Idia Aisien, Host of Style on Spice TV; Bolanle Olukanni, host of Moments on Ebony Life TV’s Moment and Mimi Onalaja, host of Ebony Life TV’s VVIP Events, are the three girls killing on television right now. Their growth in the new TV space is phenomenal, adding life and air to the television space. In this interview they discuss career fulfillment, TV’s partiality towards returnees and the joy that comes from fulfilling purpose.
“Women supporting women is not a myth”
Because of your presence a lot more people are interested in your TV station’s content. How does that make you feel sometimes?
It’s definitely an honour for people to not only watch our content but to appreciate what we do, because it isn’t easy being in the public eye, but if one or more people can learn something from my work or at least my passion towards my work, then I believe I am fulfilling my purpose. For me, I couldn’t believe how many more people started watching the shows until I started receiving feedback at work and getting a lot of encouraging personal messages from viewers. And although it’s not always positive feedback, I remain very intent on staying true to who I am and what my opinions are. So you don’t get another Idia on TV; it’s me living in that moment.
Well done! You used to work as an investment banker and now you are a TV presenter. How are you able to balance the scale of not being seen as just a pretty face?
I actually get that question a lot, but to be honest, you never really know what anyone is like until you get to know them or their work. At first it was difficult to follow my passion, because I understand the multilayered perceptions that people in Nigeria have about people in entertainment and especially women in the public eye. But the world has changed so much; not everyone [will] be a lawyer, doctor or banker if it’s not their calling.
I stopped caring about proving that I had beauty and brains a long time ago, because my hard work will always speak for itself no matter what field I’m in. I also think, there are so many creative streams of income that have proven to be genius in our time, so I create that balance by using my wits in whatever project I find myself working on.
You speak often about women supporting women. Is women supporting women a myth or does it really exist in the world today?
It definitely does exist, it’s not a myth. I don’t know how often other women stir their own boats, but I support a number of women who are looking to get into fashion and entertainment, because I’ve been fortunate enough to understand that you can only be truly successful, and whole, by lifting other people up and being genuinely happy for the next person. In my industry for instance, I cheer for every TV girl. For me, it’s about mutual respect and responsibility; the only way we can genuinely make an impact in our industry and generation is through collective efforts. Partnership is the new competition!
Can you share an awkward or embarrassing TV moment?
I have so many embarrassing moments, but I think the worst one happened quite recently. I was asked to host a red carpet event, where I had to interview different guests. It was going quite well, until one lady stepped up to me and told me her name, and I immediately started sweating because I couldn’t even pronounce it. The whole camera crew and the woman were laughing nonstop. I think we went over it about 6 times on camera, to the point that she felt so sorry for me and just gave me a shorter name. The interesting thing is I ran into her another day after that, and she said just call me “Aunty”.
Based on your success at expanding the viewership of your TV station. What are your thoughts on how the Nigerian TV space can really evolve?
At my PR program in NYU I was taught that content is king, and no business can be successful without listening to and understanding your audience. I think the problem we are facing now is that so much interesting and engaging content is online, but not necessarily on television. Online media is so successful, not just because of the more affordable cost or convenience, but because content creators can get clear and instant feedback on the information they are putting out. It will be interesting to measure or explore what kind of topics TV audiences really care about and want to see, so we can craft more content around their specific likes instead of constantly giving them what we “think” they want to watch.
The same thing applies to my shows. We get a sense of what interests people by receiving the feedback that they post online. For one of the shows in particular, people actually tell us what they would like us to discuss, so more of that feedback and listening to viewers will help.
“I believe in creating opportunities for myself and not waiting for them to be handed to me”
You have lived in different cities around the world. Apart from your heritage, what pulled you back to Nigeria and why do you call it home?
I grew up living in four different countries, but the longest time I ever spent in any country has been Nigeria. It’s home. I wasn’t pulled back, it only made sense to come back home. When I finished university all I wanted to do was come home. I was tired of living in someone else’s country and since I had spent a significant portion of my life travelling around the world. It was important that I came back to Nigeria. Nigeria has amazing potential and I really just wanted to be home where I should be.
Do you share the opinion that TV producers are partial towards returnees?
I have been asked this question a few times and I can’t speak for all TV stations. Every station has a different brief, some want presenters who speak pidgin, some want presenters who speak the Queen’s English and on and on. But when it comes down to who gets the job, producers are more interested in the personality and presentation skill set of the presenter. Being a good presenter ultimately comes down to having a personality that connects with viewers.
What were some of the hardest lessons you had to learn quickly working in Nigeria?
Working in the industry has been an interesting experience. I have learnt so much about my ability, will and drive. A key lesson I have taken is the power of creating opportunities for myself and not waiting for others to hand them to me. I have also been pleasantly surprised at how helpful colleagues can be. I asked a lot of questions when I first started because I was trying to find my footing and overcome the typical teething problems in the industry. The biggest challenge I have always faced is the lack of opportunities and options available if you are trying to grow. I learnt quickly to create opportunities for myself and then have the guts to convince people that my ideas are viable and relevant.
It feels like just yesterday you started in this industry. You are one of the few TV presenters to innovate and grow as quickly as you have. What would you say is responsible for that?
I believe it’s a combination of focus, drive and pushing myself to grow. I hate stagnancy and never want to look back and see that I am in the same place- emotionally, spiritually and career- wise. I always try as much as possible to challenge myself to be better at my work. I am always asking, “What can I do to be a better TV presenter?” I always want to make sure that I am not complacent based on what I have achieved in the past. This is really what inspired me to start “On the Carpet with Bolinto”. I saw that there was a gap in the red carpet content sector and there needed to be viable, exportable content that was engaging and entertaining for viewers. In the same vein it’s also why I began brainstorming more ideas to produce content. I believe in expanding my techniques and taking on challenges that I have not attempted in the past.
“My ultimate goal is happiness”
It’s very difficult to not notice Omowunmi Onalaja even in a crowded room. Her flirty fun style stands her out in any crowd. She has a huge following and with presenting skills like hers, it’s not difficult
to see why. Happiness for her is the ultimate goal and she debunks the myth that only returnee presenters are successfull.
Apart from your presenting skills, you have a massive fashion following. Do you ever feel like it puts a lot of pressure on you to always put your best foot forward? Do you feel like you need a day off from all that slaying?
Sometimes I look at my Instagram and I’m just in awe, knowing that many people are interested enough in what I do (and in this case, wear) to keep up with me in that way. It’s even more fascinating because this is just who I am. I’ve always loved fashion; playing with trends, dressing up and looking good and I like to take full ownership of my style. Most of the time I know exactly how I want to look and even though I’m open to opinions, chances are I’ll most likely wear what I want! I’ve got to be honest though, knowing that many eyes are on me, I catch myself second-guessing some of my choices for fear of some backlash. Luckily I get over those feelings very quickly and still do me. As much as I love to put my best food forward and look great, it’s important that I have fun doing it and stay true to myself. Basically, I make sure I always dress for me and not for the people looking in. That they love the results sometimes
is definitely a plus! You need to see me on my off-days though (and there’s a ton of them): laid back! I’m definitely most comfortable when I’m stripped down.
What was your childhood dream and what is the ultimate goal for you?
I don’t think I had a distinct childhood dream in terms of what I wanted my future to be. I went through so many phases and nursed so many ambitions growing up, from wanting to be an Accountant to Meteorologist to Diplomat and finally HR Practitioner which I thought I absolutely wanted and which I did for a couple of years after university. Underneath all of that though, I’d always been drawn to the cameras and lights and I definitely had actual day and night dreams of a fabulous life full of red carpets and glamour. I dismissed all of that for what I thought they were though, dreams. Thank God for clarity and opportunities. The one constant thing I can say I’ve wanted from the very beginning is to be happy and that was instrumental in pushing me into doing what I do today.
My ultimate goal remains happiness and while I know what that means for me in the near future – blossoming TV career, specific actions to inspire others, my ideal family, friendships that are true and lasting – I’m definitely excited to discover what forms happiness will take in the rest of my life!
What do you love the most about your job?
I love that it gives me reasons to dress up! (laughs). I also love the opportunities to meet and interact with so many people; Lord knows my personality needs it. The travel is also a pretty exciting part!
There is an impression that a high percentage of successful presenters are returnees. Do you think that is a valid opinion especially because of your own success?
In terms of the numbers, I believe this to be true. I must say that most of the returnee presenters I know are great at what they do. Do I think you have to be a returnee to be a successful presenter though? Absolutely not, and I’d like to believe myself and a few other Nigerian born and trained presenters are a testament to this.