Johnson Raela – promo shot from Operation Hero
What can I say? This guy has come to be such a good friend of mine in such a short time because I only met him towards the end of 2012 but some of the most memorable, funny experiences I had in 2013 were with him and his friends haha. Shout out to the CG Crew – Zach & Seymore (I still crack up at that night & we’ll have to thank Zach for his birthday being so much fun lol) and our Sunday Sessions crew – Pip & Upu always good times and it’s been a privilege to meet all of you through Jons. On a personal note Johnson has been an awesome friend – donated clothes to my kids, supported my sisters with their baking & blogging ventures, helped with driving down to Morrinsville and back in one night and yeah, lots of fun times so thank you my friend!
Yup had to get a CG Crew pic up in here but I’m not sure why Johnson is looking upset in this pic lol!
I first met Johnson at the Mixer 3 which is an event that Niu FM put on and I was there to photograph the event for SUGA magazine. Johnson was there with a mutual friend of ours – Niu FM night show host KoulaTuitupou-Kutu and she introduced us. I met up with them later at the after party and ended up dancing & singing, pretending we were in music videos with Johnson – I was like omg! This guy has no shame just like me haha At the time he was still living in Christchurch as he was finishing out his contract on What Now (Childrens television programme that he was a presenter in) but as soon as he was back in Auckland we caught up and I bombarded him with a bunch of questions in regards to how he broke into the TV industry.
OK so Johnsons IV was one of the first I’d done where I actually recorded it – ummm how bout I had no idea how long it would take to transcribe our 2 hour conversation lol! We met half way through the year just before he was about to do “Bad Jelly the Witch” and updated it and that was another 40 mins or so of us straight talking – needless to say LESSON LEARNED & I try to keep my IVs short and sweet now haha
I really wanted to share his story because he gives some really good advice on breaking into the industry and his story is an awesome example in itself of being persistent and WORKING HARD!! So many young people think they’ll just get things handed to them without the ground work and relationship building first but don’t see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. Another reason I wanted to share his story was because there are a lot of young people who are on their last couple of years of high school and looking at what career options there are out there and although Johnson did a Bachelor of Communications and it may not be what they’re looking at doing – the same basic principles apply in regards to doing well in high school, applying to university, getting their foot in the door of the industry they’re trying to get into etc – so here is Johnsons story.
Me: What’s your ethnic & family background?
Jons: Both my parents are Cook Islanders – both from Aitutaki …. So that’s me … a very proud Cook Islander. I should also add that my Mum is part Samoan, but I know very little about that side. I’m New Zealand born, so my family – my Mum and my stepdad – well he’s pretty much my Dad because he’s been a great father figure & tremendous influence on me and has been around since I was 3. I don’t really have a close relationship with my birth father. So yeah, NZ born and there’s 5 of us. Older brother, myself, 2 younger brothers and 1 sister she’s the youngest.
Me: So did you grow up out South? (Auckland)
Jons: I consider myself from South Auckland now but I actually grew up in Mt Albert and spent a few years out West Auckland. As a child I went through this phase where I was moving between my Mum and birth father. I call it my rebellious phase (laughs) where I just got caught up in so much crap having to move around a lot and not really feeling like I had a true sense of belonging, except maybe when I was with my grand mother. I didn’t really have the best time at primary, intermediate or high school – I almost got kicked out from Waitakere College in 3rd form. Hated it! Got snapped with drugs you know and I don’t know why, I guess I was just tryna be part of the cool crowd. I look back at it now and I’m like ‘Jons your were such a wannabe’ (laughs) ‘Such a rude dude’ and yeah…during the ages of 5 – 13 years I was moving heaps between my parents.
Me: Where did you end up after that incident?
Jons: I was supposed to go to MAGS but I didn’t go, I ended up taking off from my birth fathers house and went and stayed with my Mum and got put into Aorere College. Showed up there and was like oh my god this place is a hole BUT it was actually the best 4 years of my life! Made such amazing friends that I’m still friends with now.
Me: Was that your turn around point?
Jons: Yeah, that was my turn around! I’d always been, OK at school and I went from a middle range stream – you know they stream you in High School? So yeah, I went from a middle range stream in Waitakere to the top stream at Aorere and I guess you get thrown into a class where all the kids are the same – they think the same and they’re hard workers and stuff. I’m so, so grateful that I managed to come across this group of people.
Me: When you were in High School did you know what kind of career you wanted to get into?
Jons: Not really, like I thought I wanted to be a teacher but I’d always been interested in the performance aspect of things. I said to my parents I wouldn’t mind going to Toi Whakaari which is the acting and drama school down in Wellington and they were like ‘Why do you want to do that for – there’s no money in drama, in acting or the arts’ and this is just you know typical island parents – they wanted me to be an accountant. But I’m like how can I be an accountant when I failed maths (laughs) you know? I mean academically I was ok but not THAT great! It wasn’t until my last year that I realised the whole media thing interested me cos I’ve always loved writing so that’s kind of where the seed was planted and I liked being involved with Polyfest and the Smoke Free Stage Challenge and those kind of things. I liked the whole directing side of things and coming up with creative ideas for those kind of projects and I guess that’s where I got a taste of it – but we had no media class at Aorere so I had no idea what I was getting into when I applied for it at uni.
Me: What did you apply to study for in university?
Jons: Well, 7th form I applied for uni – I applied for a Bachelor of Communications at AUT. 2006 was my first year and 2008 was my final year. I applied for a Bachelor of Communications and I didn’t get in!! and I was like why the hell didn’t I get in?! My grades were OK, I passed everything sweet as, so why didn’t I get in? But yeah, the intake for that particular degree is REALLY small and I didn’t know that so many people apply for that course.
I originally wanted to go to Broadcasting school in Christchurch but then my Mum & Step-Dad said no, you’re not allowed to move away from home (laughs). I was just going to apply for a Bachelor of Arts but then I’d been at the Smokefree Stage Challenge and they have all the universities there putting up all their little stalls encouraging you to go to their university and I met a lady there who told me about the course. I took a prospectus home and Carol Hirschfeld was the face of it and I was like “I know this lady” and you flip through it and Pippa Wetzel also did the same course and then you look at all these names that have gone through and I was like “This must be a pretty good course – why not” Applied for it, didn’t get in, got pissed off so I picked up my letter of rejection and took it to the Communications school and went to see the programme leader (Rosemary Brewer).
I walked into her office and she was like “Uh sorry but do you have a meeting?” and I was like “No but I just want to come and discuss why I’ve been rejected from uni” and she tried to explain that there are so many people who apply but they can only take a certain number and I was just like “Yeah, but why can’t you take me?” I just couldn’t take no for an answer and I said to her “Well what can I do to get in?” and she said “Well you can apply again next year” and I’m like “Well I don’t want to!” (Laughs!) and it almost turned into a heated argument and she just wanted me to get out of her office. Then she was like “Look just give me your details” so I did and went home and I was gutted!
I didn’t want to tell my parents that I didn’t get in because I think it would have been the ultimate down buzz for them and I just felt so embarassed that after getting all these awards at senior prizegiving, being granted a scholarship to go there that it was just the ultimate fail that I didn’t get in!
For me at that age, I didn’t really tell anybody but I was just in constant prayer all the time and in constant battle with God saying “Lord why is it that year 13, 7th form year was such a great year, everything was given to me yet, this year, right at the start the thing that I really want the most – you don’t want to give it to me”
Then about 2 days later I get this phone call and the callers like “Oh Hi Johnson this is Rosemary here, would you like to come into my office and have a chat?” so I was like yeah, sweet as.
So I went and showed up to Rosemarys office and she said that I kind of left a lasting impression on her because here’s this boy from South Auckland who just showed up to her office and had an argument with her and wants to get in to uni so badly
Me: That’s so good though because it probably showed her that you really wanted it!
Jons: I didn’t know if I wanted it but obviously it was, but for me it was more of a “I don’t want to fail” I didn’t want to go back to my parents and be like I didn’t get in because I didn’t have any back-up plan.
And yeah, Rosemary said “Look, I’m just going to make a spot available for you” and I just said Thank you! Yeah, I’ll take it! And she said OK you start tomorrow!
Me: So your scholarship – was that to specifically do the Bachelor of Communications?
Jons: Nah it was just an AUT University scholarship that I could use to study anything I wanted to. I was so thankful for it because otherwise I would have had a massive student loan like a lot of people do.
Rosemary was on my case the whole time. When I went to uni it was such a massive wake up call – I thought I was prepared for it …. I so wasn’t!
I went from getting merits and Excellents with NCEA to just scraping through with C’s in my first semester. She called me into her office again and was like “Look you promised me you were going to work hard” and I did! I worked my ass off – went to extra tutorials and stuff and I always just thank her! Every year I send her a Christmas card and a box of Roses just to say thank you and for taking that chance on this boy who just showed up into her office demanding a place on a course.
I really struggled in uni just with writing essays – I really struggled!
Communications – they work you so hard but its worth it and I don’t doubt it one bit and you can see why so many people have succeeded coming out of that course.
Promo shot of Johnson used in the AUT Bachelor of Communications Graduate Profiles – check his profile on the AUT site out here
Me: At what point in university do you have to decide what your major is?
Jons: The second year they give you 3 choices – you can choose to dabble in 3 and I chose Radio, TV and Journalism. I wanted to go in and be a journo.
The first year covers everything like PR, advertising it covers like moving images, creative images and all this other stuff but for me I had my heart set on Journalism. Another reason I wanted to get into communications is because I looked on-screen and at the time I looked on TV, radio and across media in general and I didn’t feel that there were enough brown faces there or enough brown voices. So I thought hey, if I could be another brown, Pasifika person telling our stories and for me in particular, having a Cook Island role model to look up to is very rare. Like there’s always a lot of Tongans and Samoans but not so many Cook Islanders. I mean, you have Tagata Pasifika but for me it was wanting to be mainstream and being able to be a voice for other Cook Islanders out there and show them that we can be mainstream and in mainstream media but its up to us to work hard and that was one of my main goals and driving forces behind it.
A bit of a personal story behind going to uni was that after so many years my birth father suddenly popped up again and he’s like “Come stay with me and I can pay for your uni fees and all that, if you stay with your Mum you won’t really get anywhere because she can’t afford it and your Mum and step Dad are just working factory jobs” and it was just like a kick in the gut like how could your own birth parent say that to you? So I made it my mission to prove him wrong and it became a driving force to succeed and do it for my parents, for my Mum and StepDad.
But yeah, uni – oh gosh! I don’t miss being a poor student (laughs)
It’s kind of the same place that I got my break really.
After my 2nd year had finished, I wanted to get into radio but I didn’t and again I was gutted and again I was going to march up to Rosemarys office and be like “Look I applied for radio – I didn’t get in, tell me why?” and I did (laughs)
For me, journalism was out the window because I felt like it was an invasion of privacy as much as we like to know whats going on in the world and in other peoples lives I just didn’t want to be nosey and you know, stir stories I guess.
So this time Rosemary said “Look I can’t do anything about it because it’s not me who picks the people who get into the radio programme” so I was like ok I’ll just make do with TV and in the first week of my 3rd year I was offered a job and this is where the story starts in how my career unfolded.
I had finished uni classes for the day and had gone down to catch the train home with a friend and as it was the afternoon it was real busy, we jumped on the train and had a seat and there was this lady standing there in the aisles so I went all the way up to the front to see the lady and was like “hey, my mate and I have a seat over there would you like to come and sit down” and she was like “OK”. She was in running shoes, trackpants and she was in this raggedy as jumper holding a handbag with a messed up haircut and she was kinda biggish you know? She came and sat down and I sat on the floor next to her in the aisle and she started chatting to us and was like “So what do you boys do?” and my mate told her he was studying business and I told her I was doing communications and we just started talking. I told her I’d wanted to get into radio but I’d been shut out and so I had to do TV instead and so she said to me “Here’s my number, give me a call tomorrow about 9.30amish and you can come in and see me” so I’m like Oh OK! And I still had no idea who this lady was. Her name is Victoria Fitisemanu. I gave her a call the next day and this lady picks up and she’s like “Hi this is Victorias PA” and I’m thinking “This lady has a PA?” because to be honest, being stereotypical I was like “Oh she must be like a cleaner or something you know?” that was my first thoughts and then her PA told me she’d been expecting my call and to come in and see her.
So 11am I rock up to the Radio Network and I’m still thinking she’s a cleaner and she hadn’t told me anything – just gave me her number to call and stuff and so I go up to see her and she’s dressed all corporate and I’m like whoa! This isn’t the lady I met yesterday and I said to her “What do you do here?” and her role is one of the Chief Financial Controllers in the company so in terms of the money – she was the lady to go to. She handled all the millions of dollars that got pumped through the company each year and I’m like “Wow this is the Samoan lady I thought was the cleaner and she’s actually one of the Top Dogs” and anyway she’d arranged a meeting with a guy called James Daniels and I’m like “I know who James Daniels is!” (He’s Stacey Daniels Dad) and he’s like one of the pioneers of NZ radio I guess.
So I still don’t know whats happening but she takes me down to James Daniels office and she’d obviously told him that I wanted to get into radio and she said to him “Do you have a job for him?” and James said “Yeah, we’ve got promo work” and I was like “Sweet I’ll take anything!” And he said “Good you start tomorrow!” And then yeah, it’s pretty weird how it all happened – from offering my seat up on the train to this lady, to finding out who she actually was and then having a meeting with James Daniels who was the Operations Manager at the Radio Network at the time, to starting the very next day and it was doing promo for Flava at Polyfest. So I worked with them doing promo for a good couple of months.
Johnson doing promo at Polyfest in Manukau with a friend.
Me: Was that part time while you were still at university?
Jons: Yeah, while I was at uni and it was hard! Trying to juggle because I’d just say yes, yes, yes all the time to get in there but I was sacrificing my commitment to uni work and you could see it in my grades as well! I was still scraping through – just! It all paid off 6 months later because I happened to be in the office at the right time and I think a lot of it for me is being at the right place at the right time!
At that time there was a big blow up between the Breakfast producer and the boss ….. and the producer walked out! The boss was like arrrgghh! What am I going to do? And I was there so he asked me what I was doing the next morning and I was like “Nothing” – but really I had class – and he said we need someone to come in and cover the producer who’s just walked out and he asked me to do it until he found a replacement. I was like “I have no idea what to do” and he’s like “Don’t worry they’ll help you” and so I walk into this studio at 5am and there’s Stacey Daniels who I grew up listening to and grew up watching on Mai Time and also Dave Fane – you know, a NZ comedian and actor, those 2 sitting there and the news guy at the time Pete Marsden A.K.A ‘Pete Da Palagi’ and I’m sitting there like ‘How can I be in a room with these people?’ but they were awesome! They just gave me so much advice and I was only 20 at the time and these are like professionals who have been in the industry for 10 plus years since I was a kid. I was there for about 3 weeks just covering the producer role until they asked me if I’d like to take it over as a full time role.
Johnson Raela at work on his Drive show at Flava
Me: So what do you do as the Producer?
Jons: (Laughs) I just call it being the receptionist! You do all the phone calls and stuff, you line up the interviews, liaise with the record companies for the international artists who are coming through NZ and you also have to sit down with the announcers and come up with creative ideas for promotions, for clients etc so there is a bit of work but in the morning you’re basically the shows receptionist because you’re screening all the calls. One of the things I loved about it was being able to give away big prizes. Having that input into being able to give overseas trips away. So I was doing that just for the breakfast show and I loved that – I loved the behind the scenes stuff but yeah, I was just like ‘How did I at the age of 20 get the title of “Producer for the Flava Breakfast show” and yeah I was there for about 8 months in that producer role and oh man, the people that we met – you know like the international celebrities and guests that you meet through that channel was just crazy.
Me: Who was your favourite? Or like the one where you were like “Whoa! I got to meet this person?”
Jons: Probably when Stevie Wonder came and he did a concert in 09? I was just like Wow!! That was a big Wow moment! Also getting to travel to the different markets that Flava was in at the time, meeting heaps of different people and also at the same time, seeing how the industry works. It was a lot to take in. Also getting the chance to interview so many well know artists it was crazy! I’m speaking to Neyo or Mary J Blige on the phone and seeing Chris Brown and Rihanna when they toured here and Flo Rida when he was here. I just couldn’t believe so early on that I was in the position that I was, im forever greatful for this.
So that lasted 8 months and as you know with businesses, money was thin and they had to make cuts and so they cut the producers role but they offered me my own show. I wasn’t really keen on it but I just kind of fell into it because nobody else was there at the time. I got offered the night show role at Flava where I started to learn my grounding as a presenter and hone those presenting skills on air. I did that for about 2 and ½ years before landing a contract to live and work in Christchurch.
Johnson at work interviewing Chingy in the Flava Studios – photo by Sara Photography
Me: YES!! How did that come about?
Jons: Well a couple of years ago the Erin Simpson show started up and I’d met the producer through radio – Dave Fane actually gave me her contact and said hey give this lady a call they’re looking for reporters. So I was like OK! Didn’t know what the show was about obviously because it hadn’t started yet so I kind of auditioned for it and she ummm’d and ahhh’d a bit and to me it was obviously a ‘no’ and I just thought ‘all good I’ll keep going with radio’ but then a couple months later I got a call from the producer of ‘What Now’ and his name is Ruben and he was like “I got your contact details from Emma (producer of the Erin Simpson show) and we’re just wondering if you’d be interested in a presenter position with us” and I’m like “Ummmm! What the heck is happening?” and at the time I was in the middle of a day job at Aorere College and at night I had my radio night show with Flava. But yeah, I was lucky that my boss at Aorere College was of course my old school principal and he was really good about letting me go and do something else if it came up so yeah, that’s how it all happened.
Me: So did you have to actually audition to be a presenter on What Now?
Jons: Kind of but … (laughs) kind of not cos they’d already said there’s a position here and we’d like you to come down to Christchurch so I was like ‘Alright’ and then they’re like ‘Oh and by the way can you come tomorrow?’ so I just said Yup I can but really I couldn’t (laughs) but obviously it was all good with the school I said to them ‘Look I’ve just got to do a quick trip and I’ll be back in a couple of days’ but it was trying to get through to my boss at the radio station – I said to him “The producers of What Now would like to see me down in Christchurch tomorrow – can I go but can we keep it quiet for now?” and he was like ‘yeah, sweet as’ so I went down to Christchurch and was there for half a day and they just got me to stand in front of a camera and introduce myself, they told me a little bit about the role and then I came back to Auckland and I was thinking ‘that was weird!’ cos yeah, it didn’t feel like I did much but a couple of days later I got a call to say that the network liked me and did I want the job? So, that was a Wednesday and they told me I started on Monday! So yeah, I was like ummm how am I just going to get up and leave?! I went and resigned at the school straight away and they were all good with it and it was a smooth departure from Flava so off I went on a new adventure into television.
What Now crew & staff group photo for their 30 year anniversary
Me: Tell me about your experience with What Now?
Jons: The journey was amazing, I got to see so much of the country because my main job was travelling around the country nearly every 2nd weekend, going to these amazing places that I’d never been to. I’d never been to the West Coast, had never been to Queenstown, had never been to as far south as Invercargill and stuff and we visited all these small towns and we saw the real kiwi side.
Being an Aucklander I never realised you could be so ….. Aucklanised?! I don’t know if there’s a name but you know you can just be so stuck in Auckland and whats happening in Auckland and that’s all that matters but the biggest thing for me going to What Now, was that my very first day of work was the day of the February 22nd Christchurch EarthQuake! The CCTV building where over 100 people died – that morning we were actually up at the CCTV building on the 3rd floor and I kind of think ‘Was it a little bit of fate or a little bit of luck because an hour earlier we’d been there and what could have happened if the quake had hit an hour earlier?’
In terms of the job – they work you really hard but when you’re working under the likes of Jason Gunn and his wife Janine who are the Creative and Executive Directors of the show. People tend to think that the show is his but it’s very much his wifes. She’s maori and very business savvy. Jason gives a lot of input to us presenters so that was really good. Most people would know that What Now has been around for over 30 + years and the amount of broadcasters that have come out of the show is crazy. There’s Danny Watson (Newstalk ZB), Tamati (TV presenter) has done really well for himself, Shavaughn Ruakere (Roimata on Shortland Street) – oh my gosh I had a crush on her when I was younger and even like Jason Faafoi (TV presenter) and those guys – they’ve all gone on to forge really succesful careers in not only front of screen but behind the scenes as well like Simon Barnett so I felt like I was in a very special position you know? And it really was! You’d be amazed at how many people really want your job.
It is fun – its how you see it on TV – it’s so much fun but it’s a lot of hard work as well.
Johnson jumping for joy with What Now
In terms of leaving, it wasn’t my decision and what they said to me was that they’re going in a different direction for 2013 and of course it’s like budget cuts and all that kind of stuff and for me this year (2012) was a real struggle in terms of being motivated for work – as much as I love my job – it was a struggle to keep up being motivated to go to work and when I went back and was saying to God “Why am I struggling here?” and I remember the last year that I worked at Flava I was praying constantly and asking him to give me a new challenge and he gave me a new challenge which was this job at What Now? Yet now it was a year and a half into my job and I wasn’t really enjoying it anymore. I was thinking is it just that all the hype is rubbing off now? But it wasn’t! and what it came down to was that I found that my passion wasn’t kids! As much as I love kids the passion wasn’t there to do kids television and for me I’ve always been about youth and have always got on really well with the older end of our audience so when they told me there wasn’t a position for me next year it wasn’t like I was gutted or anything. I think for me it was a real sense of relief and even happiness and it just felt like a massive weight off my shoulder.
It meant now that I had built up a little bit of a profile, my foot was already in the door – I wasn’t still trying to get in the door and I’d aquired so many new skills like live television skills and with What Now presenters a lot of people just think we turn up on the Sunday and that’s us but we are actually involved in the whole creative process throughout the whole week and we write the show ourselves with the help of our producers and our team and then we present it as well. So for us it’s never like we’re presenting someone elses work – we’re doing our own and sometimes it’s a hit and sometimes it’s a massive miss and we’ve had a lot of those but you just learn from them. It’s allowed myself to be a lot more outspoken and to believe in myself and my ideas and abilities. The thing I love about kids is that they’re so honest and true and we’ll go to places and the kids will tell you – You Suck! They tell you when you suck (laughs) and it’s so funny and so cute but there’s so many Nzers I’ve met on the road and so many amazing families.
One of my most favourite shows was when we did a show in Mangere – we went in and spent the morning in a families house – Samoan family and their kids will be sports stars one day and for me it was coming back to my roots and just being like this is the real kiwi family you know. They didn’t have much in their house and they still managed to give to us you know like biscuits and cup of tea which just meant so much.
I get asked to do a lot of guest speaking at different things and I use a lot of my personal stories and kids can really relate to what I say and especially with the relationship that I have with my birth father that has kind of been non-existent and so many kids in NZ that are from not broken homes but not from the norm I guess like Mum, Dad and kids kind of thing but then I guess we ask ourselves whats normal? So the biggest buzz I got from my time working at What Now was just seeing the smile on the kids faces at the end of the day meant more than signing an autograph or being asked for a picture or something just seeing the kids faces just light up because they’d never had that kind of experience before you know?
Johnson about to be ‘gunged’ on What Now
In terms of moving on, now that I’ve left the last couple of weeks has been kind of scary with not knowing where I’m going or what I’m doing but I sent out a couple of emails to people that I knew and there are a couple of things on offer which is really cool but it’s kind of scary and challenging at the same time.
I’ve always been the kind of person where I want plans set in concrete and I don’t like the unfamiliar but for one I just said to myself ‘Just live a little!’ and just trust that God will have your back and he’ll let you fall but he won’t let you fall too far where you can’t get up yeah, so at the moment it’s a transition phase and come 2013 hopefully a couple of projects will be locked down.
I’m excited to be moving into a new direction I guess with musical theatre.
Me: Yeah, wow so how did you get into musical theatre?
Jons: I just happened to email a friend at the Auckland Theatre Company and she was like hey! There’s a huge production they’re going to be putting on next year (July 2013) and I just thought I’ll never get it and I almost didn’t bother auditioning for it because I didn’t have any experience with musical theatre and I’m not a trained actor – I don’t know if you can count church productions (laughs) and I just really doubted myself but they gave me the script and said to try it. I was in Christchurch so I got a friend to shoot it and then they came back and said that they were really interested in having me in the production and it’s from June to the end of July. So it’ll be a solid 8 week block of work and just being able to learn off a really good theatre production company and theres only been 2 of us who have been cast in lead roles at the moment. So I have a lead role in Bad Jelly the Witch and it was funny because when they emailed me they were like ‘Do you know the story of Bad Jelly the Witch?’ and I’m like yeah, yeah, I know it – I didn’t know it! (laughs)
So it was redone by Margaret Mahey but it was originally a Spike Milligan play and I’ll be playing alongside Lisa Chappel who’s from Mcleods Daughters. She’s a well known actress based in Australia and for me at the moment I feel kind of intimidated but I know with all the rehersals and stuff that there will be a good crew to help me along with all of that so I’m really looking forward to that.
We also have to sing in this play and I’m not a trained singer either but I guess growing up in an island church you get your ears pulled in Sunday School if you don’t get up and sing whether you like it or not (laughs).
I don’t think I’m great but I do know how to hold a tune and there’ll be a lot of singing in it. Music has kind of been like my secret kind of interest but I’m way too scared to get out there and do it but yeah, the show has a lot of singing. It’s like 80 minutes long with no intermission and it’ll be interesting to go from what I usually sing (reggae, old school, R&B) to singing classical but it’ll be an awesome experience and to learn something new again. I’d love to do more musical stuff because I don’t think I’m a great actor (laughs) I mean I can fake it but I don’t think I’m a great actor.
When that came along a few more doors opened up and then I’m doing another production in the next couple of weeks doing a tour through schools and that’s through an American initiative and I’m just keeping my hand in radio at the moment but I’m excited because I don’t know whats ahead and it’s scary.
Me: Do you have your own manager/agent?
Jons: I have an agent now, and she is pretty awesome. She is one of the top in the country and had been getting me a lot of corporate work recently. I do get a few jobs through word of mouth but having an agent is crucial in the industry because they get word of the jobs that pay mega bucks. So for those wanting more experience and work, have a chat to an agent. I do suggest that you talk to a few and go with the one that you feel most comfortable with.
Me: Do you have any advice for people trying to pursue the same kind of career path in Radio, TV or the media?
Jons: I guess if you’re wanting to get into media – TV, radio or whatever just from my own experience is that you need to treat people how you want to be treated because the media in NZ is SO small and every little thing people take notice of. At uni, Miriama Kamo (TV presenter) came in to take our class and here’s where I learnt my lesson! To be honest it was the most boring lecture ever and I don’t know, maybe I was having an off day but I was stupid and posted the most regretted facebook status ever. I posted ‘Miriama Kamo is taking our lecture at the moment and she is so boring’ somehow! It got to her and I was like omg! This is so embarassing BUT she was really nice though and said to me ‘hey, just a heads up if you want to get into the industry, try and refrain from those kind of things because you’re trying to get in, so you can’t piss people off and step on peoples toes’ and I learnt from that. I learned from then on not to do things like that and even now when you’re in a role or a position and an influential position I guess, especially in media – you do have to watch what you say especially in Social Media. There might be some things I really want to say but you just can’t. Also, being in kids television as well you kind of have to watch your language a little bit and with me I don’t swear heaps but I may drop a word here or there and my sense of humour may not be suited to kids television – it’s suited to late night television (laughs).
Work hard! Especially if there are students out there – you have to work your ass off to try and at least get a toe in the door you know and network. Just treat people nicely. There’s so many people out there who don’t treat people nicely and that are so horrible to people – and I’ve come across a lot of people like that. For me you do have to kind of build a hard wall of feelings because there’s a lot of rejection, there will be a lot of no’s and a lot of people telling you you’re not what they’re looking for but it’s nothing personal!
If you really want it there is something out there for everyone and in terms of staying in the industry don’t piss people off really and it just comes back to being respectful and a lot of the time you won’t be respected but if you can stay true to yourself and be hey, this is me! Being told no and being told that you aren’t what they’re looking for is very common and eventually if you stick at it the yes’ will come and one thing that I really value is having a really strong support network and for me that’s my family and my very, very close friends who have been here right from the start.
As you know there are people who will jump on to your bandwagon because one minute you’re hot and the next minute you’re not and when you’re not they’re just not there anymore and I’m just so thankful that I’ve met such amazing people but yet the very strongest supporters have been my family and my very close friends and they know the real me and even though people see this person on TV or hear me on radio – it’s me but the true stories and the people that know me the most and my heart is my friends and family and having a strong support network that you can actually trust is very crucial in anything really.
Johnson with close friends
But yeah, for me as I said at the start it’s always been about getting more Cook Islanders or Maori and Pasifika peeps into media and into mainstream media and there’s no reason why we can’t be on the 6 o’clock news you know and I know there’s been a lot more of it now with the likes of ‘Siones Wedding’ and things like that – more pacific movies – ‘The Orator’ who won so many awards at the NZ movie awards and people are interested in our Pasifika stories and I think Pasifika people are some of the best story tellers out there you know? We have the humorous, mocking side as well as the serious side but our stories are here to be told and we just need someone here to tell them and that’s what I look forward to more of in the future and seeing just so many brown faces.
For me just the whole blogging thing seems like another untouched avenue of storytelling and people are waiting to hear it. I mean you and I – we love hearing other peoples stories whether they’re good or bad or gossip or whatever we still love hearing them but you know I think that Pacific Islanders can just thrive in this industry. I don’t know about the pressure part of it but I think we can thrive just being ourselves and being a Pacific Islander you don’t feel you need to stick to the Pacific Islander “norms”
Yeah, we have our Pacific Island programmes and stuff and I love watching and hearing them as well but you shouldn’t feel like that’s what you have to conform to as in just sticking to Pacific Island roles – I mean, the blonde girl sitting next to you in class – take her job! And you’re sitting on the bus next to a businessman – take his job! I’m sure you can do as good a job as him. It’s a cat fight out there and as we’ve learned from our ancestors we’re pretty good fighters so why not go for it.
Johnson with children in his most recent show – Operation Hero
If it’s money that’s stopping you then I always fall back on prayer and I may not be the most perfect christian but I always feel like Gods got my back where ever I go and he’s got this path carved out for me but I just don’t know what it is yet but I know that one day something will come along and if it doesn’t that’s just meant to be. I truly believe in if it’s meant to be it’ll happen and if we want something and it doesn’t happen then it’s not meant to be for us and this is what some people need to get over and just accept and not dwell on it too long.
Some people feel like they’ve been dished out the hard end of the stick but really it’s just not for us and maybe this is where my media, TV, radio journey ends and if that’s it then that’s Gods plan and I’m just so thankful for what he’s blessed me with so far and I’m just ready for where he wants to take me next.
One thing leaving the show (What Now) – I thought about would people think that I’m a failure? Will people laugh? There’s those shows where they’re like what ever happened to his person you know? What if I ever ended up on one of those shows but Gods just got me thinking that I need to just lean on him and not on anyone elses understanding.
So I call this next phase in life “Watch this space” whatevers going to happen next? Who knows! But I’m excited for it and I know that the only people I need to please is God and myself and my family.
Me: Was there ever a person who gave you one piece of advice that has kind of stuck with you?
Jons: For me it’d have to be my Step-Dad – he said to me at uni back before all this kind of thing started – before all this radio work and all this TV work came in – he said to me “Son no matter what happens we’ll always be here” and I thought Wow! Someone who is 1. Not my birth father and 2. He’s got his own kids – to say that to me I just felt really loved and I knew that OK if things don’t work out it’s going to be OK and it’s just those simple things like ‘Son we’re here’ and it makes you think OK I’ll go through life falling and stuff but my parents will always be there and first and foremost where ever I go I represent myself and my family and God as well but it’s always been about “If I can make my parents happy then I’m happy” you know? And I have a great relationship with them and I still don’t know how you can love someone that’s not from your womb if that’s how you can say it so that’s what I’m amazed at and still amazed at today. There’s been other things but just that one thing of knowing that they’ll always be there.
But yeah, one other thing is that my parents have slugged it out on factory floors for years trying to provide for us kids and one thing they said to me was “if you’re not happy in something then don’t do it” you know and they worked those kind of jobs because they needed to try and make ends meet and now we’re in a position where today we can do so many things because they’ve provided us with that kind of foundation. They’re like hey we’ve done the hard yards now it’s time for you to branch out kind of thing so yeah, if you’re not happy in something, do something about it – change it! Don’t just moan about it.
So… Since our last chat, what have you been upto …
Jons: I remember that I had only one gig locked in and that was the ‘Bad Jelly The Witch’ production.
Since our last chat… besides many unforgettable nights out with you Penina (laughs) It has been a rollercoaster year and I have really been blessed.
From literally not having a a solid job – I was lucky to travel the country again and present TV2 show ‘Operation Hero’. A game show aimed at high school students. We are looking for new players for the 2014 season, so if you know a young person between the ages of 12-15 that isnt shy and up for physical challenges, look up ‘Operation Hero’ on facebook to apply.
Johnson with the competitors of Operation Hero
There was also a restructure at Flava and I was lucky enough to be called back up and offered another presenting role with the station. So my bread and butter at the moment is being the Flava Drive-By Host from 2pm-7pm Monday to Friday. The role also allows me to work on a few other interests I have.
Promo shot for his Drive Show
Ive always wanted to do charity work for a long time and this year ive been humbled to be named as an official ambassador for ‘Variety NZ’ – The Childrens Charity. Working with them this year on many projects and with other well known New Zealanders has been a major highlight for me.
*Sidenote: If you’re like me and are not familiar with Variety – The Children’s Charity: Variety levels the playing field for disadvantaged Kiwi kids. Every year they help over 10,000 local children – they meet their unmet health and education needs providing them with brighter futures. They work alongside schools, agencies and the government, tackling child poverty so the Kiwi kids who urgently need their life-changing assistance are set up to reach their full potential in life.
I’d done one gig with them back in 2011 through What Now and I really enjoyed the experience and had a great time with them. I asked them if they needed help with anything else now that I was back in Auckland and after helping out with a couple things this year it led them to ask me to become a Variety NZ ambassador.
Johnson on Variety NZ duty
The biggest project we have coming up for 2014 is the Variety Youth Ambassadors Scheme.
Other well known people who are affiliated with it and are actual ambassadors are Simon Dallow (ONE News reader), Antonia Prebble (actress) Shane Cortese (Actor) and a few other well known people.
And lastly, the first thing for 2014 im looking forward to is going back to university part time to start my post grad in communications at AUT. And the rest well… im just going to ride the wave.
Thank you for sharing your awesome story with us Johnson! You rock!
Here’s a couple of vids from when he appeared on the Erin Simpson show recently –