Act like a Winner - with 2014 ABC Digital Talent Competition winner, Khalilah Joi
So you’re just another actor living in Los Angeles. Every other person here seems to be just like you: from another place, moved to LA in hopes of making it big in TV or film, or hell, even a web series (and actually, a web series seems like the right way to go these days…if only you could get started.). You follow what everyone says to do: get into class, go to workshops, build relationships, try to get an agent. You hear so many different and sometimes conflicting opinions on what you should and shouldn’t do, you don’t know what’s right or wrong. Money’s so tight, Chipotle is “sponsoring” your napkin supply at home. You have no idea how people are surviving financially, and able to keep an open, flexible schedule for auditions (not to mention also having to shell out all the money for the things it seems to take to make any progress in your career).
Admit it. You’ve been there. You’ve felt like quitting, like crying after not getting a role, just because you can. And want to. Because, it should’ve been YOU. Okay, you’ve earned that much. Now stop, and just do one more thing for your career. Read an acting book (Self-Management for Actors is fabulous), listen to an acting podcast (Inside Acting. 'Nuff said), or just watch an episode of your favorite TV show (just by that last habit, I’m working on my career a lot). Or you could enter this Digital Talent Competition that ABC is putting on. It’s free. All you need is a reader and something to record yourself with. Use your phone, if you have nothing else. Or if you want it to look more professional, go somewhere that can tape it for you, like UnderCurrent Studios (they're offering 20% off on tapings for those entering the contest this week).
You may have never entered something like this before. You may think it’s impossible; there’s going to be thousands of MORE talented actors than you entering this. How could you possibly stand out in the mass sea of people? Why even bother? Well, I can’t answer that for you, but you can win $25,000. And in starving artist talk, that’s a lot of money. But I know you didn’t go into acting for the money (and if you are, maybe you should google some actor salary statistics. Or just talk to an actor). If you win this contest, it brings with it intangible prizes, arguably the most important one being able to build invaluable relationships.
I was so lucky to be able to interview one of the winners of last year’s contest, Khalilah Joi. She’s an amazing actress, who was kind enough to dedicate some of her busy schedule to answer some questions about what her journey as an actor has been so far, and what the process of winning the contest was like for her.
How did you find out about the contest, and what was your process in entering?
I found out about the ABC competition from my friend, Bechir Sylvain, who had won the competition in the previous year. He called to tell me that they were taking submissions and told me that I needed to do it. I kind of put it off for a while thinking, ‘what are the chances?’ But I had promised Bechir I would, so eventually, I registered online, picked my scene, had it filmed and uploaded it. The process was really that easy. ABC makes it simple for anyone, no matter where you live, to participate.
(Watch her winning audition here)
Why do you think you won, and how do you feel it has changed you and your life?
That’s an impossible question. LOL. I have no idea why I won. I was proud of the work I did and really gave it my all, but I think most actors do that with every audition. I can’t say for sure what it was that the casting executives saw that made them choose me. But I sure am grateful they did.
The competition has really given me an incredible amount of exposure and huge opportunities. Having a powerhouse like ABC Entertainment Group supporting me is invaluable. I’m able to get into casting rooms that I wasn’t able to get in before. Having casting directors know you and know your work is a big deal because they keep you in mind when the right roles come along. Also, having a mentor at ABC is such a gift. Being able to learn from someone who is so experienced in the industry is really fantastic. Winning the competition has given me that extra boost in my career to help me continue growing and propel me to the next level.
Could you walk us through how you found out you won the contest, to the process that followed?
There were two rounds of the competition. After the first scene submission, I was notified that I was a semi-finalist and needed to submit a second scene. Once that was done, I found out a few weeks later that I was a finalist and that the executives would be making their decision soon. And I just waited. Honestly, I did NOT think I had won because I knew the announcement was coming soon and I hadn’t heard anything. And then, I got a phone call that changed my whole world. When they told me I won, I was kind of a babbling idiot for the first few seconds and eventually got myself together enough to say “thank you.” It was truly one of the coolest moments of my life.
After winning, I started auditioning for pilots immediately, which was amazing! I went in to the corporate offices to meet with a bunch of the casting executives in person. I was also assigned a mentor at ABC, whom I could call or meet with, to discuss really anything! It’s been awesome getting to learn more about how the television industry works from someone so experienced and just getting to pick her brain. (My mentor is Emily DesHotel, and she’s wonderful!) I signed a one-year holding deal with ABC and won $25,000! Talk about happy! LOL. Later that year, I was also able to participate in the ABC Talent Showcase, which is something ABC has done for years in an effort to introduce new and diverse talent to the industry. We got to perform scenes in a theater filled with industry executives (directors, producers, casting directors, etc.), and then had the chance to meet with a lot of them after. Such a great opportunity!
Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, and how you got into the world of acting
I was born in Thomasville, GA and raised in Hampton, VA! Definitely a Southern girl at heart. I did some school plays when I was younger, but I didn’t actually get into acting until after college.
I attended the University of Virginia and graduated with an English degree. I planned to go into broadcast journalism. After graduation, I got a job working at a local news station in Norfolk, VA. It was then that I realized journalism might not be the right career path for me. I wasn’t happy. I started doing local theater as a sort of outlet, (a hobby I guess,) and absolutely loved it. Then I signed up for some Drama courses at the Community College.
Soon after, I moved to Washington, D.C., started auditioning professionally and taking classes at the Studio Theater Conservatory. My hobby had turned into something much bigger, and I knew that acting was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. After a couple years in D.C., I packed up the car and headed to LA. And I’m still here.
Could you tell us about any funny or crazy stories you remember during your competition/showcase experience?
One of the moments that stands out for me was during the showcase scene selection process. Once showcase participants are chosen, we all get together and run a bunch of scenes in front of the executives so that they can choose which scenes will be performed in the actual showcase. We’re paired with various scene partners throughout the process. I remember getting a particular scene and being paired with an actor named Vinny Chhibber. When we went in to perform it, it was just one of those ‘magical’ moments. Vinny and I could barely make it through the scene because we were cracking each other up. The whole room was laughing, and it was awesome! I was pretty sure that would be the scene they chose and that Vinny would be my partner. And that’s exactly what happened.
If you could work on your dream project, with no limitations to a budget, what would it look like, who would it involve, and what would it be about?
My dream is to star in an action film. I actually started taking martial arts, so I could have that in my “bag of tricks” when the time comes. I have already written a prologue to the story, but I don’t want to give too much a way. I’m not sure who else I would cast in the film, but in terms of the look, it would be a mix between “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Sin City.” Badass!
Where do you hope to go from here, after the contest/with your career? Are you working on any projects that you’re excited about now?
I hope to just continue advancing in my career—booking more film and television roles, writing my own projects. I’ve even thought more about directing lately. I would love to be a series regular on a hit television show and do films during the hiatus. That would be a dream come true. This year has been awesome so far. I starred in a web series called “Sexless” this year and am now appearing in a spin-off of that show called “Chef Julian.” (These can be seen on BlackandSexy.tv with a subscription – it’s like Netflix.) I also just shot an episode of the hit show “Being Mary Jane,” which will air in Season 3 on BET.
An actor’s life sometimes resembles a roller coaster (especially emotionally). Can you take us back to one of your worst “down” times, and how you overcame it and what you took from it?
The hardest year of my life was 2010. We found out that my mom had advanced ovarian cancer. And after a very hard battle including chemo, radiation, you name it, my mom transitioned on October 29, 2010. She was my best friend and my soul mate. Still is. I wasn’t sure that I’d ever recover from that loss. And for a while I didn’t care about the business or anything else for that matter. I was too caught up in my own grief. But eventually, as I began to heal and learn how to navigate this world without her here (physically anyway), something became very clear to me—that I didn’t have time to second guess myself and waste energy on nonsense.
My mom was my biggest supporter, encourager, and fan. She believed in me from the very beginning, and I was not about to let her down by wallowing in self-pity. As devastating as it was, that experience ignited a flame in me that I refuse to let die out. There is no plan B. I am determined to live out my dreams, and I know that’s what my mom would want for me. Giving up is not an option. And with my angel by my side, I know I’ll make it!
I know actors’ daily lives are very inconsistent, but what might a typical day for you look like? What are some things you do to stay productive?
It changes from day-to-day. But I always like to work out. I didn’t used to like it, but it’s become a big part of my lifestyle now, and it really does make me feel good. I also try to meditate and stay spiritually grounded. If I’m not shooting a project or auditioning, I like to write (for pleasure, for my blog, or personal projects), and check the breakdowns and trades for information, so I know what’s casting. I stay pretty active on social media, which a great marketing tool. Occasionally, I just get together with other actors to run scenes, which is fun and a good way to stay sharp, especially if you’re not in a class. I also just like to have fun and hang out with my friends sometimes. I think it’s important to have that balance.
What advice would you give others looking to enter the contest?
First and foremost – do it! You have nothing to lose and so much to potentially gain. Just give it a shot. Secondly, I would say pick a scene that plays to your strengths and really resonates with you—makes you feel something, whether comedic or dramatic. And lastly, don’t sweat it too much. Do your work, prepare, give it your best and then let it go. Easier said than done, I know, but I think stressing yourself out about it won’t help.
How can people find out more about you, or reach out to you?
(This is my personal blog about growing up overweight and my ongoing fitness journey against the backdrop of Hollywood.)
I want to thank Khalilah for sharing her touching story with us. Hopefully she’s shown you that it IS possible to win. I can vouch that she’s a real human being. She’s beyond talented, and super nice, but she’s had her struggles, just like you. You do have a chance!
Forward this article to a friend, and work together with them to enter the contest. You can be each other’s readers, and work the camera for one another.
You only have a couple more days to get it done (entries are due Sunday, June 14, 2015), so hurry up and start!
Click here to enter: ABC Discovers Digital Talent Competition
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