DeSoto County's Olivia Holt is breakout star on Disney's martial-arts 'tween' comedy

Olivia Holt, whose family still has a house in DeSoto County since moving to Los Angeles, brought a background in gymnastics and cheerleading to her role as Kim.

Photo by Disney XD

Olivia Holt, whose family still has a house in DeSoto County since moving to Los Angeles, brought a background in gymnastics and cheerleading to her role as Kim.

'Kickin' It'

A special episode airs at 7:30 tonight on Disney XD. On June 27, the show returns to its regular summer slot of 7:30 p.m. each Monday.

At Christmas time, Olivia Holt moved with her family from DeSoto County to Los Angeles.

The cast of Disney XD's 'Kickin' It' (from left): Rudy (Jason Earles), Milton (Dylan Riley Snyder), Jack (Leo Howard), Jerry (Mateo Arias), Kim (Olivia Holt) and Eddie (Alex Christian Jones).

Disney XD

The cast of Disney XD's "Kickin' It" (from left): Rudy (Jason Earles), Milton (Dylan Riley Snyder), Jack (Leo Howard), Jerry (Mateo Arias), Kim (Olivia Holt) and Eddie (Alex Christian Jones).

Two homes weren't enough, apparently. This week, the 13-year-old former competitive gymnast, cheerleader and actress staked a claim to become part of 78 million households in the U.S.

Olivia is one of the stars of "Kickin' It," a new half-hour martial-arts "tween" comedy that debuted Monday on the kid-oriented Disney XD cable television channel, which reaches some 78 million homes, according to Walt Disney Co. publicists.

The program was an immediate hit: "Kickin' It" registered as the No. 1 series premiere in the brief history of Disney XD, which launched in 2009. The show attracted about 873,000 viewers -- more than twice as many viewers as previous programs in its time slot, Disney announced Tuesday.

Episodes of "Kickin' It" also were aired Tuesday and Wednesday, to introduce the program to fans of "Zeke & Luther," "Pair of Kings" and other hit Disney XD series. A final special episode airs at 7:30 tonight. Starting June 27, the show returns to its regular summer time slot of 7:30 p.m. each Monday.

So far, Olivia has been working too hard to worry about whether she'll become a new Disney breakout star, in the tradition of Mickey Mouse, Ariel the Mermaid and Miley Cyrus.

"I'm experiencing a whole new life right now," said Olivia, who had appeared in some national TV commercials before Disney executives -- impressed by her audition tape -- met with her and then chose her for the "Kickin' It" role late last year.

"It's a whole different lifestyle for me and my family," Olivia said. "It's definitely an adult world. You're going in and working every day, and then you have to balance your work time with school."

The adjustment process works both ways. "Some people out here, they're not used to the 'Yes, ma'am' and 'Yes, sir' that I'm used to saying to my parents and teachers back home. They'll be like, 'What did you say?'"

Despite the responsibilities, "I think I'm having more fun than I even thought I would have," Olivia said.

A mix of ensemble character comedy and kung-fu slapstick, "Kickin' It" takes place in a struggling suburban strip-mall martial arts academy run by an incompetent but lovable young sensei ("Hannah Montana" graduate Jason Earles) with a robotic toilet known as the Evac-U-Tron. As ads for the series promise, somewhat enigmatically: "Get ready for some mojo in the dojo!"

The academy's teen students include a Chachi-like cool-dude skateboarder with mad karate skillz (Leo Howard, an actual martial-arts athlete); a skinny honors-student nerd (Dylan Riley Snyder); a Barbarino-esque faux tough guy (Mateo Arias); an uncoordinated roly-poly kid (Alex Christian Jones); and confident, crush-worthy would-be reporter Kim (Olivia Holt), a transfer from the villainous Black Dragon dojo who may be the first Southern belle with a black belt.

Based on the series' first-night ratings, it seems certain that girl viewers of the series will demand Tiger Beat pinup posters of Leo for their bedrooms, while middle-age men of future decades may speak of Kim in the same awed tones today's fiftysomethings reserve for Marcia Brady.

Disney has confidence in "Kickin' It," a creation of It's a Laugh Productions Inc., the company also responsible for "Hannah Montana," "Wizards of Waverly Place" and "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody." Twenty-one episodes of "Kickin' It" are being filmed for the first season; shooting started in mid-January and finishes in July, Olivia said.

She said she works about 50 hours a week on the show, with a week off per month. In addition, she attends a special school and had to take part in a martial-arts boot camp.

Olivia was born in Germantown and lived briefly in Memphis before her family moved to a Nesbit, Miss., subdivision, where they still own a home. The family -- Olivia, parents Mark and Kim Holt, and little brother Cade -- return to the Mid-South in August. Currently, they're renting a house in Studio City, a Los Angeles neighborhood.

Although Olivia is the lone female in the "Kickin' It" ensemble, "We're like best friends," she says of her co-stars. "It's like I've inherited five brothers. They're boys, and they like video games. They make me play 'Call of Duty' with them."

Like most Disney and Nickelodeon sitcoms, "Kickin' It" has the bright studio video look that parents may associate with such 1970s programs as "Three's Company." The show is shot with four cameras, and sometimes features fast-motion effects, reverse photography and other tricks to enhance the martial-arts action.

"It's like my own little playground," Olivia said of the set. "I get to watch what the camera people do, I get to watch the lighting people, I've experienced so many different things. They tell me what their job is and what they actually do. It's real good experience for a kid. I want to grow up to actually know all this stuff."

Before Olivia begins working behind the camera in Hollywood, she'll have to get used to being a celebrity in front of it.

"We're too involved in her life to let her go sideways," says Olivia's mother, Kim, aware that some past Disney starlets -- Lindsay Lohan, most notoriously -- have behaved in ways that would make Minnie Mouse blush.

"I've had a couple of people tell me, 'When the show's on, your life is gonna change,'" said Olivia, who said she had been recognized in public on the basis of the TV ads alone, even before the series premiered. "I'm just going to have to live with the fact that I'm on a TV show now, and whatever happens, does. I know I am very blessed to be where I am."

© 2011 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 2

ItsNotAsFunAsKickinItWithYou writes:

Omg I absolutely <3 Kickin' It and I've only seen 4 episodes it's a great show with good storylines and omg 21 episodes I can't wait!!! I really want to meet the cast all I have to do is convince my dad to let me go to Hollywood.

marzigirl writes:

Hey Olivia, I just saw your Disney commercial and was wondering....40 hours of gymnastics I believe is what was said? Why are you doing like level five vault and stuff? Just wondering. Level 8 here do about 20 hours or so.

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