Lost amid the uproar over Saturday Night Live’s relative lack of black women performers a couple of years ago is the sad fact that the show went 41 seasons without a Latina cast member (and only two men of Latin heritage, Horatio Sanz and Fred Armisen). Now, that is about to change with the announcement on Monday that SNL has hired comedian Melissa Villaseñor.
Villaseñor is best known for being a finalist on the reality competition show America’s Got Talent—her most popular YouTube video from that program’s sixth season, in 2011, now has 8.7 million views and counting. In that appearance, Villaseñor wowed judges Piers Morgan, Sharon Osbourne, and Howie Mandel by impersonating Barbara Walters, Natalie Portman, Miley Cyrus, Kathy Griffin, and Christina Aguilera, all in less than two minutes.
But it turns out that celebrity impressions are just the tip of the iceberg for the comedian. In a more recent video, posted this past December, Villaseñor runs through 14 impressions in four minutes, some of which will come in handier than others on SNL. As spot-on as they are, it’s a bit hard to imagine her doing Owen Wilson or Wanda Sykes on the show, but her Gwen Stefani or Björk could definitely make an appearance.
Then there is the highly produced video series “Daily Itineraries” Villaseñor starred in for Más Mejor, a web platform from Lorne Michaels’s company Broadway Video that exists to highlight Latino voices in comedy.
With the benefit of costumes and makeup, she seamlessly transformed into celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and former SNL-er Kristen Wiig in addition to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whom it is easy to imagine stopping by the “Weekend Update” desk this fall to take down Donald Trump. Villaseñor’s Hillary Clinton is not going to be a threat to SNL star Kate McKinnon, but it’s not too bad if they ever need a backup.
In addition to Villaseñor, SNL also confirmed this week the hiring of two men, Mikey Day and Alex Moffat, to replace outgoing cast members Taran Killam, who made a big impression on the show over his six years, and Jon Rudnitsky, who didn’t make much of an impact in his one.
Maybe one of those two white guys has a killer Tim Kaine up his sleeve, but from this vantage point, Villaseñor seems to be in the best position to break through on the show this fall—that is, if they give her the chance. We will get our first hints when SNL returns to the air on Oct. 1.