Laura Di Lorenzo, viral Miami royalty, did not expect to receive this particular phone call this past August.
Out of work and mostly out of luck, the actress and comedian had shot an arrow into the dark, auditioning for a role in the Netflix show, “Selena: The Series.” After two call-backs, she learned she had landed the part of the Spanish-language voice of Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’” Di Lorenzo said of her shock at the time. “I asked, ‘What made you wanna hire me out of all of the people?” The answer was that Di Lorenzo possesses the “essence” of Selena.
“It’s still so magical to me. I just can’t believe I get to voice one of my heroes, someone I looked up to so much when I was little.”
Back in 2007, Di Lorenzo and her best friend Mimi Davila, who were then Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School students, uploaded a nearly four-minute-long parody of the Miami Cuban teenage experience called, “Chongalicious.” It soon surpassed seven million views on YouTube and the girls became overnight starlets — performing at Mansion nightclub and meeting Pitbull.
Thirteen years later and now living in Los Angeles, the comedic duo are working actresses. Di Lorenzo’s snagging of the Selena role in Spanish is significant. (The lead role is played by “Walking Dead” star Christian Serratos.)
“I was so excited and happy for Laura because she’s just so talented,” said another Miami girl turned L.A. actress, Jenny Lorenzo. “I know how hard this industry is, so it’s like, ‘Holy sh*t she’s voicing Sel-e-na!’ What a role!”
Laura Di Lorenzo was born in Valencia, Venezuela but moved to Miami with her mother when she was seven years old. From a young age, she showed an interest in the arts, perhaps because she descends from an artistic family. Her grandfather is a painter, her father and stepdad musicians and her aunt and cousin, singers.
When she was small, her mother placed her into a children’s acting agency and she appeared in a “Sábado Gigante” children’s sketch comedy segment. It was at Krop High that Di Lorenzo met her partner-in-chonga, Mimi Davila.
The legend began one bored Saturday night when the 17-year-olds’ moms wouldn’t let them go to The Youth Fair. They decided to play dress up and film videos. After scribbling down parody lyrics to the tune of Fergie’s 2006 hit, “Fergalicious,” and dressing in chongafied attire, they filmed the video with the help of their friend, Julien Bensimhon.
“Chongalicious definition arch my eyebrows high/ They always starin’ at my booty and my panty line,” the girls sang the lyrics confidently into the camera, their faces embellished with Sharpie lip liner, red lipstick and baby hairs stuck to their scalps with a glue stick. Uploading the video to YouTube, Davila and Di Lorenzo had no idea just how influential it would become.
“The video was supposed to be an inside joke in our drama class,” Di Lorenzo laughs as she recounts the memory. “That’s all it was! Then the whole school knew about it, soon other schools knew about it and then Power 96 put it on the radio.”
Di Lorenzo had always wanted to move to L.A. “My step dad bought me a Hollywood sign when I was 14 years old and I was like, ‘Yup, that’s where I wanna go,’” she recalled.
When Davila and their mutual friend Bensimhon had the opportunity to rent a three-bedroom apartment in L.A., they informed Laura. “We said, ‘Are you coming [to L.A.] or not?’” Davila explained. “And she said, ‘Fuck it.’ Sometimes you’re not really ready and something just has to push you.”
Di Lorenzo moved in with Davila and Bensimhon in 2015. She worked as a waitress while trying to find work in her field. And although she was grateful for her best friends’ company, she missed her family. She had never lived apart from them. Di Lorenzo and Davila revived the chongas in 2016. They filmed weekly videos in a web series called, “The Chonga Diaries.”
“People never stopped asking about the Chonga Girls and so we brought them back,” Davila said. “It was incredible how quickly it took off.”
The Chonga Girls’ resurgence was soon receiving attention from all of the right people, including Jenny Lorenzo, a fellow comedian famous for her “Abuela” character. Lorenzo had moved to L.A. in 2015 and was working as a video producer at Buzzfeed when she heard about the Chonga Girls’ return. Through a mutual friend, they connected.
“We all instantly clicked. We were talking so much that we did the typical Latino goodbye,” Lorenzo remembers, laughing. “We ended up in the parking lot still talking.”
They began to collaborate on videos featuring their popular characters. Soon, Lorenzo left Buzzfeed for Latino-focused media company, We Are Mitú, and Di Lorenzo secured a position there as well. Di Lorenzo wrote, edited and starred in sketches and even created her own comedy segment called, “Laura’s Corner.”
“I came to L.A. and that was exactly what I imagined it would be. My 14-year-old self would be very proud of me,” Di Lorenzo said.
She also performed in shows at L.A.’s esteemed comedy club, Upright Citizens Brigade. In 2018, she acted with Mimi as the Chonga Girls in the theatre’s first-ever all Latino show called, “Spanglish Aqui Presents,” which also featured Jenny Lorenzo and others.
Davila, Di Lorenzo and Lorenzo also created “Wow! Que Show!” a sketch comedy that was an homage to Latino TV shows like “Sábado Gigante,” “Caso Cerrado” and “Primer Impacto.”
“What I love about working with Mimi and Laura is that we all have a similar upbringing,” Lorenzo says. “So we’re just one big nostalgia machine.”
Di Lorenzo and Davila have taken advantage of the extra time recently to focus on their biggest undertaking yet: The Chonga Girls Movie. In the works for about three years, it will follow the chicas on a road trip through middle America, from Miami to L.A. “It’s kinda like a ‘Dumb and Dumber’ meets ‘Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion’ for Latinos,” Di Lorenzo said.
In 2019, Di Lorenzo took her job search to Facebook and received a message from a middle school friend who had become a casting director for voice-over work in L.A. She offered to send Di Lorenzo out on auditions.
But then the pandemic hit. All three of her shows at UCB were canceled. Earlier this year, she was sent an audition for an inconspicuously-titled Netflix show, “Gloria.”
“When they said, ‘It’s about a Tejano singer,’ I was like ‘Oh I know what this is,’” Di Lorenzo shared with a laugh.
Di Lorenzo has looked up to the legendary Mexican-American singer ever since she was seven. “My aunt would always play Selena’s albums and I became obsessed with her,” Di Lorenzo says. “I’m like, ‘Damn I’ve been singing her songs since I was little!’”
This past fall, she recorded the voice-overs and then on December 4, the anticipated show premiered. Davila was especially proud of her best friend. “Oh my God, I was so happy for her! Selena is such an icon,” Davila said.
But for the comedic duo, “Chongalicious” will always be special. “It’s what has given me all the opportunities I have today,” Di Lorenzo shared fondly. “It’s all because of that little video that Mimi and I made when both of our strict immigrant mothers wouldn’t let us go out that night.”
Adds Davila: “We both have always had the same sense of humor, so we have always made each other laugh. And that’s how we became friends, really. Through laughter.”
This story was first published in the Miami Herald.