‘The Ratchet Forrest Gump’ – aye?! Is that even a compliment? Going through a major switch in my career [well, in my life really!] – to some it may come as a surprise but to many, it doesn’t. Over the last six months I’ve been quite deliberate in taking steps towards making a break in entertainment. I’ve always enjoyed hamming it up for an audience but after spending three years in the US, surrounded by artists and performers of every kind at every level, I felt it was my time to give it a real shot.
Now here’s where my hippy traits step in. I truly believe you can speak things into existence [the act of making a declaration with witnesses then following through with it has been an ongoing reoccurrence for me]. I truly believe you need to put good energy out into the world in order to get it back. I was talking to my boo Court one day before I left New York when I said “I’m gonna crack the scene within a year – I don’t know how but I’m throwing it out there”. That’s my way of making myself accountable and that was it. That’s how it started.Coming back to New Zealand, I landed a gig tutoring and lecturing in Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland. I’ve been working in education for 10 years on getting our students through to university; it was a nice change to be on the other side of actually teaching content now.
In the middle of getting settled into my new role, I got in touch with my friend Emily Jackson for advice about local agents. We were at law school together and belonged to the same Hip Hop crew. She was working for the top entertainment law firm in the country [she resigned shortly after our chat to pursue dancing in New York] so I knew she’d know what’s up.
That’s how I came across Karen Kay Management. I set up an appointment and rocked up to their office without any real screen experience whatsoever [I’ve only ever been a contestant on “Strictly Dancing” and “Wheel Of Fortune”].Three minutes to make an impression! They represent some pretty serious actors and here you have this moepi with a quick mouth, spitting the hardest game he can to get signed. I managed to pull it off! Within a month I booked my first commercial. It got thrashed all over TV and YouTube. People hitting me up, talking about “I’m sick of seeing your face everywhere!” I got asked to MC the New Zealand Hairdressing Awards too [I swear my hair has been a blessing! I call it my bread and butter. Too glad I went Team Naptural and grew it out!]
There isn’t really all that much work going around in the industry in New Zealand – especially in presenting. The same small circle of players has a stronghold so I focused on my role in academia and continued to draw inspiration from my peers and colleagues making their mark. Everyone from my hoes Arden, Dan and Victor doing their thing on and off the field to some big movers and shakers in Pacific leadership like Walter Fraser, the Head of Pasifika Advancement at AUT and my current manager Damon Salesa, the first ever Pacific Rhodes scholar. A PhD was looking more and more like my destined route.
Then opportunity knocked when MTV announced a nationwide search for a host.
A few people told me to go for it but it wasn’t till my buddy Tim called me that I put my hat in the ring. He’s goofy as hell but he’s an astute businessman and he’s on point when it comes to making calls when it counts. If he thinks I have a good shot at taking it out then shit you damn skippy I’m taking his word for it.A couple of days before the deadline, I downloaded Instagram [which I previously vowed never to get!] and uploaded a 15 second video tryna convince Kate why she should pick me as her wingman. There were hundreds of entries on there and I watched every single one of them.
The following week MTV contacted me to say I had been shortlisted for a Skype interview! On the day, it was a pretty relaxed atmosphere but I’ve always been taught to treat every moment in front of a potential employer like it matters – never let your guard down. I spoke directly to the Music and Talent Manager, Mike Connor, while my mug was being projected to an off-screen panel, chilling in the cut on some beanbags. He asked questions like “if you could invite any three people to dinner, living or dead, who would they be?” Of course me being a hungus pigdog, the first person that came to mind was Gordon Ramsay cuz he can cook followed by my favourite action heroes Bruce Lee and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He also asked, “would you rather fart popcorn or have your entire internet history made public?” When I went with popcorn they asked, “why?” Shit, that’s free popcorn! A week later Mike called me, talking about “I’m really sorry…but unfortunately…you’re gonna have to take time off work cuz you made it through to the Top 10!” Oh hell nawl. This is not “American Idol” and my name is not Fantasia.
“Survivor”. That’s how I approached the Top 10. If you know me, you know I’m extremely competitive and that I watch far too much TV. We were all getting put up in the Pullman for two days of challenges with no clues as to what they were gonna be. I had to get my Boston Rob on.
Prep time! When it comes to fashion, I’ve got a bit of a Salvation Army look going on. My build is unusual for a Samoan [really tall but really lean] – shopping for clothes that actually fit is a pain in the ass so I never do. I can usually count on my charm to get by but I knew for this, I needed my image to be as big as my personality. No way my wardrobe [over 60 free university tshirts I’ve collected over the years] was gonna cut it so I hit up my friend Onny to hook me up and he did. Amongst everything he gave me was this one red and white shirt that was loud as hell but it made me stand out in a good way.
Made phone calls to everyone I knew working in radio to get up to speed on what’s going on. I’m pretty relevant but it never hurts to brush up and do your research.
Then I got all “Single White Female”/”Swim Fan” and stalked the SHIT out of the other contestants. New Zealand isn’t all that big and I get around [not like that] so it wasn’t hard to find ‘Mutual Friends’ on Facebook and get the goss.
Around 2330 the night before the Top 10 were getting together, I got woken up by a call from my Mum. She had a panicked tone in her voice so my heart immediately dropped. Her youngest sister, my Aunty Maria, has down syndrome and was rushed to hospital after having a seizure. My Mum lives in Porirua so was asking me to sort out flights and a rental car since she’d have to travel up to Auckland to be with her. Admittedly, I was half asleep and a bit under pressure so rushed her off the phone citing “I’ll take care of it in the morning but I really needa focus on this audition”. The second I hung up I realised how insensitive I’d been and called her straight back to apologise. I consoled her and gave her the reassurance that she can depend on me. My Mum felt better, thanked me and wished me luck. No matter how stressed out or excited you are, life is a balancing act and you need to know your priorities. It was almost like a test. My first challenge! I slept knowing I passed.
Day 1. Everybody was cool. The MTV and Sky crews and the other hopefuls who I instantly liked – they reminded me of my students. Young, energetic and full of potential. The whole day was filmed and overseen by a panel of producers and staff. Challenges included reading off a teleprompter, memorising a script in 10 minutes then presenting it and being interviewed by Kate. I felt good about them but I didn’t feel like I had smashed them out the park.Nerves were getting the better of me ESPECIALLY in the radio challenge – we each had to walk into the ZM studio and ask a special guest one question but we wouldn’t know just who it was until we went in. The person with the best question won. Turns out we had P-Money in our company! We had met briefly on a boat cruise a month or so ago through my friend Yvette. Now for the question! Mines was inspired by the last two weeks of me watching “Game Of Thrones” and all three seasons of “American Horror Story” – you effed with the mafia/Yakuza and now they’ve caught you. They’re gonna chop off a body part but you get to pick it. What’s it gonna be and why? P-Money answered “my little toe”. Silence. Exit. That was awkward as hell. We later found out he had been instructed to act up and make it as uncomfortable as possible. Needless to say I didn’t win that round! I had to redeem myself.
The last challenge of the day was the trivia night battle in front of a live audience – I feed off crowds so it was my time to shine. They had us answering questions [“which artist touched Lil Kim’s breast at the 2007 VMAs?” You know I got that one right!] making cocktails [I did me a Pink Panty Dropper which I learned how to make at Lehigh] and competing in a twerk off [I flipped my ass upside down and hoisted my legs up on to the fireplace and made it clap as hard as I could]. I won! Pow!
After that the entire MTV party had dinner at Mexico. Everyone knows I have a crazy appetite so I went ham – yeah I was hungry but I was also lining my stomach cuz they had drinks flowing out the cup. Going back to never letting your guard down, the set “challenges” were over and it was time to unwind but it wasn’t the time to get sloppy. I had a lot to drink but I kept it 100 and worked that room like a Top Dollar Vegas Escort. I went to bed feeling good I was gonna make the Top 5.Day 2. Started off with 5 getting cut! I had 4 predicted out of 5 [the last person I was unsure of]. The Top 5 went to our first challenge, a training sesh with boxer David Nyika while the 5 who got cut went bungee jumping.
The following 3 challenges I blitzed. My nerves were settled and I had learned SO much from the day before, I was ready to get buck. First up, we asked people around Britomart about the #bumsonbuses campaign then had an interview with P-Money [the real P-Money this time!] where I got to really showcase my knowledge of Hip Hop and music in general. He was too cool, very quick-witted and funny – found a new appreciation for him. Next, an interview with Woman’s Day where I turned the charm all the way up. Homegirl asked me about my top 5 music experiences – I only got out 3 before she stopped me cuz they were all big stories and we were running outta time [going on a date with Chilli from TLC, Bobby Brown giving me the mic during a concert and jamming with Pharrell in Vegas at the “One” after party]. She was dazzled and I walked out beaming.
The final challenge was a sit down with the panel. Given how intensive the last two days had been, I had grown really fond of them but you still can’t act too familiar. I was third in line. A couple of contestants who went before me came out and commented that it was a breeze – “it’s just an informal chat where you get to debrief on how the week went and ask any last questions!” No no no papi chulo, this is your last chance to leave an impression! I walked through those doors like I was going into the boardroom in “The Apprentice” ready to fight for my life. And I did. I turned down the charm and turned up my serious side to let them know I meant business. Everything they threw at me I was able to give insightful, intelligent answers. I sent very clear messages about me and my values. I let them know I’m from the hood and I’ve been to Hollywood so I have genuine connections and appeal to people from all walks of life. I’ve racked up achievements and accolades in my current career cuz I’m no stranger to hard work and I’d carry that same work ethic to MTV. I’m young at heart but I also carry a maturity and a wealth of very unique experiences. For me this is a natural progression – I’ve influenced a great deal of young people over the years and this would be a powerful platform for me to reach even more. My final words were about my ability – “I’m confident that I’ve shown you I’m quite capable of this job but at the same time I know I have a long way to go and with the right support and mentoring from your team I could really blow up.”
OOH WEE! Moving to Sydney in three weeks! Can’t wait!