Huffington Post Featured Interview with Randy Thomas
You’re watching Entertainment Tonight!”…“Live from Hollywood, it’s the Academy Awards!”…these iconic phrases are known the world over by Randy Thomas, the preeminent voice-over artist in America. Randy’s resume is stunning: The Oscars (8x) The Super Bowl (3x), The Emmy Awards (5x), The Tony Awards (18x), SAG Awards (5x) and Entertainment Tonight (14 years and counting). Most recently, Randy can be heard announcing the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame Inductions (3x), The Kennedy Center Honors (2x), and promo campaigns for CNN.
“She is the female standard in the industry,” says Entertainment Tonight producer/director Kevin Gershan. Thomas describes her voice as “strong, authoritative, warm and elegant.” To bring to life the words on a page, she works with her clients to understand their messages and brands, and uses her acting training to present her voice accordingly. Since her voice is her primary tool of the trade, she keeps it healthy by avoiding acid-forming foods containing sugar, dairy products and wheat, and by drinking water laced with organic essential oils.
In addition to voice over, with more than 20 years of experience as a radio personality in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Miami, Thomas has gone on to achieve her dreams as one of the most recognizable voice-over artists in the world as well as co-author of “VOICE FOR HIRE: Launch and Maintain a Lucrative Career in Voice-Overs” (Watson-Guptill Publications, a division of Random House Inc.).
As her level of fame and influence continues to grow, Randy created The VO Mastery Summit, an exclusive assemblage of leading international voice-over professionals. During this 3 day event, celebrities and coaches – who are experiencing unprecedented success – share secrets and strategies of how you can achieve a successful career in voice-over and beyond.
She is the female standard in the industry – Kevin Gershan
Up next, Randy returns to announce The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April and The Tony Awards in June 2017 in New York City.
I assume being a voice-over artist is a competitive field. How do you make yourself stand out?
The voice over business is extremely competitive. Having a brand that makes you stand out from the competition is imperative. My brand is defined by the work that I do. It was launched the first time I announced the Academy Awards and grew with the many shows I have been blessed to be a part of including this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show and the 89th Academy Awards.
You made history as the first woman to announce the Academy Awards, Emmy Awards, SAG Awards, and AFI Awards. Why had they not used women until you came along? How did you change their mind?
Good question. My generation was the first to break away from the dominant patriarchal voice. At the time, I was so grateful to have been chosen to bring my voice to the broadcast, I didn’t dwell on the fact that it had taken sixty-five years for a woman to get there. Having the honor of becoming the first woman to kick that door open was a profound moment for me and has continued to inspire me to use my voice for positive change. I never dreamed of announcing the Oscars but when the question was posed to me, “How will you react when you are speaking live to the world?” I answered as honestly as I could, “I spent over 20 years on the radio as a DJ, and I know that when the red-light goes on I am at the top of my game.” I think that answer may have inspired their confidence in me.
Did your radio personality career precede your voice-over career? What, exactly, did you do on the radio? And how did it affect or lead to your voice-over work?
Yes. I was an on-air radio personality, first working as a rock radio DJ early in my broadcasting career with various formats along the way. From rock to adult contemporary to new age jazz was excellent training to becoming a voice actor because each format has a very specific target audience. My last on-air job was in Los Angeles on KTWV 94.7 The Wave hosting the morning drive shift for almost 3 years.
Two big things happened for me during my time on-the-air in Los Angeles – I became the voice of an ‘80s Educational Project called Hooked on Phonics. Perhaps you remember hearing me say, “Get Hooked on Phonics. Call 1-800 ABC-DEFG!” Then being selected from all of the women who auditioned for the 65th Academy Awards set my path from that moment forward as a live announcer.
I would guess that most little girls don’t start out with the dream of being a voice-over artist. What were your initial career goals?
I survived a very dysfunctional childhood, and then “boom”, it was the ‘70s, where the exploration of self, sex, drugs and rock & roll was not only encouraged, it was the norm. I was desperate to be seen, heard, and appreciated. I thought acting would be my ticket to a life that I would love, so I left home at 17 to go to New York to study acting. I enrolled at HB Studios in preparation for trying my hand at theatre. Nothing can prepare you for the enormous amount of rejection an aspiring actor must endure while pounding the streets of New York.Before long, I returned home to Detroit trying to figure out what else I could do. I loved music more than life itself back then and listened to every record while reading the back of every album cover. Not to mention the prospect of meeting some of the biggest rock stars on the planet was a big lure for me to get into radio. Eventually I found my way onto my college radio station, and then onto the top rock station in Detroit. I never looked back.
Are you the only show business person in your family?
My husband, Arnie Wohl, who has been by my side and helped manage my career, played a seminal role in Paula Abdul’s career when he was part of the management team that took her from a Laker girl to a pop superstar.Arnie’suncle, Jack Wohl, has been in the industry for over 50 years, and his son, Steve Wohl, is an executive at Paradigm. I never thought of radio as show business, but once I started to work in television, I had that pinch-me moment when I realized that I really am in show business.I would never encourage my daughter to follow in my path because of the struggles.She is currently enrolled at USC as a double business major at Marshall and at Spielberg in the Business of Cinematic Arts program.
What made you decide to pursue the voice-over career?
I moved to Los Angeles in my late twenties to work on the radio, and also tried my hand at acting for the camera. After all, I was in Hollywood. But getting rejected before you even said a word – just based on your looks – was devastating. In voice-over, they don’t judge you until they hear you open your mouth and interpret their copy.
Why did you choose that over pursuing an on-camera career?
Longevity. Most women doing on-camera work are done by the time they hit 40. In voice over, as long as you take care of your voice you can work as long as you like. It’s a career with which you can grow old. And I needed that because the women in my family live quite a long time. My maternal grandmother died at 101, and my mom is 94 and still bowls twice a week.
You mean, “Why am I teaching my future competition how to ultimately replace me?” I believe when you master a craft and are blessed to earn a living doing what you love, you need to reach a hand back and teach others who are following in your path. With my Voice Over Mastery Events, I bring top voice actors, producers, agents, and coaches to share their best practices and tips with aspiring voice actors. There is a lot that goes into building a career that will sustain itself, and I have learned how to navigate those treacherous waters, so I try to share what I have learned.
What made you settle in Florida, and what brought you back to LA?
My love of family. I had our daughter in my 40s and dreamed of a quiet, small-town life for her. I left LA during the second stage of my career. There are four stages to your career:
1) Who’s Randy Thomas? 2) Get Randy Thomas. 3) Get me a young Randy Thomas, and 4) Who’s Randy Thomas? Technology allowed me to leave LA during the “Get Randy Thomas” phase and still maintain the high level of work I had been doing. In 2016, we sold our Florida home and moved back for my career, but mostly because our daughter is in college here.
Which of your announcing gigs has been your favorite and why?
That’s a tough one. It’s Oscar who brought me to the dance, however the producers of The Tony Awards have allowed me the thrill of announcing the Tony Awards for eighteen consecutive years. The production team of Ricky Kirshner, Glenn Weiss and Rob Pain made one of my biggest dreams come true when they invited me to announce The Kennedy Center Honors. And for the third time Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman are bringing me back for this year’s The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, which totally taps into my music roots, allowing me to help honor those special artists whose music helped shape my life.
How do you protect your voice and keep it in shape?
My voice responds to a holistic approach. I completely avoid sugar, dairy and citrus just before a big show. I do my vocal warm-ups, and I have a few ways that I love to exercise to get my cardio. I play tennis, do Pilates and yoga. I also meditate to stay connected and balanced. I’m not always 100% consistent, but I do practice what I preach most of the time.
Could you take us through the process of doing a voice-over job, from the audition to getting the gig, to the preparation, to the performance, and anything else in between you feel would be of interest?
If you ask voice over artists what we do every day, we will tell you we audition for a living. Every day we track and send back auditions sent to us by our agents. If you book 1 out of 50 auditions, you are doing great! That means that 49 out of 50 times you are rejected. To win an audition, you must be able to break down the copy or script you are sent. Is it television, radio or an internet spot? What is the message and to whom you are speaking? The goal is to honor the writer’s intention by relating the message in the way the writer and producer envision. Now, if the client likes you, you move to the next audition round where you may only be competing against one or two other voices. Even if you don’t book the audition, you need to count a call-back as a win. It means you were really close, but for whatever reason, they liked the other voice a bit more. Should you actually book that job, celebrate! Winning is victory. It means money in the bank. It boosts your confidence as well as your agent’s belief in your ability. With every audition we are always learning, losing, winning and growing.
Anything left on your bucket list?
I am always adding to the bucket list to insure my future dreams and goals. We are living in an important time where it is imperative for each of us to use our voice to create the future we want. I wake up every day and ask, “How may I best serve today?” I am always open to lending my voice to a needy cause. As far as what else I would like to accomplish in VO? I would like to crack the movie trailer business. It is the one place where men are heard almost exclusively. I cannot understand why animated films who are marketing to families and kids still use male voices. A woman’s voice is perfect for those kinds of films. Actually, I think a woman’s voice is perfect for every genre. That’s the next door I would like to kick open.
What would you recommend as the best preparation for someone considering a career as a voice-over artist?
Study with someone who teaches acting for the microphone. Get a professional assessment of your voice potential. Don’t just read my book, read any book that speaks to the craft of voice acting. Identify and explore your booking potential in each of those genres: commercials, network promos, documentaries, animation, and video game voices to name a few. Find the best coach available and a producer who is within your budget to create your demo. That is your audio calling card. Then, you have to learn how to record and edit your audio and finally how to market your voice once all of your tools are in place. If this is a path you want to pursue, let me know and I’ll point you in the right direction.
Who were/are you role models in the profession?
Don LaFontaine and Peter Thomas. Both of these incredibly talented men are now gone, but I treasure the relationship I had with each of them. Don made many contributions to the industry and was famously known by his “In A World” trailer voice. He shared with me what it takes to be successful as a voice actor, a business not for the faint of heart. He showed me the ropes. In addition to being my dear friend and mentor, Don generously wrote the foreword to my book, Voice for Hire. Tragically he died the month it was released, and I believe he has been one of my angels ever since.
I met Peter Thomas when I was living in Ft. Myers, Florida. Peter’s voice will always be associated with Forensic Files and the Emmy Award winning NOVA documentaries. As far as I am concerned, Peter was the greatest living narrator and he who shared with me his secret of “painting pictures with words.” Peter passed away in 2016 at age 91, and he was working right up to the end. Both Peter and Don left an indelible mark on my soul as my friends and mentors.
Your desert island choices for:
Book: The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, The Alchemist Paolo Coelho, anything from Rumi
Movie: The Sound of Music, Annie Hall, Broadcast News
Music: Beatles Collection, Joni Mitchell, John Mayer
TV show: Modern Family, Seinfeld, Friends
App: Spotify, Solitaire
Any person in history for conversation: Oprah/Moses
Any person in history for romance: If it couldn’t be my husband then I am all about the voice so I choose James Earl Jones.
Do you have a favorite celebrity encounter story from your career?
Oprah Winfrey. I was announcing the Oscars during the Uma/Oprah year, and after the show I was looking for my husband to go to the ball. I looked ahead and there was Oprah, Steadman and Quincy Jones coming up the aisle. I bolted to where they were so that I could introduce myself. As soon as I said, “Hi Oprah my name is Randy Thomas.”… She stopped me and said, “I know who you are.” My eyes went wide with shock as she continued, “Your husband told me all about you!” He had just spent five minutes telling her she is my hero. I was gobsmacked.
Was success always a smooth ride for you, or did you have any periods of struggle, rejection, mistakes or failure? If so, can you share a few and reveal how you got through them?
For me success in life is never a smooth ride. The road to success is filled with potholes, bumps and upsets on a path that is long and rocky. But if you hang in there, are lucky enough to have a dream, and work really hard at actualizing that dream, the Universe will sometimes surprise you with a once-in-a-lifetime experience or opportunity.
The pathway to a happy and secure life for me has often shown me there is no “there” there. Life is about the journey, always moving forward. Coming from the broken home of a working class family, I never knew what it was like to not worry about money. I am always working toward building that financial security for myself and my family. I have had great success and great struggles, both of which have taught me to never give up, ever. Always try one more time to reach for your dreams, because you never know when divine intervention will intersect with your highest destiny.
Any hobbies or interests?
I will definitely cultivate some hobbies later in my life. Right now, I love what I do so much that all I am constantly thinking about new projects. Maybe it’s the hardships of my childhood that continues to drive me. I am constantly writing and creating new potential revenue streams. I am working on a shopping app. I am launching a new podcast this summer with some amazing friends with the intention of creating a special audio gathering place for like-minded women, young and old.
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