“CNN wants to book you!”, were the words I heard over the phone in summer of 2010 during senior year of college, hoping I’d have a job after graduation.
My dream of becoming an announcer started to come alive, and I wondered, is this what life is like when you start living your dream? If so, I want in.
I became the voice of Heroes, a special hosted by Anderson Cooper, and later that year, and in 2011, I was the voice of Black in America, a very compelling documentary series reported by Soledad O’Brien. Since then, I’ve been able to voice national commercials for Taco Bell, AT&T, and a host of other brands I admire, all before the age of 25.
But my story doesn’t start here.
In 2003, at 14 years old, I didn’t have a clue. But, I landed an internship at Black Entertainment Television (BET) at the offices in New York City. And according to Kevin at the front desk, I was the “youngest in charge”.
I knew I wanted to do one thing: Become a broadcaster.
It’s a broad goal, but when you’re young, you have broad goals, and you go after them because you believe it’s what you should be doing.
I spent most of my days transcribing, logging tapes, running for coffee and going from cubicle to cubicle, constantly being nosy, trying to find out if people really liked their job. But there were days that helped me realize what else I was good at, too. Like the time I went to Sony Studios to chat with Kanye West about his debut album. Or the time my legs were shaking as I interviewed Master P in the green room. I started getting better at telling stories.
And for some reason, the staff trusted me with these responsibilities. I did a good job, and most of the time, I did their job, too. But that’s what interns are for!
I interned at the network until I was 18. No, they didn’t fire me (though they probably could have because I spent nights in the meeting room watching TV). I went off to college. Grabbed my dorm key, and headed to Atlanta to continue doing the work I gained a passion for during my days at the network.
I studied Mass Media Arts. I just wanted to tell stories for TV. And honestly, I didn’t know how, or in what form that would happen. In 2007, during my freshmen year, my roommate and I were joking in the dorm, and we discovered the voices behind commercials we all see on TV, and hear on radio. Soon after, I started prank calling kids in my dorm, and using a voice similar to this one.
My RA got wind of my voice talent, and immediately drafted me to announce one of the University’s biggest events. Everyone in Atlanta began calling me “The Voice”. And I announced every single event afterwards. Even recorded a few voicemails for my friends, and amazed visitors during campus tours.
That summer, I got a really big opportunity. I had my first audition: To become the voice of the BET Awards. I sounded like the guys who were already doing it. Like one of my heroes, the late Don La Fontaine. So, it wasn’t natural. I didn’t get the job. The original recording is here.
I kept going forward, because I felt like I finally found something people needed to hear.
In 2009, I posted my voice demo everywhere. Sent emails and bugged my family and friends, posted it on my blogs, and of course, on Facebook. One night in particular, someone actually responded. It was a TV producer saying:
“Hey Kareem! Please be sure to send your demo over here when you can!”
I sent the tape, and was even invited to the offices. To my surprise, in summer 2010, I got a call saying “CNN wants to book you!”, and that summer of my senior year of college, I landed my first commercial, as the voice of Heroes, a special hosted by Anderson Cooper.
I had been tapped on the shoulder, to do what I’ve been preparing for.
In August, after graduating, I moved back to New York, and got an agent. Though my voice was on CNN, I still had to figure out a way to pay rent. Because that money wouldn’t last forever, especially if I wasn’t landing jobs every day.
I picked up a job at a restaurant. Waiting tables. And I did this because I knew this would be the only way I’d be able to do something crazy… like follow my dreams. In the summer of 2011, in a move I’ve been thanking GOD for since, I landed three huge gigs in one week. One of them being the voice of Taco Bell’s Chicken Flatbread sandwich. It went national.
I saved up my money, brought a home studio, and started broadcasting a radio show from my bedroom. It has attracted nearly 600 subscribers, and 17,000 downloads, and even landed a cool gig interviewing some of today’s most influential people.
Then, today, I saw something. BET’s holding auditions for a new host of 106 & Park. And for some reason, it struck a chord with me in a way it never has. Not because of the shows popularity, or what it can do for careers. It struck a chord with me because it’s a great platform to tell compelling stories that matter. Not just on that show, but the entire network. I started as an intern there nearly ten years ago, and partly due to the network, I have since gone on to do things I once dreamed of. I’m not from the best of neighborhoods, didn’t go to the best grade schools.
Though I’ve still wondered, would a television network with a demographic aimed at teens and young adults, hire an on-air bald guy who still watches wrestling? Thoughts like that make me smile.
I’m not asking you to spam people with hashtags, and I don’t have an audition video for you to watch. I’m simply asking that you share this story with someone you think needs to see it. Thank you for reading, and thank you for being the change you want to see in the world.
Talk to you soon.
P.S: I’ll be updating you over the next few days, and letting you know how much of an impact you’ve made by sharing this story. We’re trying to get 5,000 people to share this. It might work.
July 4th: 200 people
July 5th: 1,240 people = 1,440
July 6th: 2,000 people = 3,440
July 7th: 2,350 people = 5,790 (and counting)