From being a child star on All That and Kenan & Kel to earning his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Kenan Thompson has done it all. He shared his secrets to longevity in entertainment.
There’s nothing like giving back by paying forward, and that’s exactly what Kenan Thompson is doing with the next generation of talent. As a child star himself, as seen in millennial cult-favorites across Nickelodeon like All That and Kenan & Kel, Thompson has made his journey through the entertainment industry look effortless. The six-time Emmy Award nominee earned his own self-titled sitcom on NBC, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and is the longest-running cast member on the iconic late-night series Saturday Night Live.
Now, as he’s able to marvel at the fruits of his own labor, Thompson wants to pour his knowledge, passion, and expertise into the next big thing from Generation Alpha by facilitating opportunities for others to make their dreams come true while giving back to an industry that he believes poured equally as much into him.
As he praised his executive producer Cherie Chiles-Buchanan of Simply C Productions for her unwavering partnership and eye for talent, Thompson was eager to dish the details about the partnership with the iconic Hard Rock International for the annual Young Stars 360 talent search in an effort to find the brightest stars of tomorrow, ages 5 to 17.
The national talent search kicked off at the Hard Rock Cafe in New Orleans on April 1, followed by stops in major cities including Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York City, before closing out in Chicago in May.
“We’ve been doing this for years, but we’ve been doing little showcases and comedy shows and stuff, but for the kids, we wanted to widen the net and include singing talents and dancing talents, stand up or improv or whatever,” Thompson told Boardroom.
Judged by a panel of esteemed network executives, influencers, and entertainment professionals, the award-winning actor, comedian, and producer is giving the next generation of talent the opportunity to show the world what it’s made of across performing arts, media, and entrepreneurship.
“Whatever kind of talents, we’ll serve as kind of the entertainment industry and help them get a foot in the door if we can, or give them information to send them along the journey,” he said.
Ahead of his final tour stop for his 13th annual Young Stars 360 national talent search, Kenan Thompson spoke with Boardroom about the myths of being a child star in the entertainment industry, the importance of mentorship, and what he looks for in the next big things to come out of his talent search.
D’SHONDA BROWN: What are some of the top qualities that you’ve seen thus far on the tour?
KENAN THOMPSON: Talent is pretty apparent, so whatever they’re good at. We’re looking for the diamonds in the rough, I guess. I know confidence is key and this and that and the other, but I don’t want to be too cliché about it, but basically whatever your child is really taken a shine to, we want to encourage.
DB: I see the cities, I see the tour dates. Tell me what attendees can expect, what you’ve been most excited about, and what you will continue to be excited about as the Young Stars 360 tour closes out.
KT: The showcases have been really great. The kids are super-duper talented, and I think it’s a good room. It’s a good gathering and it’s like Facebook community in-person. It’s like getting back to actually being around each other and mingling and connecting with people that can connect you with other people for other opportunities. That’s kind of the way it works; like the word-of-mouth thing is real. You can watch God-given talents coming through these kids. It’s amazing.
DB: What does this opportunity mean to you to be able to pour into the next generation of talent?
KT: It means everything. It’s an artistic community, so I want to keep the artistic community thriving and flowing and that’s how you do it. You gotta bring in the next generation. So if I could make it easier or something like that, or just share wisdom or share opportunity, then I’m all about that.
DB: Why is mentorship important for young talent in the entertainment industry?
KT: I don’t know if information just comes flying to you like that. You need your mentors, you need your parents, your teachers, your guidance counselors. You need the wisdom of the people that have lived these lives out here. It’s not just things that you can necessarily find in a book or know what book to go get that’s gonna appeal to you. Sometimes it’s better hearing it from a person with that experience, I guess. It’s kind of the most important thing. The original storytelling was from person to person.
DB: If you could give these young talents a piece of advice about longevity and authenticity in the entertainment industry, what would you tell them?
KT: I think it’s right there in the question with the authenticity word. That’s a big part of it. Staying true to self and that will service what you’re putting out, but it’ll also service yourself. You don’t really want to spend your life trying to be somebody else, and then when you go home, you have to be a different person — that’s confusing. I think at the end of the day, it’s exhausting. You wanna maintain your true, genuine kind of energy and focus and drive, or your purpose so that can come through your art.
Genuine comes to mind, you know what I mean? As long as you’re genuine and you’re trying to be positive or affect change or any of those kinds of things, that will service the journey in those in between times when maybe you’re not getting a job that’s going to subsidize your lifestyle necessarily and balances the realities of life. This is a business, so you try to get a paycheck or whatever and start a career, if you will. At the same time, if that career is you forever being outside your true self, it can be exhausting.
DB: In order to elevate the next generation of child stars, advice and mentorship — as I mentioned before — is important. If you could take a piece from your career that maybe you wish you would’ve learned or done something different, what would it be?
KT: I don’t know. I appreciate all the journey, even the times I’ve been misquoted. That’s more so when you become like an entity that has to do interviews and stuff. When you’re just an artist and you’re part of an ensemble, whether it’s a play or a show or something like that, you can just focus on that. When you become a public persona, if you will, you should read up on the responsibilities of that, for sure.
DB: If you could demystify anything about being a child star, what would it be?
KT: I don’t know if child stars are necessarily always cursed to go down the wrong path, necessarily. A lot of us have actually kind of stayed the course and stayed focused and stayed out of trouble or whatever. I think the common denominator with the ones that haven’t necessarily fallen off the rails or whatever, are [they’re] very close to their families. Family is important and your support system and your community is important. Stay true and stay close to those that know you best.
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