Isis: Time Warner Cable is really doing something that’s innovative. This is the first time that I’ve been aware of a huge cable [operator] taking a gamble and focusing on a community that is tailored to just African Americans and highlighting the things we are doing in the community outside entertainment.
Time Warner Cable canvassed their African-American audience and got the following feedback: Diversity should be represented on cable TV as it is in life—and that requires a commitment beyond celebrating Black History Month. So, in an effort to create culturally relevant programming for its African American customers, this fall the MSO is premiering a new talk show on TWC On Demand that spotlights African Americans making a significant contribution in the entertainment, sports and music industries, as well as in their communities.
There was a hole that needed to be filled, according to Marisol Martinez, senior director of target marketing for TWC. “What was missing was a lack of positive portrayals of the experience and culture of the African-American community,” she says. To find the hosts for the new show, a three-month-long nationwide contest was launched. Casting calls took place in Charlotte, New York, Dallas, Los Angeles (top markets within the MSO’s footprint) and on Facebook. Auditions were done live before celebrity judges and prominent African Americans or online via the “Born to Shine” Facebook page, where contestants uploaded audition videos showcasing their interviewing chops.
“Born to Shine” aims to highlight substance within the African-American community—not just celebrity. Guest interviewed will have an inspiring story to tell, says Martinez, and they’ll be plucked from both the limelight and behind the camera. “That’s the essence of this—people who are directors, producers, makeup artists, those who contributed to helping others achieve their dreams—will share their story lines.” TWC will work with the core channels that focus on programs for African Americans, such as TV One, the Africa Channel and the Gospel Music Channel, to produce something that “truly showcases the diverse experiences of the African-American community across our footprint.” The idea, says Martinez, was to “move beyond a one-off program, or a 30-second spot.”
At once passionate, articulate and humble, the four contest winners really do seem born to be talk show hosts. Kornelius Bascombe, 22, of Raleigh, NC, took fourth place in Oprah Winfrey Network’s 2010 "Your OWN Show" competition; Carmela King, 27, of Dallas, TX, is a Spanish teacher and performing arts aficionado; Isis McKenzie, 33, of Los Angeles, CA, is former Ms. Black California USA and owner of her own production company; and Ashlei Stevens, 28, of Brooklyn, NY, is host and producer of the online entertainment show DPVN.net. No celebrities at this helm; no reality TV stars to boost ratings. Because a major goal of the program is to help jumpstart careers. “By identifying new talent and giving them an opportunity,” says Martinez, “we are able to showcase the stories of real people.”
CableFAX sat down with the four winners to chat about the upcoming project.
CableFAX: Congratulations on winning the contest. So whom would you all most like to interview on the show?
Ashlei: To be able to sit there with Bill Cosby, that would totally rock my world. He is one of the most significant people in this country to me because he totally changed the way in which American views the African-American family structure. He’s an educator, he’s a comedian—but he’s done so much more. I’m from the South, and unfortunately there’s this perception that African Americans are always going to make you laugh. You’re born to be a comedian. All my life I was told I was funny. Yes, I guess I’m funny, but that’s not where my career and my passions lie. But I see how Bill Cosby made it happen—he’s broken beyond comedy. Even though I was told this is what I’m going do and this is what people expect from me, I can break beyond that and say, my greatness is not limited to what you think I’m going to be.
Isis: My response may sound a little cliché, but I’m sticking to it. It has to be Miss Oprah Winfrey. The fact that I’m in this career stems from first seeing her on television when I was 14. I knew immediately beyond a shadow of a doubt that’s what I wanted to do. It had nothing to do with the fact that she was on television—it was the fact that she was in a position where she could inspire a mass audience simultaneously, through her words, and her education. And I thought, that is the best media to use—television—because you can touch so many lives all at once. It took a lot for someone to be African American and female, to have grown up in poverty, and now to be one of the wealthiest women in the world. She was my mentor. She didn’t know it at the time, but every genuine step I’ve taken has been based on, what did Oprah do? She ran for a pageant, I ran for a pageant. She majored in communication studies in college, I majored in communication studies in college. Literally, I’m stepping in her footsteps—intentionally.
CableFAX: She’s now the CEO of her company, so is that your next goal?
Isis: Yeah, I have a few years, but I’m working on that. It’s a work in progress.
Carmela: There are always so many people. But definitely a more recent artist [would be] Miguel Jontel. I love his voice, his style—he’s so fresh. On the actor/actress side, I’d love to interview Meagan Good. She just gets attention—she makes heads turn. Those are two people I’d love to interview, among others.
Kornelius: I’ve always been a big fan of Oprah Winfrey and President Barack Obama because of their story. They both came from a single parent home, and that’s what I relate to. They are really succeeding at what they love doing, which is to help people. Also, being African American is a plus. And I’d always love to interview my wife, Alicia Keys. Seeing her success over a 10-year period, watching her blossom into an amazing artist….I would love to interview anyone who sends an inspiring message to African Americans, and young people—I think that’s the key thing that I really want to do with this talk show.
Editor’s Note: Though he aspires to be, Kornelius is not actually married to Alicia Keys.
CableFAX: Do you feel that “Born to Shine” fills a void in African-American programming?
Carmela: Especially after traveling abroad, [I realized that] if you don’t see enough diversity on television, you tend to draw conclusions that may or may not be accurate. “Born to Shine” is an incredible opportunity to put African Americans in that positive light and create a balance on television. Thinking on a national and international scale, the show is needed for empowerment. We’re all very thankful, and we hope that it’s something inspiring and it is empowering to people—whether they’re from the African American community or not. And I love the fact that the program wants to include both members in the community and members in the entertainment industry.
Kornelius: I really want to be an inspiration for young people. And by serving in this capacity, they will know that they can achieve anything. I can see myself as a young child, thinking I couldn’t be in front of a television screen, a doctor or whatever, and this is a testament that you can really do anything.