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The Transformation Of Yaya DaCosta From Childhood To Chicago Med

It's always great when a diligent, hardworking performer who's been doing quality work for a long time manages to reach a high degree of stability on the small screen. On that note, fans of Yaya DaCosta have had plenty of reasons to celebrate over the past few years. Following a majorly successful run as part of the main ensemble of NBC's "Chicago Med," the New York City-born actress is now enjoying the opportunity to lead a TV show all on her own with Fox's "Our Kind of People" — and there's no reason to think she'll stop here.

Born Camara DaCosta Johnson in Harlem in 1982, DaCosta is Brazilian American, with African roots, and has a degree in Africana Studies from Brown University (via ABC News). DaCosta's background has definitely influenced her life, with the actress having spent time living in both the Dominican Republic and Brazil, even learning Portuguese (via NPR). Her trajectory as a performer began nearly 20 years ago, and, like many other actors and actresses, she originally started out in modeling before making a pivot to acting.

She started out as a contestant in America's Next Top Model

"America's Next Top Model" was one of the most successful reality competition series in the history of American TV, with more than 20 seasons that left a lasting impact on pretty much every reality series that has come after. But, back in 2004, it was still "merely" a hit new offering entering its third season.

The season in question was won by Eva Pigford, but YaYa DaCosta, then 21 years old, wasn't too far behind. A consistent high performer across all episodes and challenges — especially acting-related ones — DaCosta ultimately emerged as the runner-up of "Cycle 3." As she's made no secret of in the years since, modeling was always meant to be a gateway to an acting career. Sure enough, her "ANTM" run did the trick.

Her participation piqued the entertainment industry's attention, leading to her first handful of acting roles. First, she had a guest spot in the UPN sitcom "Eve," then appearances in the music videos for Kanye West's "Gold Digger" and Chingy's "Pullin' Me Back" (via Soap Opera Network). In fact, DaCosta was a bit of an it girl in hip-hop and R&B videos during the late 2000s, also appearing in the videos for Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls," Jay-Z's "Roc Boys," and Raphael Saadiq's "Good Man" (via IMDb).

Take the Lead was the catalyst for her acting career

Yaya DaCosta's acting career achieved proper liftoff in 2006, when she took on a supporting role in the popular dance movie "Take the Lead," directed by veteran music video helmer Liz Friedlander. In addition to a dance movie, "Take the Lead" is also an inspirational teacher movie, based on the true story of ballroom dancing instructor and educator Pierre Dulaine (via Dancing Classrooms).

In the film, Dulaine, portrayed by Antonio Banderas, volunteers to teach lessons at a New York public high school, and he takes it upon himself to change the troubled kids' lives through dancing. Yaya DaCosta plays LaRhette Dudley, a student who loves dancing but has trouble making time for it while caring for her younger siblings. Pierre's lessons help LaRhette become closer to Jason "Rock" Rockwell (Rob Brown), and the two live out the film's main romantic subplot.

Her part in "Take the Lead" led to more film roles for DaCosta, in projects such as "Honeydripper" and "The Messenger." But the big development for her at this career stage was the soap opera role she landed next.

She was a regular cast member in All My Children

One of the most interesting dynamics in "Our Kind of People" is the one between Yaya DaCosta's Angela Vaughn and her honest-to-goodness aunt, Patricia "Aunt Piggy" Williams, portrayed by Debbi Morgan. But the Fox show is not the first time DaCosta and Morgan have played family members. More than a decade earlier, they also played mother and daughter in "All My Children."

DaCosta joined the ever-rotating cast of the long-running ABC soap opera in 2008, in the role of Cassandra Foster. The teenage adoptive daughter of Angela Hubbard (Morgan) and Jacob Foster (Darnell Williams), Cassandra was a regular on the show throughout 2008. DaCosta played the character for a total of 44 episodes (via IMDb), but she eventually ended up leaving the "All My Children" soundstage for a different kind of stage. 

Between 2008 and 2009, DaCosta was part of the ensemble of a Signature Theater Company revival of the Leslie Lee play "The First Breeze of Summer," playing the younger version of Leslie Uggams' family matriarch, Gremmar Lucretia Edwards (via Variety).

Her performance as Whitney Houston was acclaimed

The stage experience seemed to galvanize Yaya DaCosta as an actress. In the years following "The First Breeze of Summer," she appeared in many different film and TV projects, including recurring stints in "Ugly Betty" and "House," and supporting roles in movies such as "The Kids Are All Right," "Tron: Legacy," "In Time," "Mother of George," and "Lee Daniels' The Butler" (via IMDb).

But it was in 2015, playing Whitney Houston in the Angela Bassett-directed TV biopic "Whitney," that DaCosta really had a chance to show the depth of her talents. Despite facing some cultural and critical stigma as a Lifetime movie, "Whitney" managed to draw across-the-board acclaim for its central performance. The Daily Beast's Kevin Fallon noted that, "Though DaCosta doesn't do her own singing in the film, she undulates through a young Whitney Houston's brittle emotions with the same mix of wanton recklessness and studied control the singer herself puts into her vocal runs." 

The A.V. Club's Joshua Alston, meanwhile, commended the actress for "playing Houston with a level of grace that could have only grown out of genuine curiosity about the woman behind the mask," and, remarking on the years it took for DaCosta to nab a leading part, even argued point-blank that "were it not a Lifetime biopic, 'Whitney' would deservedly elevate her career."

Be that as it may, "Whitney" certainly proved DaCosta's mettle to anyone who still needed convincing — and what came after it is no wonder.

She was the heart of Chicago Med for six seasons

Yaya DaCosta was known for being an icy, ruthlessly efficient contestant during her "America's Next Top Model" season, but you'd never guess that based on her role in "Chicago Med." From the show's debut in 2015 until her exit in 2021, DaCosta played April Sexton, an endlessly kind and caring ED nurse at Gaffney Chicago Medical Center.

True to the actress' own roots, April is also Brazilian American herself — "Sexton" being nothing more than an Anglicization of her parents' Brazilian surname "Suassuna." In a detail that contributed to making her one of the show's most beloved characters, April often shows that her sweet, empathetic personality doesn't stop her from being the most levelheaded member of the Gaffney staff during times of calamity. April also became popular enough to appear in several of the "One Chicago" franchise crossover episodes, scoring credits in "Chicago Fire" and "Chicago P.D."

Although DaCosta ultimately left "Chicago Med" in order to take the lead role in "Our Kind of People," she nonetheless left a permanent mark on the hit medical drama, especially on the character of Dr. Ethan Choi (Brian Tee), with whom April shares a rocky yet engrossing romance while working at Gaffney Chicago.