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‘That’s what I said!’: Precocious McDonough starlet living her dreams

Photo by Elaine Rackley
Ariana Neal, 7, exudes her flamboyant personality as she poses with her family.
She said her father, Aaron Neal (left) instructs her in acting, and her mother, Anna Neal ( right) taught her how to sing. Her younger brother, Aaron Neal, Jr., 1, is also pictured.

Photo by Elaine Rackley Ariana Neal, 7, exudes her flamboyant personality as she poses with her family. She said her father, Aaron Neal (left) instructs her in acting, and her mother, Anna Neal ( right) taught her how to sing. Her younger brother, Aaron Neal, Jr., 1, is also pictured.

Television viewers probably recognize her from the role that produced her most recent famous lines –– the “2011 Merger Georgia Lottery” commercial. She is one of four youngsters entering a board room to meet across the table with four adults to discuss a merger.

“We can open channels to Europe, Asia, and even South America,” declares 7-year-old Ariana Neal, of McDonough, as part of a conversation about the young group’s financial acumen.

“South America?” asks an adult woman at the table.

“That’s what I said!” snaps Neal with authority, in one of the most popular commercials being run on local television stations.

Ariana said that, when people recognize her, “they say, ‘You’re that, that’s-what-I-said girl.’ ” Young Neal acknowledges them with a smile.

In real life, she gives much credit to her father, Aaron Neal, for her acting success. She credits him with teaching her how to gesture, and enunciate her words for the commercial.

“I am not an acting coach,” chuckled her father.

Aaron Neal said the family always will remember the day Ariana got her casting call-back for the 2011 Merger Georgia Lottery commercial. “That was the same day our baby son was born,” he said. Ariana was awakened during the night to get dropped off at her aunt’s house, while her parents went on to the hospital.

“I rolled out of bed the next morning to do her hair, and get her dressed for the casting call-back,” said her mother, Anna Neal.

Ariana Neal never has had an acting class. Nevertheless, she has a lead role in the upcoming movie, “Vipaka,” starring Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker. Ariana plays Whitaker’s daughter in the suspense horror thriller, which is scheduled to be released in the spring.

Ariana also recently completed a television pilot, “Ant Hill.”

She described the pilot as “a kid’s program ... based around the concept of ants working together. It teaches teamwork, discipline and obedience.”

The child actress is what is known in the performing arts community as a triple threat. She can sing, dance and act.

“I want people to know that they can follow their dreams,” said the young star.

Ariana has appeared in four other television commercials. She is in a Moe’s restaurant commercial. “You will see me slurping at the end of the commercial,” she said. Ariana appears in a national commercial for Light n’ the Night. She dances and sings for the 50th anniversary celebration for Jacks restaurant. She also appears in a national commercial for “Cool Smiles” Dentistry.

The youngster has also taken part in a photo shoot for a print advertisement for Carvell Chocolates, according to Linda Rutledge, the director at Ariana’s booking agency, Babes ’n Beaus, in Marietta.

“Ariana is one of those special kids that only comes around every now and then,” said Rutledge. “When you meet her, she blows you away with her talent, personality and total charm.”

The young actress said the best thing about performing in the commercials was meeting new friends. One of her friends is also signed with her agency and appeared in Ariana’s Moe’s commercial. “She’s very bubbly and is an amazing actor,” said Katherine Shepler, of Roswell. “She is very self-controlled, even though she has a lot of energy. Anyone who sees her, falls in love with her, and she was fun to work with.”

At age 5, Ariana appeared on “America’s Got Talent,” where she sang her way to the celebrity round of the talent competition. “I met Nick Cannon, Piers Morgan, Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel,” said Ariana. “My first big passion is singing. I love singing ... I love to sing to my family.”

The young starlet credits her mother with teaching her how to sing.

“We noticed her singing talent when she was younger, ” said Anna Neal. “I have been singing to her since she was a baby. At age 3, she started singing the songs back to me.”

The tunes the mother and daughter like to sing together most, they said, are: “Smile,” by Charlie Chaplin. and “You are my Sunshine.”

Ariana and her family are originally from Champaign, Ill.