Cory Almeida: American Idol’s Warm-Up and Host of ‘Pictureka!’

Cory Almeida

If you’ve ever had an interest in hosting, this is the interview you want to check out. Cory Almeida originally came out to LA to be an actor. Through various events and opportunities, Cory found himself in front of the camera…but as a host.

Now he’s the warm-up guy for American Idol and Dancing With The Stars and he’s even got his own show on the Hub Network called Pictureka!

Corey’s an amazingly nice guy. He talked to me about how he got his start and what changed his focus from acting to hosting. And, if you have aspirations of hosting, he gives some fantastic advice.

Check Cory out at his website and on Twitter!

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download from iTunes.

Did you always want to be an actor?

Cory Almeida: I always wanted to be a football player, As a kid I played football my whole life then in my Junior year in high school I tore all the ligaments in my knee so that kind of put a kabash on those dreams. Then actually I was dared by the football team to audition for the school play at the time which was Grease which seems like everyone starts there with that show. I ended up getting the part of Danny.  So once you do it once you are hooked.

So from that point on I just really loved it. I started off at Wagner College out in Staten island but they were more of musical theatre school. I love musical theatre, if I could come back and do anything other than play football it would be to be a Broadway star but I cannot sing, I cannot sing at all.  So that’s not even in the cards. Wagner was predominately a musical theatre school and I wanted to do more straight acting so I transferred to Emerson in Boston because they have a great film department. I could do TV, I could do film, they have radio station. I got my degree in acting and the reason I went to Emerson is because they have a program where you can study out in LA. You can do one semester in LA.  So I came out here my last semester of school, I came out here and stayed at the Oakwood’s where every actor stays at some point in their life and its like that is the old the whole right of passage.

My first gig was as a hip hop dancer. I mean any great actor started as a hip hop dancer, I am sure Brad Pitt or the De Niro’s of the world, that was their big beginning, right? So I did hip hop, I did a bunch of stuff for Nickelodeon and Disney, I toured and did stuff with Mandy Moore, music videos. And in the meantime, I got some acting roles; I got an acting role on a couple independent films, I got a role little guest starting role on Everybody Loves Raymond. Which was great, because it was as a swing dancer, I got to dance and act on that one. So I did some stuff like that and it was really good but the funny thing was as a dancer I got cast in this pilot for this TV show that Fox Family was doing called House of Pop. Which was a young modern American Bandstand type show and I was one the dancers.

So they shot this pilot and they needed some dancers to intro the host. So for me, I was like, “Yeah, no problem.” Most dancers don’t like to talk so that’s where I was in the minority, So, I intro’d the host and had a whole bunch of fun with that. Then they ended up picking up the show but they didn’t pick up the host and they had me come in and read.  They ended up casting me as the host for the show after being the dancer. I did fifteen episodes of that, we did a whole summer of it. Then Fox Family was bought by ABC Disney so that one kind of went away.

But I remember going to my agent when I got that show and I was like, “Look, I came out here to do serious acting, I do not want to be known as a “host”.  I do not want to the be the host guy, I want to act, I want to do serious film. I want to go method. I want to have years of therapy afterwards to be a real actor.”

I did that and then I did a couple of independent films like I said and I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was walking onto the set of Everybody Loves Raymond and I remember I was at CBS Radford and I was thinking to like the excitement that I should have was not there. I mean, I’ve got a role on a TV show, a great TV show, this is what I want to do. So I did the show, it was great but I remember feeling that inside and I immediately went right back to my agent and said all I want to do is host.  That is all I want to do like forget the acting, I just want to be goofy, be silly, be me.

What do you think it was?

Cory Almeida: I don’t know because I know part of acting is bringing yourself to the role but you have to marry it with the role.  Hosting you’re really cast for yourself and that’s it.

I think for me, I love the idea of live, I love the idea that there are no mulligan’s, there is no do over. Live is live and that’s it.  When we are on the set you can go 12, 15, 20 takes all different ways but for me that just didn’t appeal to me, I am adreline junky, so feeding off of that adrenaline of we’ve got a live audience like I can’t mess up and if I do I’ve got to find a way to get out of this and make it work.  I think its kind of that energy that I just gravitate towards, I think its that live element that you just don’t get when you are shooting a film or TV show.

It seem to me it was relatively easy for you to pick up the first hosting job, like maybe you were a natural at it.

Cory Almeida: Yeah and you know its so funny because it just kind of happened, that kind of just fell upon me. I was auditioning for tons of commercials and tons of film and TV so being a dancer and throwing some lines in and going in and doing that as a host, I didn’t really put a lot of pressure on myself because it wasn’t technically what I was out here to do.  I think that might have been part of it.

But it’s so funny because that one happened pretty quickly when I came out here and then it has been a good eight years so until I got another TV show. So while I got that one pretty quickly, its been a constant effort and battle. Going through it all the riggers of testing for shows and being right there on table and then going with someone else a bunch of times. Everybody saying, “you are amazing, we would love to have you in this show” and they go with a name.

So you have to deal with that. That is the same across the board whether you are a musician, an actor, a host, a dancer; those auditions are the same across the board. You get to a point where you are so close and you can feel it but its just a matter of continuing to push and be persistent and be patient.  I think patience is one of the keys to being successful. If you get impatient you are in trouble.

Its tough but its been a long journey which I am thankful for because the stuff I have done in the meantime and the TV shows I have worked on to get me to this point have prepped. I feel super comfortable going in front of any audience on any show doing anything any kind of a format.

How do you go about auditioning or getting the job of a host?

Cory Almeida
: Its works pretty much the very similar to how actors would go on an audition. Its all about a demo reel, everybody wants to see a demo reel. Your EPK is vital.  You’ve got to have solid, up to date EPK, you have to have good solid website because everything is so digital and everything is at your finger tips right now if you don’t have your resume, your bio, your photos your recent blogs, your recent events you know all that stuff on your website, that eliminates from the mix immediately

Because these casting directors are like, “Who do you have for this show? Great. What’s his site?” They are literally talking on the phone to agents at their computer and they are like, Oh I like this. Oh he does this? Great. She can do that? Alright.”   Its very similar, I would imagine to what actors are going through as far as cutting that great demo, getting plenty of material to put a reel together. Everything is digital so you just get it all up on line and saturate it with your Twitter and all of your media so that you can just be in their face constantly.

You have to do everything you can to make it easy for them to hire you. You don’t want them to have to search to find your resume. You have to make it easy and fool proof.  The second they click on it, boom it comes up. You can be your own worst enemy in a lot of those situations by not doing all the work needed to make sure your on point when it comes down to it.

So, after looking at your resume or getting a reference or your agent saying, “You gotta see these people,” the casting director will say great bring him in.  You go in with your copy, go in with your sides and you read your sides. Sometimes, if you are doing a show where there is a contestant, the casting director will act the contestant much like if you are doing a scene, they will read the scene with you.  They put you on camera and they say that’s it. They will bring you back, they will test you, they will test you for producers and then ultimately hopefully give you the call and get in and book it.

Between those eight years, in the meantime you were doing something with American Idol?

Cory Almeida: Yeah, a lot of the folks from the production company of the first show I did, they all kind of split up and a bunch of them went over to American Idol which was a brand new production that was just getting started. After season two, they realized they need somebody in this audience who knows people who can talk and just have fun and keep the energy going.  So one of the live producers who was a PA on my show said, “I got a great guy, let me call him and see what’s up.”  I don’t have any stand up comic background and I think that’s kind of what’s helped me be successful in the warm up world. When I started doing warm up eight years ago, the only shows people knew of a warm up guy for were TV shows, like Friends or Frasier, Seinfeld who had a live studio audience. They would have a stand up comic who would come out, do some comedy and then they get into the show.

That is where the warm up business took a huge change because now its like, “No, we don’t need a stand up but we’ve got a live audience that we need to keep entertained. These are your next door neighbors who are up on stage to cheer for them, go nuts for them develop a relationship with them and its all going to happen in the 15 – 20 minutes before the show starts.  Its just about having fun, having fun with people.

My main priority is the audience, their the stars to me and honestly I can’t really write or come up material better than some of the stuff that people say when you pull them up out of their seats and they are from Omaha and they’ve never been to Hollywood and they are on for them its like so the stuff that they come up the stuff that kids come up with, you can’t write that stuff so why bother trying I just get out there and have fun and try to facilitate it as best I can but again make them the stars of the show.

So this will be my eighth season coming up of Idol. Then so from Idol the folks at Dancing with the Stars saw me. So I do Idol, Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, American’s Got Talent. That keeps me busy for the entire year as far as a “day job”.  They keep me really busy and the good thing is its right up my ally its what I want to do.  Because I am still working my craft its not like I’m parking cars somewhere, nothing wrong with parking cars because it’s a great way to make money but I am blessed enough to make money in the field that I want to pursue. On the job training for me has been priceless.  I have been able to learn and pick up stuff by being a warm up on these shows that I wouldn’t be able to learn if I was doing any other job.  You know what I mean, so that’s what’s has been priceless that’s what the seven year grace period in between has been prepping me for because you know Pictureka has been an insane crazy awesomely amazing project that had I not had years of dealing with every single possible and intangible I don’t know if it would have worked as well.

Tell me about Pictureka. How did it come about?

Its really funny because it you know we sit here talk about well you have to have your EPK and people go on line they will see call you in and test you and the whole nine, none of that happened for me to get Pictureka.

One of the producers was at an episode of Dancing With The Stars. At that time they were pitching the show to the Hub which is brand new network that Hasbro and Discovery Kids was launching and has since launched. So they were like, “You know what, I saw this guy at this show and I think he would be good to help us with our pitch.” They called me up and said, “Look there is no money and there are only a couple rehearsal days but would you be willing to maybe come in and work with us.”  I was all for it, I’m totally cool with that, went in and met with them, they were great right off the bat.

And they said, “Look 12 companies, 12 different production companies are pitching these games to the Hub, so it’s a long shot for us to get it I mean we have a 1 in 12 which is better than the odds for any other thing but its still less than 10% that we could get this show.  For you to get this show is like zero percent, there is no chance that you are going to get this show because even if they do pick it up, it’s a network thing they are going to want to go with someone probably someone that people know and recognize.

I was like, “No big deal, I just want to get in and get you guys the show. My goal is not for me to get the show, I want you to get the show, so let’s work this out.” So we just went to work, I mean it was a whole month I was there almost every day but I wanted to be there.

So we worked immediately right off the bat it was like boom an instant love affair.  So it kind of went from we hoped that we get the show chances are slim you are not going to get the show; to we’d love to get the show and if we do we will throw you hat in the ring; to we gotta get this show and if we do you are our host, we cannot hire anyone else, we do not want anyone else, so it kind of developed to a great relationship. I mean it couldn’t have been better.

It took seven years to get to my next show but I would do it the same way, I would go back and do it all over again the exact same way to end up where I was in the hands of the people that I ended up with because this production company is an amazing, amazing family now that I will be a part of for the rest of my career because we are that close.

What is your advice to people who want to be a host?

Media is everywhere now.  I have seen things change so much from when I came out here you know like 10 years ago.  Things have changed so drastically with media that if you’ve got an idea, if you got a concept and its strong and you’ve got a strong brand, you can go out and shoot anything. I mean you can shoot it, you can do video podcasts, you can do video blogs but I would say you’ve got to figure out what you are.  What is your brand? Because it’s really is about you.  When you are a host you are selling yourself, when you are an actor you are selling a character that you can portray. When you are a host you are completely yourself so when you walk in that room or you meet these execs or you are putting a project together it all comes down to you because you’re the host, you’re the nucleus of it.   You have to know who you are, you have to know everything. To say, “I like travel is not enough.”  To say, “I am chef and I want to talk about exotic foods that are in these exotic locations and I want to go to these locations and I want to pull them up off the beach,” now you are starting to find layers that the person before you didn’t come in with. The person before said, “I like to cook.” Really? Ok great.  I like to cook but here the specifics stuff I like to do, boom, boom, boom.

So its really about being as secure and strong in who you are when you bring that to the table and then putting together every piece of material that you can. Create media about yourself, shoot stuff, put up videos. You can shoot this stuff, you can stream this stuff.  I mean there is no reason not to have this stuff on line. There are plenty of places that are doing demo reels and you go and shoot a nice demo reel put some ideas together. There on lot of these places, I know. I got mine – I can definitely give them a shout out it’s a becomeahost.com. I went to hosting class there and they have whole studio in house. They do green scene they do everything.

But it really is about that demo reel. Putting that demo reel together, and just coming up with a killer brand because the bottom line is your fifteen second to sell yourself when you get in front of a casting director. They will sit there and say tell me a little bit about yourself and that’s like everyone’s biggest nightmare because they don’t know what to say. “Can I just do the sides?” “No, I want to know about you.” So it’s a 15 second hard sell.

And I would say get in front of a mirror and practice that 15 second hard sell so you know it frontwards backwards, up and down.  So people are like, “this guy knows who he is, this girl exactly what’s up and ok great I am excited. I can’t wait to hear you read this copy because you’re going to have a whole different vibe than the person who said hey how are you, I am good, I am just in-between shifts at the daily grill and I will be going back.” Its like no, who are you?

Work that 15 second hard sell because that is that is what separates the men from the boys. That is what will really put you in a good standing with a casting director because they will know when they sit there that you actually worked on it.  “Wow, he came in, he knew his sides and I see his point of view.” Every good host has to have a point of view.  So when they see that stuff they realize it.

Its all about continuing to build your brand; reel, resume, EPKs, blogs, video, all of it. Back in the day it was a headshot and resume, that’s it, that’s all you need and now a days you have to do it all, you got to be willing to shoot everything. Its tricky but persistence and patience pays off.

2 Comments

  1. Dan

    January 11, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    It’s funny. He jokes about being a hip-hop dancer and that he’s sure that’s how the Brad Pitt’s of the world got their start. Check out the music video for Ace of Base’s “Don’t Turn Around” That’s Brad Pitt cheesecaking it up on the beach. Who knew.

  2. Omar

    March 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Cory! Way to go man. I was flipping through channels on DirecTV and I just caught found your show. Glad I got a chance to work with you at Apple. Be well man!

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