, which is behind the Trolls franchise.
“My character comes in very adverse to the whole idea,” Mayhew said. “She really grows in terms of her character arc and learns a lot of lessons. But she never loses her qualities. She is super outgoing with tons of energy and is a ton of fun.”
Those are qualities that also describe Mayhew, her mother said. “They are very alike, except Lauren doesn’t have purple hair.”
When not acting, Mayhew writes and records music. Her song Sugar Daddy’s Little Girl was the center of a Klondike commercial campaign and can be regularly heard on the Lifetime show Dance Moms.
And when not recording and writing music, Mayhew works as a DJ. She currently performs at Tangra Nightclub in Ybor City.
“Even as a kid, she was the busiest person in the industry who I knew,” friend Jessica Rhodes said.
Rhodes is the current director of Tampa’s Entertainment Revue, a professional song and dance ensemble she and Mayhew performed in together as child stars.
Mayhew joined Entertainment Revue at 4 and was featured in their shows soon after.
By 10, she was starring in WEDU’s The Reppies, a musical television series about five half-reptile, half-human creatures from the Ice Age who thaw out, move into Tampa Theatre and befriend human kids like Mayhew.
As a teenager, Mayhew and three fellow members of Entertainment Revue — Ashley Niven, Lydia Bell and Tracy Williams — then formed the girl group P.Y.T., which toured with ‘N Sync, Britney Spears and Destiny’s Child and 98 Degrees and performed at the 2001 Super Bowl pre-game show.
“After we did pregame, when we came offstage, Steven Tyler told me we rocked,” Mayhew said. “That was surreal.”
It was also an odd time in her life.
“It was almost like a real-life Hannah Montana,” laughed Mayhew, citing the television series starring Miley Cyrus as Miley Stewart, a seemingly normal high schooler who secretly moonlights as pop star Hannah Montana.
“One night I would be performing in front of 50,000 people and the next day I’d be back in a high school with 90 kids in each grade. I’d wear glitter and a bandana to school, and I would get made fun of as I thought, ‘Wait, this was cool last night.”
When the band broke up in 2002, Mayhew focused more on acting, cast in Guiding Light, Law & Order, American Dreams, CSI: Miami and American Pie Presents: Band Camp.
“I only had one rule,” Mayhew’s mother said. “She had to go to college, which she did.”
Mayhew graduated from UCLA with a major in communications and minor in Spanish while fulfilling pre-med requirements.
She then returned full-time to the entertainment industry with a stint as ring announcer for Extreme Championship Wrestling plus roles in Bloodline and Dexter. In all, she has 40 acting credits, but TrollsTopia is her biggest yet.
“To be part of such a big franchise is exciting,” Mayhew said. “Also, I get to work with DreamWorks, which is the best of the best.”
While there is no definitive timeline of when a Val Thundershock doll might hit the toy store shelves, Mayhew’s mother said she will be among the first in line to purchase one.
“Maybe,” Sharon Mayhew laughed, “I will put it in my bed.”