EAST PROVIDENCE – When Riverside's own Michaela Johnson walked onto the set of “The Rhode Show” inside WPRI-TV/WNAC-TV's broadcast center on Wednesday afternoon, she barely could contain her excitement.
Less than 48 hours before, she learned she had out-dueled four other finalists to claim victory in the third annual “The Rhode Show: Search for a Star” contest during a live broadcast from the “Twist on Angell” restaurant near Wayland Square in Providence.
With the triumph, Johnson became the newest co-host of the show, which airs at 8 a.m. every weekday on Fox Providence, and will work closely with news anchors/hosts Patrick Little and Danielle North.
The attractive, bluish-gray-eyed 22-year-old admitted she was more than ready to sign a one-year, 40- hours-per-week contract, one which will pay her handsomely to do live interviews; attend community events such as the “Taste of Rhode Island” and the Chowder Cook-Off in Newport; work on the Meeting Street Telethon; enact her own feature ideas; and complete other tasks.
Her life's dream, she indicated, will begin Jan. 3. In the interim, she'll keep her current job as a front desk attendant at Planet Fitness on Route 44 in Seekonk, but promised she would leave it as “This will keep me plenty busy.
“I'm ecstatic, and so ready to work,” she laughed while staring at her new work site. “I want to have a lot of fun. This is a great team I'll be working with, and I felt so welcomed from everyone involved. I can't thank the entire staff enough for making me feel that way.
“I can't wait to take on these new challenges, meet new people, experience new things and live in the moment,” she added. “This gives me so much hope for my future.”
That could be a understatement. The first champion of “Search for a Star” – Massachusetts native Shawn Tempesta – now works as a co-host for a similar show in Las Vegas. Last year's winner, Ben Hague of Cranston, is just finishing his one-year contract with Fox Providence.
If Johnson's name sounds familiar to city folk, it should. This hometown girl graduated from East Providence High School in 2006, where she starred in soccer, basketball and softball, and just six months ago gleaned a Bachelor's of Communications from Bridgewater State University.
While a student there, she decided as a freshman to “walk on” the Bears' varsity women's basketball squad, and made it, as coaches loved her spirit. Her final two seasons, as a versatile 5-9 forward – “I played the '3' and '4,'” she giggled – she acted as co-captain.
During her holiday and summer breaks, Johnson used to see commercials for the “Search for a Star” casting calls, and pondered giving it a try.
“I knew about the competition in the past, but I was always in school, so it wasn't an option,” she said. “It took me a while for me to decide what I wanted to study in college, but – when it came right down to it – I looked back at the the things that interested me throughout my life. I always had a passion to entertain, to inform, to make videos, to tell interesting stories.
“When I graduated in May, I kept seeing (the advertisements), and I remember my sister, Kim, mentioned it one day. She told me, 'You should give it a try. It's something you've always wanted to do.'
“It's funny she said that,” she continued. “because I already planned on going. I had it secretly planned in the back of my head. I think Kim's push re-enforced it. I mean, I had the confidence in myself, but it was nice to know I had reassurance from others.”
Johnson nevertheless claimed being mighty nervous the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 12, when she and approximately 100 others from all over the country arrived at the Twin River Event Center in Lincoln for the casting call. A panel of judges began conducting interviews, and perusing video submissions, then narrowed the field, calling back about 25.
One of those judges – Rebecca Johnson, The Rhode Show and Morning News' Executive Producer – admitted the callbacks were to check out their style and grace on the set, and to get to better know those individuals.
A couple of weeks later, the panel sliced the field to four, though allowed viewers to choose the fifth finalist from the dozens of initial entrants via on-line votes.
Not surprisingly, Johnson had been one of the panel's top four.
“We then issued the finalists a series of assignments designed to be similar to the challenges they'd face in this job,” Rebecca Johnson noted. “They had to make community appearances, like scooping ice cream at Newport Creamery in Garden City; taking donations for 'Toys for Tots' in conjunction with Cardi's in West Warwick; and doing different video assignments.
“I'd give them assignments, like creating their own bio to introduce themselves to viewers. Another was taking a different region of Rhode Island and how to have fun there – but on a budget. (Michaela ended up with South County, so naturally focused on sites such as Allie's Donuts and George's of Galilee).
“Everything they did was considered – how they were on camera and off, how they worked with staff, how they were in the public, etc.,” she added. “One of the biggest attributes was how they connected with people, and their creativity in story-telling.”
Offered Susan Tracy-Durant, WPRI-TV/WNAC TV's Eyewitness News Director of Creative Services: “Also their potential. That was huge, knowing you could help them grow through the year. We wanted to show them what they could become … Michaela was chosen because she had great enthusiasm and talent, but also great potential to take on this role.”
Rebecca Johnson stated she believed the former collegiate hoopster had outstanding, fresh ideas, worked extremely hard and was a “quick learner.
“I worked with her for the last month, and she was able to pick up what we wanted her to do really fast,” she said. “She takes directions very well.”
It didn't hurt that, in college, Michaela had spent two years as a disc jockey for campus radio station WBIM-FM (91.5 on the dial), volunteered to work with Bridgewater Cable TV and had been chosen to work as a “runner” for ESPN during the X Games in Los Angeles this past summer.
“A friend of my aunt's set me up with an ESPN employee, who steered me in the right direction,” Michaela said. “It was an amazing experience.”
When asked if she truly believed – from Day One – she had a shot at winning, Michaela Johnson stated simply, “I'd be lying if I told you I didn't think about it, but I just decided through the whole thing that I'd be as confident as I could be – in myself and my abilities. I have a very dedicated work ethic, and I set my goals really high.
“I wanted to try to achieve them and exceed them. I thought this was a tremendous opportunity, so I figured I would have no regrets, and I'd just let the chips fall where they may. I was happy with what I put out there.
“I've always loved sports, which is pretty obvious, so I'd like to get into sports broadcasting in the future,” she continued. “I think The Rhode Show will help me expand my options. It touches on so many different levels of entertainment. Maybe, through this opportunity, it will open my eyes to something I haven't considered before.
“I do still think, 'How did this happen?' I'm still floating, but I also believe it was five weeks of hard work and being put to the test, and I'm so happy (the panel) decided I passed it.”
Stated Tracy-Durant: “We're excited about having Michaela as part of our team. The entire top five (finalists) brought something to the table, but Michaela has this spark, this enthusiasm, this passion. We can't wait to see what she'll bring to the show.”