Essex County’s own Rodney Rikai Thomas is a star on the rise, most recently seen on BET as a finalist in the search for a new host for 106 & Park after Terrence J and Rocsi apparently overstayed their welcome. The talented actor, singer and founder of The heART Gallery was handpicked to compete for the high profile hosting gig and although not ultimately given a golden ticket (Bow Wow really???), Rodney definitely did New Jersey proud and proved he is a complete natural on camera. Having met Rodney in 2008, his accent to superstardom was inevitable (all that charisma had to be channeled somewhere besides clever Facebook status updates) so I am super excited to see where he goes next, and am super grateful that he agreed to answer a few questions for GlocallyNewark.com. Get in!
GL: Congratulations on making it as a finalist in the 106 and Park search for a new host! How would you describe the experience overall?
RRT: The experience was amazing. It opened my eyes to how quickly things can change for you. Just going from working a normal 9-5 to being on national TV. It was crazy. It also made me realize who I want to be and what I want to do with the rest of my life. It was sort of a confirmation that I can in fact, be somebody in this entertainment industry.
GL: What made you decide to apply?
RRT: I actually didn’t apply. I saw they were looking for hosts and people putting up videos all over the internet. I was interested, but I wasn’t about to harass folks to look at my video and vote. But someone happened to come to The heART Gallery events that I put on, thought I did a good job. Referred me, and then next thing I know I’m brought in for an audition and subsequently thrust into the “spotlight”. It happened crazy fast. The heART Gallery was a Sunday, I was exchanging emails Monday, and by lunch hour Monday I had my first audition lined up for Wednesday.
GL: Wow. What do you think about the hosts that were ultimately chosen?
RRT: I think BET did a good job choosing the hosts that they did. Obviously I would have loved to have been on the show instead of Bow Wow, but I understand why they did it. From a business standpoint, are you going to choose the random guy nobody knows? Or the rapper who’s been in movies and is a household name? It was a solid business decision, that I can’t be upset at. Shorty Da Prince is the HOMIE! Like out of everybody I was on the show with, he and I clicked man. Dude is a genuine, down to earth good brother man. And he’s going to be a STAR. Paigion is also such a sweetheart. So nice and authentic, she’s a phenomenal role model for these young girls out here. She carries herself the way you would want your wife or your daughter to. Miss Mykie and was cool as well, but we didn’t build the kind of rapport I built with Shorty and Paigion. I still speak to them just about weekly. Sometimes the show seems like it has a LOT of people on it, but inevitably I think once they change the set around and stuff, it’ll flow even better than it does now.
GL: Can you give us any behind the scenes tidbits?
RRT: Behind the scenes… There really wasn’t much to it. I guess the one sort of “drama” was the first time I was on the show, me and Rocsi didn’t really click. At all. Lol. I think I have a tendency to get REALLY Jersey to let folks know that I’m not intimidated by them, and it rubbed her the wrong way. It just wasn’t pleasant at all. But when I was on for the entire week we actually had a long conversation and she gave me so much great advice and we were able to see who each other really were. And she’s since been helping me out with some things, so it’s nothing but love now.
GL: What opportunities did it provide/what are your future plans in terms of hosting?
RRT: As far as opportunities I now work as a correspondent on the CW network down in DC on a show called “Direct Access” with Big Tigger. Tig is another one of those extremely genuine cats who knows how this industry works. He thought enough of me to give me an opportunity, and I think he’s been happy with my work for his show thus far. I get booked to speak to kids around where I’m from now. I’m starting my own web series called “Dreamers” which we started shooting last week that I’m really excited about. I don’t know that I want to be a “host” per se. I really want to be an actor. But ultimately I want to be a bridge for a lot of my peers. Help my friends who are REALLY talented, probably more so than I am, to get every opportunity that they deserve.
GL: You are also a vocalist, do you have plans to record or further pursue that talent?
RRT: As far as me singing… Nah. I may dabble every now and again, but not for real. Until I achieve what I want to on camera I can’t even fathom something like that. One of my biggest problems has been spreading myself to thin and trying to do EVERYTHING. Music is something I will always love and be a part of in someway. But not be behind the mic.
GL: Talk a little bit about The heART Gallery: how it started, where it’s going?
RRT: The heART Gallery is my baby. It started out of boredom. In Jersey it’s the same thing, every damn week. And coming from a musical/artistic family, I really wasn’t being fed what I loved. Some of my boys came to me with the idea, and we just collaborated on these crazy ideas, and then it just all came together. Where it’s going I don’t know right now, it’s hard to say. We’ll do more shows in DC, eventually NC where I went to school. I don’t think Jersey is the place for it to really be as big as it can be. I pray that I’m wrong, but we’re 3 years in and people are just now starting to realize “Yo this is dope”.
GL: How did growing up in Essex County shape you?
RRT: Growing up in Essex County made me balanced. My parents were divorced so I got to see two completely different sides of the county. My mom lived in South Orange, my dad in Irvington. So I went to some bar mitzvahs and a lot of funerals. For whatever reason when I was in high school, I decided to gravitate towards my friends in Irvington more than my friends in South Orange. In hindsight, it was the dumbest thing ever. Especially since a lot of them are literally dead or in jail. And my friends from South Orange are world changers. Lawyers, doctors, teachers beautiful people. Granted you have a lot of good people who have done great things out of Irvington, and folks from South Orange whose lives are in shambles. But I just wish I took more of an initiative to learn more in South Orange. I think I’d be further along in my career than I am now. It didn’t really click until my freshman year in college what kind of man I wanted to be. Had I kept myself more involved in the books up in South Orange instead of the parties in Newark and Irvington, I could’ve avoided a lot of mistakes I feel like.
GL: What made you relocate to DC?
RRT: I’ve always loved DC. I really wanted to go to Howard coming out of high school, but didn’t get in. After school a lot of my friends and basically, my support system, all moved to DC. So I feel really at home there, really at peace. It’s a real city, a real place. Jersey was a great place to grow up, but to be a young professional interested in having fun, it’s not the spot. I knew it was time to leave when one of my boys asked me if I wanted to go to happy hour and I asked him where, his reply was “Fridays”… That’s not real life. There’s really nothing here to do except go to New York. On any given night I want to have the option of doing something different, whether party or something cultural. (Editor’s Note: #SHADE)
RRT: Of course through social networking. On twitter @ItsRodneyRikai or on Facebook at Facebook.Com/RodneyRikai. But just continue to support The heART Gallery man. We need it. We put a lot of effort and energy into it, and we just need the love back. Check us out at www.HGThingsWeLove.Com and my site should be up and running soon www.RodneyRikai.Com.