CORY ALMEIDA: THE SHOW BEHIND THE SHOW
By Jennifer Buonantony
As you sit at home watching your favorite competition shows- The Voice, DWTS, American Idol, SYTYCD- you imagine having the chance to be in the audience of a live taping! I bet you didn't know that before the show begins there is a warm-up host getting the crowd pumped & camera ready! Meet Cory Almeida. The man behind the scenes at these top shows, not to mention host of his own show Pictureka!
We sat down with Cory to talk about what it's like juggling duties on America's favorite programs and how he balances these coveted gigs with his own on-camera hosting and celebrity DJ career.
PPLA: You host quite a few popular reality competition shows. Tell us which ones and how you landed this job.
CORY: I do DWTS, American Idol, SYTYCD, America's Got Talent (before it moved to NY), the early round of The Voice, and now I was just asked to do the new The Ricki Lake Show. It's crazy! I just talk too much. I talk way too much (laughs). That's how I got these gigs. I was hosting a show that was like a modern American Bandstand on ABC Family, which then got bought out by Disney and the show went away. The production people scattered and went to different shows and then a bit later on, one of them was working on American Idol . The show needed someone to make sure the audience was having fun while Ruben (Studdard) and Clay (Clay Aiken) were going crazy. Ruben's up there in this big puffy goose down jacket and he's sweating like crazy entertaining the crowd! So I said 'sure I'll come in and do it', and then they asked me to come along and do the next season. So I hopped on at Seaon 3 and here I am at Season 11. Season 1-1 as Randy (Jackson) likes to call it. Once I did that, people from other shows came and started to know me. Idol was really the first show that started the three judges one host reality competition format. So people would come watch what they were doing and see me and started offering me jobs on their shows.
PPLA: Currently you are working on two shows but are often doing three, four, or even more during one time period when shows overlap. How do you keep your energy so high and stay on top of such a hectic schedule?
CORY: If you can see this out in recording land (pointing to his Redbull drink in front of him), it's this. I don't even know if it actually has an affect over my body as much as my mind at this point, but I rely on this.
PPLA: You grew up in Rhode Island and attended the top communications school, Emerson. How did you first become interested in this career?
CORY: I had a huge passion for radio which is why I went to Emerson, because they had ERS, the number one college radio station in the country. So I went there to do that. At the same time, they had a great acting program. I actually went to Wagner College for a year in Staten Island but they were more of a theater program. While I wish I could be reincarnated and come back one day as a huge Broadway star, that's like my dream...it's never going to happen. So I went to Emerson because I knew they did more straight plays, film, TV and stuff that I really wanted to get into in addition to radio. I moved out here to be an actor and the first job I got was as a dancer in a hip hop video. Then I auditioned for a show at the Universal theme park and got hired as a dancer there. I then toured the country on a game show for Nickelodeon which I ended up hosting. Then I booked a TV show which I also hosted. I remember going to my agent and saying that I didn't want to be pegged as just a host. That I wanted to do serious acting- TV, film, etc. The funny thing is, is that I booked a horror film and then an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. I remember walking onto those sets, and Raymond was a big show, but I just wasn't that excited. So I filmed it and the next day I went back to my agent and I said, all I want to do host. I don't want to act. I don't want to do anything else, just host.
PPLA: Do you have any favorite moments or memories from any of the sets you have been working on?
CORY: It's hard. There are so many moments. For me, I really try to keep it organic and never do the same thing twice. That's what I love about the live audience. That's why they call me 'Cory Live' because everything is live. Everything that happens, happens right there. I couldn't write or plan the stuff that happens, even if I wanted to. For example, we had a couple get married right before an episode of DWTS which is kind of crazy. There was an older gentleman who was talking to his fiance about their wedding and I asked when the date was and neither of them knew. They hadn't set a date yet. I said if I can find a minister in the audience, I'll do it for you right here. And one guy yells out 'I'm a minister'. I brought them out on the dance floor and we married them right there. That was not set up, and it was totally spontaneous.
PPLA: A lot of the shows you work on revolve around music. How important is music to you as a warm-up host?
CORY:I have a DJ background so for me music is so important to hosting. I come from the DJ world. Music is a huge component of what I do. Also, I danced professionally for my first couple years out here to pay my bills- music videos and stuff. You can't dance without music. Music makes up who I am which is why it's perfect for me to be working on shows like DWTS and SYTYCD. I play music as soon as the doors are opened to the audience and that sets the mood for what we are going to do. You have to have different playlists for different crowds. You can't play the Idol theme song for two hours or music that is outdated. For the DWTS crowd I will play a little bit more Earth, Wind, & Fire and George Michael, but I will also still play the Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna, Pitbull songs of say Idol. When we have '80's nights' it's Madonna, Rick Springfield, and those types of songs. I try to tie in what I am doing with the show. Like on 'rock week' it will be AC/DC or Van Halen. My job is to prep the audience for what they are about to see on the show. So I pick the music based on the audience demographic and to fit the show they are about to see. When you are live for the show, the energy of the room can affect the judges and the outcome of the show. So what we do plays a much bigger role. It's not like just watching the show at home.
PPLA: So you are essentially the show before the show. How does that play into the rest of the night's taping?
CORY: Results nights are a lot more laid back because the results are in and the contestants are not performing. So the cast will come out and get more involved with the audience then say on a night where they are competing. The other night during a results taping, this girl at DWTS was screaming for Mark Ballas. He was up in the sky box but he runs down across the dance floor and gives her this big hug. We were at about 30 seconds to live. All I am thinking is that if Mark rolls an ankle and gets injured, it's on me for getting this girl so worked up! But it was a great moment and Tom (Bergeron) even referenced it when we came on air saying, "I think Mark Ballas decided to go to the prom with somebody in the audience," and they cut to this girl screaming with excitement. So that was a fun moment that came out of what we did prior to the show starting.
PPLA: Aside from getting the crowd ready, what is your typical day like on set?
CORY: I run through the whole show as a stand-in for Ryan Seacrest, from top to bottom. I practice all his blocking, read his lines, and know what he is going to do before he even does! So it's a great opportunity to prepare me. The warm-up hosting has put me in a good position to host my own shows which I do. I host Pictureka!, based on the Hasbro game. Hasbro and Discovery Kids merged and formed Hub network and that is where the show currently airs. We shot 65 episodes. It's a Where's Waldo meets Double Dare, but not as messy. There is a lot of physicality and there's a lot of hunting and finding adventures.
PPLA: Did you ever have a moment of confusion on set, being that you host so many shows simultaneously?
CORY: It would be really bad if i was at America's Got Talent and I welcomed out Carrie Ann, Len, and Bruno (of DWTS)! I always sort of look up, just to check where I am at.
PPLA: Both Idol and DWTS are wrapping up this week. What's up next for you? And do you have any predictions for the finales?
CORY: I kind of gave up trying to guess how America was going to decide. I think it's going to be hard to beat William Levy for DWTS. The women love him and the second he comes out on stage the girls go bananas. Katherine, who was a surprise to everyone, can really move. And Maria is also a sweetheart and she engages with the fans. On Tuesday nights, we usually have a pre-tape that we shoot around five for about twenty minutes and we don't go live until six. So we have a forty minute dance party. I bring out everybody to the dance floor. It's like 350-400 people out on the floor and I lead them in the Cha Cha Slide, the Cupid Shuffle, the Wobble. On Tuesday night, Maria was out their dancing and sweating and she didn't care. It's just a party. I tape it and put it online for fans to see after the show. (Watch this past Tuesday's dance party here) For Idol, it's a tough season. Phil is definitely the ladies favorite; they go nuts! His name fits him- it's his vibe and his style. Jessica is only sixteen and is excellent so it's ridiculous. Also Joshua... there is just something about him. This is my ninth season on the show and I literally got chills watching him the other night. As for me, I met Ricki (Lake) at the DWTS tapings when she was on the show. That's how I got the gig on her new show and I will be working that through the summer. It will be a lot of fun.
PPLA: When your not hosting, you also DJ mostly private parties for celebrities and corporations? Tell us how that came about and about one event that stands out in your mind.
CORY: I've been lucky that through Idol and DWTS, I have sort of been put on an upper tier as a DJ and not had to do the club scene. People like Val Kilmer or Mark Cuban, know me and trust me, and they know that I have been around the celebrity thing so it's not a worry for them to hire me as a DJ. They know me from the shows and I get called in to do big high-end corporate stuff and celebrity parties. I did the Super Bowl. Tom Cruise's kid, Connor Cruise, opened for Katy Perry who opened for me (laughs) at Mark Cuban's Super Saturday, Super Bowl party (the Saturday before the Super Bowl for 3,000 people) which was great! I do a lot of stuff for AT&T and DIRECTV. We did two weeks in Miami and I spun at LIV at the Fountain Blue which is a club with a $500 cover just to get in the door. The club is crazy. About half way through the night the LIV robot comes down from the ceiling and it's a full robot from head to toe like in Transformers with guns filled with C02, and he blasts the crowd. The club goes nuts! They get the idea of performance, of show, of production value at that club. I guess it's worth it to the people that pay that price...none of the girls pay, it's the 65-year old guy they went with that pay! I live in LA and still I've never seen that many beautiful people in one place. Everyone that walks by is stunning. I kept thinking, where to they get all these gorgeous people! Miami is crazy! I am developing a show right now based around the celebrity DJ thing that I would host. The DJ thing is so huge right now, so we are working on shooting a sizzle reel for that and shopping that around. It's a certain lifestyle.
PPLA: You have already met with so much success and have a full plate. But, what are your long-term goals?
CORY: I think the long-term goal would be for me to be the next Regis. I just want to sit on a chair and talk to people every day of the week and just kick back. I love what he did and think he had the best job in the world. For me, it's taken a while to get to this point but now people are starting to say, "this guy that's been warming up crowds and entertaining crowds with nothing but music and blinky rings can actually be the face of our show and host our show". They are starting to see that light and this year I have hosted three pilots already and am in talks for a fourth and fifth. The ones I shot are hopefully going to do some work. Ideally, I will be moving from the warm-up role to the host role and it will be my show. Music will play a part- either with a DJ or live band. Hosting is the dream...I just need half as many shows as Seacrest, that's all I need!
PPLA: Any fun facts about you that your fans don't know.
CORY:I have a hard time sleeping. I'm always wired. (laughs) Also, I'm a big sports fan so whenever I have time I try to go to sporting events. I am a Red Sox fans, a Celtics fan, and a Bruins fan. I am not, however, a Patriots fan. I'm a huge Steelers fan. I took my Dad to the Super Bowl so for him, I was cheering for The Patriots. But I never thought The Patriots would win a Super Bowl in my whole life and then they did and they started beating up on The Steelers every year. So now I hate them. (laughs). I also love tennis but wish I had more time to play. I'm kind of a work out junkie so I try to work out four or five times a week. In between, running lines for Ryan (Seacrest) in the morning and the taping, I will go run six miles because running is where I get to bounce ideas around in my head and be free. I'm also a tech geek. Forget it! I am always rewiring stuff, so anything techie! Ironically, I still don't have a facebook though but I do have a twitter. It's less of a commitment- 140 characters and I'm out! It's all about word and time conservation. People can always find me on there. It's @CoryLive. People can see what's happening and I follow my fans back as much as I can. I post pictures on and video on there from the set. (Take a look at some exclusive behind the scenes photos on Cory's Twitter).
To learn more, check out this video of Cory behind the scenes at American Idol. Be sure to watch the finales of American Idol and Dancing With the Stars tonight!
Want to experience Cory's pre-show yourself, see him next at The Ricki Lake Show.
We can promise you this, he made for our most entertaining interview!