Actor William Levy has danced his way into America’s heart. (Photo/Getty Images)

From soap star to America’s sweetheart, William Levy’s rise as a crossover star

William Levy has been named one of the sexiest stars of 2012 and has appeared on the cover of dozens of Spanish and English magazines; he’s the face of a major soda brand (mango flavored Pepsi, anyone?) and is slated to work with one of Hollywood’s hottest directors (that would be “Madea” franchise genius Tyler Perry, whose films gross an average $52 million).

Adding momentum to his rapidly rising career are the rumors that the Cuban actor is in the running for a film adaptation of the steamy novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” – easily the most anticipated movie of the coming year. With the added honor of being nominated for “Favorite TV Reality, Variety, Comedy, Personality or Act,” at the 2012 ALMA Awards, it’s clear that this year has been full of success for the actor who just last year was relatively unknown among U.S. audiences.

But the transition from telenovela star to America’s sweetheart didn’t happen overnight. Born in a small town just east from Havana, Cuba, star immigrated to Miami, Florida just before his 15th birthday; an opportunity Levy says he’s extremely thankful for.

“Every time I eat, I think about it, ‘Oh my God, imagine if I ate this in Cuba,'” Levy, the eldest of four brothers, said in an interview earlier this year with Nightline. “You get to enjoy so much everything you do. For me, life is incredible.”

Levy briefly attended St. Thomas University in Florida on a baseball scholarship before moving to Los Angeles to pursue acting. Later, enrolled in an acting course at Televisa’s Center for Artistic Training in Mexico, Levy caught the eye of Spanish television producers casting for Spanish television reality shows. It only took a few appearances for television executives took note: Levy’s telegenic presence made Latina viewers tune in.

With a role on Univision’s soap “Olvidarte Jamas,” in 2005, Levy – quickly dubbed “The Latino Brad Pitt” – emerged into the limelight. By 2008, the actor was tapped to star in Mexican drama “Pasión” and with a lead role in “Cuidado con el ángel” opposite pop star Maite Perroni, his popularity as a sexy small screen icon was born. With multiple roles in a number of successful telenovelas south of the border – drawing millions of viewers – Levy seemed like an obvious choice to play Jennifer Lopez’s love interest in her 2011 music video, “I’m Into You.”

It only took a few smoldering looks on camera but Levy’s shirtless presence in the chart-topping video made one thing clear: this was one guy with major crossover appeal. In February 2012, it became official when William Levy, branded as a “Telenovela Star,” was tapped to join the 14th season of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

Over the course of his stint on 19 episodes, the actor shook and shimmied his way to third place, dancing into the hearts of American viewers with his charismatic and energetic personality.

“It doesn’t take a prophet. He is going to cross over,” Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, told the Sun Sentinel newspaper in May. “Look at how the audience responds to him. He is going to be a major star.”

Since the show ended in May of this year, Levy – who has two children with Mexican actress Elizabeth Gutiérrez – has enjoyed a successful career as an actor and personality with major crossover success. Even so, when it comes to his success the star is eternally humble, telling PEOPLE magazine, “To come to this country and receive this kind of love from people you don’t even know, it’s amazing.”

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