By Glenn Frizell
BLACK HISTORY, NOTABLE BROADCASTERS, FEB. 20: Ananda Lewis is an American television personality, model, and social activist. Lewis was born in 1973 in Los Angeles, California to a Pacific Bell account manager, and a computer-animation specialist. She is of African American and Native American descent, specifically of the Creek and Blackfoot tribes. Her name means “bliss” in Sanskrit. When Ananda was two, she moved with her mother to live in San Diego, California. Lewis struggled with a speech impediment, stuttering until she was eight years old. n 1981 Lewis entered herself in the Little Miss San Diego Contest, a beauty pageant, and won. During the talent portion of the competition, Lewis performed a dance routine, which she had choreographed herself, to Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney’s ballad “Ebony and Ivory.” After her win, Lewis attracted the attention of a talent agent and began working in local theater productions and on television. In fourth grade she enrolled at the San Diego School of Creative and Performance Arts, a public magnet school. She majored in history at Howard University, in Washington, D.C., and graduated, cum laude, in 1995. Throughout college Lewis volunteered as a mentor with Youth at Risk and at the Youth Leadership Institute. She was considering attending graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in education when she learned that auditions were going to be held for on-screen host of BET’s Teen Summit. She states that the children she was working with that summer were the main ones pushing her to audition. Lewis’s audition would be a success and for three seasons she hosted Teen Summit, discussing serious issues affecting teenagers for a television audience of several million. In 1996 Teen Summit was nominated for a CableACE Award, and the next year the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) presented Ananda Lewis with an Image Award for her work on Black Entertainment Television . Soon afterward the cable network MTV offered Lewis a position as a program host and video jockey. Lewis’s style is responsible for bringing celebrity interviewing to a new level on a pair of regularly aired shows on MTV: Total Request Live, a daily Top 10 video-countdown show, and The Hot Zone, which offered both music videos and Lewis’s interviews. In 2001 Lewis earned another NAACP Image Award, for her hosting of the MTV special True Life: I Am Driving While Black. In 2001, Lewis decided to leave MTV in order to start her own talk show. The Ananda Lewis Show debuted on September 10, 2001, after much advance press. It was billed as an alternative to the sensationalism and provocative offerings of Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake, whose talk shows were then dominating daytime ratings. and aired on some WB and NBC stations before being canceled after one season.