Lewis, Ananda 1973–
Ananda Lewis 1973–
From Head Start to the Hot Zone
Almost as soon as she arrived at MTV in 1997, veejay Ananda Lewis began turning heads. In designer gowns at star-studded parties, on the red carpet at the Grammy’s, hamming it up on camera with show biz’s biggest names. With her waist-length hair, unique sense of style and mile-wide smile, The New York Times quickly dubbed her, “the hip-hop generation’s ultimate ‘it’ girl.” But don’t judge her by her onscreen persona—what she called “the plasticky TV stuff,” in Horizon Magazine.This on-air hipster has been turning minds for a lot longer than she’s been turning heads. Lewis has worked with youth programs since she was in high school and still considers it her life’s role. On her website she proclaimed, “I came to this planet to impact people’s lives, change things, and help people heal by increasing their personal power.”
Less Than Bliss
Ananda Lewis was born in Los Angeles in 1973, the second daughter in a working-class family. Her name, Ananda, Sanskrit for bliss, did anything but describe her early life. When she was two, her parents Yvonne and Stanley divorced. Her mother packed up Ananda and her older sister Lakshmi and moved them to San Diego to be closer to their grandmother. She told Essence, “There were always situations when I couldn’t see my dad because he was too busy or because his second wife didn’t want kids around. So that was an issue for me.” With her father gone and her mother working around the clock, Lewis found herself with too little discipline and too much time on her hands. She recalled in Honey Magazine how she almost burnt the kitchen down once.
Fortunately for the fire insurers, in fourth grade she enrolled in the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts (SDSCPA) which redirected her energies into theater, music and photography. “The teachers I had at SDSCPA and the supportive, nurturing environment…are probably the number one reasons I am seeing success now,” she said on her website. However, the arts couldn’t keep this self-described big-mouth quiet. “I was the one making those little smart-assed comments, but I was very quick-witted, and it would be funny, so [the teacher] would laugh as she scolded,” she told Honey Magazine.
At a Glance…
Born in 1973 in Los Angeles; parents are Yvonne, retired account manager for Pacific Bell and Stanley, a computer animation specialist; one older sister Lakshmi, a doctor; parents divorced when Lewis was two; raised in San Diego by mother and grandmother. Education: graduated cum laude from Howard University in 1995 with a BA in history.
Career: Hosted the television show Teen Summit on BET, 1995-1997; joined MTV as veejay in 1997, hosts Hot Zone; launches talk show Ananda, Fall 2001.
Awards: Nominated for a Cable Ace Award in 1996; NAACP Image Award, 1997.
Addresses: MTV, 1515 Broadway, New York, NY, 10036, (212)258-8000.
Of Tutus and Tutors
During her school years two things happened that would impact the course her life would take. She recalled in Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) “the first and last” pageant that she competed in. In a black and white tutu sewn together by her grandmother, she danced to “Ebony and Ivory.” She won the pageant and scored an agent while she was at it. Despite landing television and theater spots, she was not ready for the entertainment world.
At thirteen she turned to Head Start and felt she had found her calling. Working with kids as a tutor and counselor led to a dream of studying psychology in college. However, when she arrived at Howard University she majored in history. “My parents were adamant about me going to law school and I was adamant about not going, so I chose history as a compromise,” she told Stress Magazine. “But my youth work is where I definitely felt I was heading.”
Throughout college, she continued working with kids through programs like Youth at Risk, a life-restructuring program for teenagers. She also spent two summers as a trainer with the Youth Leadership and Development Institute.” I had 20 young folk everyday for three months per summer. It was so intense to witness the impact of my work.”
From Head Start to the Hot Zone
When graduation rolled around in 1995, she found herself unsure what to do. Her parents were pressuring her to apply to law school and she was considering joining Teach for America or continuing on to graduate school, when she was sidelined by a chance to audition for Black Entertainment Television (BET) as a host for Teen Summit.Unable to make up her mind, her youth group made it for her. “My youngins’ were like ‘If you don’t [audition], everything you taught us about reaching for our highest potential is basically bullshit,’” she recalled on her website. Within months, she was hosting the show.
Teen Summit turned out to be the perfect fit. It allowed her to continue working on youth issues but with a much broader impact. The show dealt with problems from homeless teens to teen pregnancy. In three seasons as host, Lewis made quite an impression, not only her audience, but also on media professionals. The show was nominated for a 1996 Cable Ace Award and in 1997, was awarded an NAACP Image Award for the “It Takes a Village” episode, in large part due to Lewis’ interview with Hillary Rodham-Clinton. Soon after, MTV came calling.
Lewis was at first hesitant to leave a show that she felt made a difference in the lives of teens. On her website’s bio she said, “I knew that I would not readily have access to doing a show like this again for a very long time and I had a real problem with that.” However, she realized that at MTV she could a reach broader audience, and hopefully get to a place where she could have more influence and make more of an impact on the youth issues she caras so much for.
Soon after arriving a: MTV, she was assigned her own show, “Hot Zone,” and her celebrity shot up. She didn’t waste time using it to promote a youth issue that she feels strongly about—teen abstinence. Her first sexual experience was the result of date rape. However, though she was just fifteen, she feels that if she had had more self-esteem, she could have said no. She feels that empowering girls to say no will help prevent another young girl from getting in that situation. For Lewis, this sometimes means well-publicized bouts of abstinence. By being so open with both her past experience and her current practices, she is already reaching out to young women through her role as an MTV star.
More Than Just a Pretty Face
There is more to Lewis than just her youth activism. “I saw MTV not only as access to the masses, but also an opportunity to be more of the woman I am and cultivate my ability to have fun,” she said on her website. One role she hadn’t bargained for was that of style guru. Since hitting MTV, her unique style has gotten her noticed not only in your standard celeb rags, but in fashion heavy hitters like WWD and Vogue.Of her funky look she told WWD, “I’ve never been able to go into a store and pull something off the rack and say ‘It’s perfect’ I’ve always wanted to tweak it a little.” Despite her success, she still shops in Target and buys sunglasses at drugstores, though she does love to glam it up in designer duds for big events. However, conscious of her influence on young women, she advised teens in WWD, “Go to a thrift store and buy what you like…. You shouldn’t be saving up allowance to buy one pair of jeans when you could buy half a store full of thrift store stuff and funk it out yourself.”
Lewis is also contending with the public’s fascination with her looks. Her beauty has landed her on the cover of many magazines and she was voted one of the world’s 50 most beautiful people by People Magazine.Lewis takes all this focus on her appearance with a grain of salt, shrugging it off as genetics. Dismissing responsibility for her good looks in Honey Magazine she said, “[What I’m responsible for] is what my heart does, what my mind does and what my mouth does.”
Lewis will be able to take that responsibility much further when King World Productions launches her much anticipated talk show, “Ananda,” in the Fall of 2001. Envisioned as an intelligent and entertaining show that tackles controversial topics to get people talking, the show is already eliciting comparisons to Oprah. That’s fine with Lewis. “It’s a huge compliment just to be put into the same sentence with her,” she told Broadcasting and Cable.Though she will continue to host beach parties on MTV, she hopes that “Ananda” will be a move back towards the more serious issues that she dealt with in Teen Summit.
Woman of a Thousand Faces
Lewis is a bright light in the din of stylish stars that are all fluff and no stuff. She is that enviable mix of beauty and brains. A self-described boot addict and a youth activist, she is strongly committed to conquering the problems that youth face today, with a few shopping tips thrown in. As fluent in hip-hop culture as she is in issues of teen sexuality, she is a voice for teens that knows how to speak their language. Fashion icon, MTV house party girl, spokesperson for Reading is Fundamental—this diversity is what makes Lewis so influential and so real. On a live chat on People.com, she said, “My advice to anyone is to be exactly who you are…you bring something unique that no one else really has.” She lives what she preaches and hopefully as she continues to be her own inimitable, positively 100% Ananda-self, she’ll inspire kids struggling to find themselves in this mad MTV-fueled world we live in.
Broadcasting and Cable, Jan 8, 2001, p37.
Essence, June, 2000, pl00.
Honey Magazine, October 1999.
Horizon, January, 1999.
People Weekly, May 8, 2000, pl20.
Stress Magazine, Feb/Mar 1998.
WWD, August 10, 2000, p 6B.
Additional information was obtained at: www.anan-dalewis.com
Lewis, Ananda 1973–
Lewis, Ananda 1973–
Full name, Sarasvati Ananda Lewis; born March 21, 1973, in San Diego, CA; daughter of Stanley (a computer animation specialist) and Yvonne (an account manager) Lewis. Education: Howard University, B.A., history (cum laude), 1995.
Addresses: Manager—3 Arts Entertainment, 9460 Wilshire Blvd., 7th Floor, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Career: Actress and television show host. Appeared in television commercials as a child; Radio station 100.3 "The Beat's Morning Show," Los Angeles, CA, cohost, 2005. Reading is Fundamental, national spokesperson.
Awards, Honors: Image Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1997; Teen Choice Award nomination, television—choice personality, 2000, for Total Request Live; Teen Choice Award nomination, television—choice personality, 2002.
Herself, On the Line, Miramax, 2001.
Honoree, The 14th Annual Inner City Destiny Awards, Tri Destined Studios, 2006.
Television Appearances; Series:
Host, Teen Summit, Black Entertainment Television, 1994–97.
Host, 12 Angry Viewers, MTV, 1997.
Host, MTV Live, MTV, 1997.
Host, Hot Zone, MTV, 1999.
Host, Total Request Live (also known as TRL and Total Request with Carson Daly), MTV, 1999–2001.
Narrator, MTV Cribs, MTV, 2000.
Host, The Ananda Lewis Show, syndicated, 2001.
Herself, Celebrity Mole: Yucatan, ABC, 2004.
Correspondent, The Insider, syndicated, 2004–.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Cohost, Wanna Be a VJ Too, MTV, 1989.
Cohost, Castaway Countdown TRL, MTV, 1999.
Host, MTV Video Music Awards Opening Act, MTV, 1999.
Narrator, True Life: I Am Driving While Black, MTV, 1999.
Presenter, The 30th NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 1999.
Host, MTV 2 Large New Year's Eve Party, MTV, 1999.
Host, Backstreet TV: Live in Orlando, MTV, 1999.
Host, Millionth Video (also known as MTV's "Millionth Video"), MTV, 2000.
Host, MTV Sports & Music Festival 4: The Ultimate Survival, MTV, 2000.
Host, Whitney TV., MTV, 2000.
Host, DFX Presents: Jay-Z's Roller Ball, MTV, 2000.
Host, 100 Greatest Pop Songs, MTV, 2000.
The 2000 Teen Choice Awards, Fox, 2000.
Backstage host, The 2000 Essence Awards, Fox, 2000.
The 2001 Teen Choice Awards, Fox, 2001.
Presenter, The 2001 MTV Video Music Awards, MTV, 2001.
Host, The 16th Annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards, syndicated, 2001.
Judge, Miss USA 2001, CBS, 2001.
MTV Summer Uncensored, MTV, 2001, Destiny's Child Live, MTV, 2001.
1st Annual BET Awards, Black Entertainment Television, 2001.
Presenter, MTV Video Music Awards 2001, MTV, 2001.
Host, On the Red Carpet: Oscars 2002, ABC, 2002.
The 7th Annual Prism Awards, FX Channel, 2003.
2003 Trumpet Awards, TBS, 2003.
Host, The Insider on VH1 Desperate Housewives Special, VH1, 2004.
Cohost, America's Top Dog, Arts and Entertainment, 2004.
The 36th Annual NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 2005.
All Shades of Fine: 25 Hottest Women of the Past 25 Years, Black Entertainment Television, 2005.
25 Strong: The BET Silver Anniversary Special, Black Entertainment Television, 2005.
The 20th Annual Soul Train Music Awards, syndicated, 2006.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
Method & Red, Fox, 2004.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
The Chris Rock Show, HBO, 1999.
Hollywood Squares (also known as H2 and H2: Hollywood Squares), syndicated, 2001.
Howard Stern, E! Entertainment Television, 2002.
Host, "The Aftermath," High School Reunion, The WB, 2004.
Weekends at the DL, Comedy Central, 2005.
Appeared in For Colored Girls Who Attempt Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, San Diego, CA.
Appeared in Aaliyah's "I Miss You."
Contemporary Black Biography, Vol. 28, Gale Group, 2001.
Notable Black American Women, Book 3, Gale Group, 2002.
Essence, June, 2000, p. 100; October, 2001, pp. 46, 126.
People, May 8, 2000, p. 120.
Teen People, November 1, 2001, p. 84.
Time, August 6, 2001, p. 56.