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Melissa Villaseñor, of ‘America’s Got Talent’ fame, becomes SNL’s first Latina cast member

“Saturday Night Live” announced three new cast members on Monday, just about a month after the news of Jay Pharoah and Taran Killam’s departure from the late-night variety show.

Joining the cast is Mikey Day, who has written for SNL since 2013, Alex Moffat, a writer and performer on the Lorne Michaels-produced variety show “Maya & Marty,” and Los Angeles-based comedian Melissa Villaseñor.

While all three are considered great additions to the cast, Villaseñor might be the most exciting.

The 28-year-old is best known nationally for becoming a finalist on NBC’s reality talent show “America’s Got Talent,” where she won audience’s hearts (and laughs) with her dead-on impressions of nearly anyone you can think of — including Owen Wilson.

During one of her final sets on the show, she went through some of her top impressions — Barbara Walters, Natalie Portman, Miley Cyrus, Kathy Griffin and even a singsong version of Christina Aguilera.

While her impressions will likely make her a good replacement for Pharaoh, they aren’t the only thing that makes her stand out.

The show has never featured a Latina performer in its 42 years on the air. Villaseñor, who grew up in Whittier, Calif., and is of Mexican descent, is the first.

In an interview with the Daily Dot, Villaseñor traced her start in entertainment to her schooling at an all-girls high school, Ramona Convent in Alhambra, Calif., near Whittier. She described her high school talent show as her real turning point.

“I did my high school talent show with a few impressions, and that was when I felt it,” she told the Daily Dot. “It went so great that I realized, this is what I am supposed to be doing, at 15 years old. It was a powerful feeling — I felt like there were flames in my chest.”

Of her breakthrough on “America’s Got Talent,” she said:

I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t like the show. It’s also scary, like, if you look bad you’re going to look bad. I didn’t go in with the best sort of attitude. I was cordial, but then I got the email that [was] like, ‘Congrats, you’re auditioning for the judges in Seattle!’ And I was like, ‘NO, I don’t wanna go!’ So that was my attitude when I walked out. I didn’t psych myself out or anything. It turned out to be a really great thing — a life-changing moment.

Felix Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, praised the hire in an interview with Fox News Latino.

“It shows that we’re making progress and that we are an important community that cannot be disregarded,” he told the outlet. “This is an area that is undeveloped and underrepresented — Latinas in comedy. … If Melissa does well, there will be a demand for more. It will open doors for others.”

SNL has only featured two Latino performers — Fred Armisen, whose mother is from Venezuela and father is Japanese-German, and Horatio Sanz, who was born in Chile. In fact, those two created Más Mejor, an online comedy studio whose mission is to “cultivate Latino comedic talent.” It’s owned by the Lorne Michaels-founded Broadway Video and airs a recurring series titled “Daily Itineraries,” which features Villaseñor portraying a day in the life of the various celebrities she impersonates.

A few years ago, preceding (and possibly leading to) the hiring of Sasheer Zamata and Leslie Jones, there was an outcry over the lack of black women represented on the late-night variety show. Cast member Kenan Thompson famously told TV Guide he wouldn’t dress in drag anymore just because the show didn’t have any black cast members.

In reaction, the show aired a skit featuring that week’s host Kerry Washington portraying a number of black female celebrities, Beyoncé, Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey among them.

At one point during the sketch, these words appeared on screen:

The producers at “Saturday Night Live” would like to apologize to Kerry Washington for the number of black women she will be asked to play tonight. We made these requests both because Miss Washington is an actress with incredible range and talent and also because “SNL” does not currently have a black woman in the cast.
As for the latter reason, we agree this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future … unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first.

Quickly thereafter, Zamata and Jones were hired.

Such outcry has seemed noticeably absent when it comes to Latina women, even though they’re often impersonated on the show (see impressions of Sofía Vergara, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira).

But it did exist, just mostly behind closed doors.

Following the episode hosted by Donald Trump last year, SNL producer Lindsay Shookus and the co-head writer Rob Klein met with several Latino leaders at the headquarters of the National Council of La Raza, a Washington, D.C.-based Latino advocacy group, L.A. Weekly reported.

The meeting included La Raza President Janet Murguia, Sanchez, and Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Many present were angry that SNL put the spotlight on Trump after denigrating Mexicans as “rapists” and “drug dealers.”

“This is not about lacking a sense of humor. Everyone knows that SNL is not just a comedy show. For the last 40 years, it has become a highly coveted platform for candidates from political parties who are looking to reach and connect with the American public,” Murguía told NBC. “It is appalling, then, [for] a show with that history and that role to showcase a man whose campaign has been built on bigotry and demagoguery for the sake of buzz and ratings.”

Alex Nogales, chief executive of the Pasadena, Calif.-based National Hispanic Media Coalition, told the L.A. Weekly, “They screwed up royally with the Latino Caucus. Every member is furious. They showed they had no respect or consideration for the Latino community.”

The paper reported, “Those Latino groups planned from the get-go to use the appearance to get SNL to take another look at its cast diversity. … While there was no promise to hire specific numbers of Latinos, the SNL representatives gave assurances that the show’s virtual brownout would end in the next year to year and a half,” according to Nogales.

If what Nogales said is accurate, the show kept its promise.

Fans, for one, seemed pleased.

“Thrilled by SNL’s newest cast member, the first Latina in decades,” tweeted one user. “SNL is finally getting a Latina cast member!” tweeted another. “Finally,” tweeted a third.” A fourth tweeted, “Bout damn time.”