Palmer stars in “Joyful Noise,” a film that tells the story of a small-town Georgia choir competing in a national singing contest. She plays Olivia Hill, the daughter of Vi Rose Hill (Latifah).
The young star said her character’s upbringing, especially with church, parallels her own life. Palmer, originally from Illinois, said she grew up in the church. Her father was a deacon, and her mother was the choir director. Palmer sang her first song, “Jesus Loves Me,” when she was 5.
Like many teenage girls and their mothers, Olivia often bumps heads with her strict mother. Palmer said she and other girls like her can relate to this as well.
“She portrayed what most teenage girls go through — that basically they just want to be separate from their mothers,” she said. “Obviously the relationship between mother and daughter has to transform when you are coming of age. It’s just different things, and that’s what I love. Girls can see what Olivia goes through, but in the end they can realize there are ways for things to turn around.”
Palmer’s fans have been able to see her transform from child to adult on screens big and small. Her most recognizable role was the title character in 2006’s “Akeelah and Bee” for which she won an NAACP Image Award and a Black Movie Award, among other nominations. She can also been seen in films such as “The Cleaner,” “The Longshots” and “Madea’s Family Reunion.” She starred in the Nickelodeon show “True Jackson V.P.” from 2008-11.
Palmer said both Latifah and Parton taught her lessons about the entertainment industry. The young star and Latifah first shared the screen in 2004 in “Barbershop 2: Back in Business.” In “Joyful Noise,” Palmer said this experience was different and more involved. In addition to acting alongside the Oscar-nominated star, Palmer was able to learn about the business from Latifah.
“I was able to understand how she was able to create a tremendous brand and empire for herself,” she said. “It’s really impressive when you talk to her. It’s amazing how she was able to create a team, create goals and just do this.”
Palmer describes Parton as humble and down to earth, even though her impact on entertainment is legendary. “She’s a wonderful person and very professional,” Palmer said. “No matter how amazing she is and how iconic she is, she doesn’t take that to her head.
“When you’ve been that huge, the person may seem guarded, which is a good thing,” Palmer continues. “It’s understandable because you don’t know who’s around you and why they are around you. But Dolly, she’s not even like that. She’s open and loving and caring. It doesn’t matter who you are, she would always say hello to you.”
The biggest lesson she learned? Palmer said Parton showed by example to remain appreciative of the opportunities she’s been afforded as a celebrity.
Like her co-stars, Palmer is also a recording artist. Her debut album “So Uncool” was released in 2007, and she is working on a followup project which is scheduled to be released this summer. Palmer said her favorite scene in “Joyful Noise” is an extended version of the choir’s performance at the competition. She said it was too long to be included in the film but will be on the DVD.
Palmer will also be returning to her old network with “Ragz,” a Nickelodeon movie of the week. In addition to taking the starring role, she is also serving as a producer with fellow Nick alum Nick Cannon.
“The main thing I was excited about was being a producer and opening myself up in that way,” she said. “I’ve always been the actress, and I wanted to do more than that.”
“Joyful Noise” opens nationwide Friday. Visit www.joyfulnoisethemovie.com for more information.
“We’ve got some amazing people in this movie,” Palmer said. “It just really uplifts you.”