This September, NBC will debut “A Little Late With Lilly Singh,” a new late-late-night talk show in what will be the former timeslot of “Last Call With Carson Daly.” NBC’s choice of host for this timeslot is a bold one for the network in a lot of ways. Lilly Singh will be the only woman with a late-night broadcast network show. She’s Canadian. She’s a young woman of color. She is also relatively unknown to the general TV-watching public. Lilly Singh earned her chops not on the stand-up comedy scene or as a bit player in sitcoms.
Lilly Singh is a star on YouTube.
Ms. Singh is not the first person to build a career from that platform (we wouldn’t have Shawn Mendes without it), but it’s fair to say that she’s the first person to be plucked from YouTube by a major network and given her very own eponymous TV show right out of the gate. Say what you will about the 1:35am timeslot on NBC, it’s still part of a network with a lot of heritage and a good amount of prestige that relies on advertising for its success, so it doesn’t make its host choices lightly. She is one of the main reasons people are opting to purchase youtube views and growing in their own way. TV is looking for talent in new places and banking on that talent. Why can’t radio? When radio stations and syndicators look for on-air talent, they tend to look fairly inward. And that’s understandable on some level, because we all know radio isn’t like visual media. If your audience can see you, you work a lot with facial expressions and body language. Radio requires everything to be in the voice. It’s not a skill everyone has, for sure. It’s not always translatable from film or TV. Radio hosts also have to be able to think fast and be creative on the fly, read copy often with little notice and, in many cases, be willing to wake up at ungodly hours and make their way to the studio in all types of weather conditions. Great hosts are not always easy to find.
But why not… try?
I’m reminded of major films that took huge casting risks and ended up with something great. 2006 brought us the long-awaited film version of Dreamgirls—who knew Beyonce could act? Jennifer Hudson, at that point known primarily to the public as a runner-up on American Idol, even won an Oscar! Yalitza Aparicio, the star of recent Best Picture nominee Roma, was a schoolteacher. In a different part of the media universe, Megan Amram, a writer for some of my favorite sitcoms, got hired because of her clever and indie-popular Twitter feed. These people all had that something and were given a chance.
Now, I’m not completely naïve. I’m sure there was a lot of hard work that went into polishing the performances in Dreamgirls and Roma, and I’m sure Ms. Amram took a while to get comfortable in the Parks and Recreation writers’ room.
So why not apply some of the resources radio already uses into developing innovative and interesting on-air talent? Program directors coach their morning show hosts all the time, and I’m privileged to know some wonderful consultants out there whose careers are built on perfecting on-air charisma and chemistry.
There are already some successful stories of hosts plucked from other areas. D.L. Hughley comes to mind; his established career in comedy and TV hosting have served him well on his nationally syndicated morning show. And say what you will about Dr. Laura Schlessinger, but her ultimately extremely successful radio career started when she simply called into an LA-based talk show and impressed the host enough to get a gig. She was working as a biologist at the time, which reminds me that Janeane Garofalo’s character in The Truth About Cats and Dogs was a veterinarian-turned-radio-host (fictional, yes, but same idea).
My colleague Jay Nachlis knows firsthand about finding talent where you least expect it. Back in July, Jay made the case for hiring someone who was thrust into Internet fame because she eavesdropped on a conversation and Tweeted about it. His argument comes from experience; Jay told me a story about how when he was a PD here in Raleigh, back in the early 00s, he ran a “Search for Supermouth” competition. He hired the winner of that contest, a college student named Megan Sosne, to work at his station—and Ms. Sosne went on to several on-air gigs, eventually landing a longstanding hosting job at KBKS in Seattle and starting a podcast.
So how about it, radio? We at Coleman Insights talk about Outside vs. Inside Thinking all the time, and this is one of those areas where radio can definitely go “outside.” There might be a comedian out there whose brand of humor is perfect for your afternoon drive audience. You might be looking for an additional cast member to balance your morning show whose ratings are good but whose perceptual images are lackluster, and you might find that person on local cable access. Or from a contest. Or from your local karaoke bar.
Or stations can find talent on YouTube. People like Lilly Singh, who are building a huge base of followers that you can tap into as future listeners to your station. Potential radio talent really is all around you, even if you might not realize it at first glance.
When you’re looking for your Next Big Thing, don’t just stick to the studio. Look further afield. Like NBC.