Career | Journalism | People

Juliette Powell: Working Her Way To The Top

Host Juliette Powell

(Editor’s Note: This article was intended to be a one page career profile of our favourite MuchMusic VJ. Instead, after interviewing Juliette, her life story and philosophy inspired us to make it our feature cover story. Thanks Juliette.)

Juliette Powell doesn’t want to forget her past as a shy and insecure teenager. That’s why an old photograph taped to the refrigerator door serves as a daily reminder of the girl she once was. Known for her vivacious style as host and producer for MuchMusic, Powell says success isn’t about being on television; it’s about being better than her former self.

Host Juliette Powell
Wearing a dress from Faze designed by Thien Le

Powell is still conscious of her early years growing up in Ville d’Anjou, a suburb of Montreal. Although she was born in New York, Powell, who holds dual-citizenship, moved to Quebec with her mother, a French Canadian. Back then, Powell’s rapidly developing height was a constant source of distress. “I was always tall, but between the ages of thirteen and fourteen, I just sprouted. I grew fourteen inches in one year,” she says. “I also went from a size five shoe to a size nine shoe in one year. We couldn’t keep up because we were really poor, so I had no decent clothes to put on my back. I looked like a street person most of the time.” Powell was also a classic bookworm with ‘Coke-bottle’ eyeglasses. In highschool she retreated into the painfully self-conscious world unpopular teenagers endure. “I had no friends and nobody would ask me out. I didn’t get a date until I was eighteen.

Host Juliette Powell as a child
The picture on Juliette Powell’s fridge that keeps her in touch with her past.

“She certainly wasn’t considering a career in television. In fact, nothing could have been further from her mind. Powell nursed a deep fear of public speaking and was terrified when she was required to give a class presentation. “I was good at math, physics, computers and languages and so I thought, especially because I always kicked butt at Monopoly, that I would be a great businesswoman.

I always wanted to be president of my own company. I didn’t know what kind of company, but I thought I would be good enough to manage my own company once I found the right passion or interest.”

As Powell struggled against her fears and insecurities, her mother encouraged her to think that she could accomplish anything she put her mind to. She says her mother always believed in her and she’s always been motivated to live up to her mother’s faith. This, coupled with her will and desire to succeed, helped Powell overcome many of her challenges.

Outwardly, Powell began to change the year she turned seventeen. “I was practically six-feet tall with no waist. I was massive. Not fat, just big. I looked like a football player,” she says. A twice-weekly swim class helped shape her body into more svelte proportions. Powell emphasizes that she’s never dieted in her life. It was exercising that naturally changed her body. Also, after much pleading and begging on Powell’s part, her mother finally bought her contact lenses. “It made a big difference because all of I sudden I could see myself. I didn’t know what I looked like under my glasses.”

Juliette Powell chats with Faze reporters Vanessa and Liane.
Juliette Powell chats with Faze reporters Vanessa Rodriguez and Liane Beam.

Evolving from the burden of insecurity requires more than superficial changes. Contact lenses and a growing elegance helped Powell’s confidence, but she had also begun to recognize that her will power would be her catalyst for re-invention. This newfound vision motivated her to seize opportunities that came her way, and if the opportunities weren’t there, to create them.

Her entrance into the 1989 Miss Canada pageant, and ultimate win as the first black Miss Canada, began with a seed of outrage that grew into a strategy for progress. Powell heard that the second-place winner of the Miss Montreal pageant had actually scored higher than the first-place winner, but because she was black, the judges hadn’t let her win. Although Powell says the rumour could have been untrue, she was angry at the concept that anyone could think a woman of ethnic origin other than Caucasian should always be destined for second place.

Shortly after, Powell heard a radio commercial advertising for participants in the next Miss Montreal pageant. Her boyfriend suggested she enter the pageant in an effort to prove a black woman could win. “It wasn’t because I wanted to be a beauty queen. It wasn’t anything like that. It was about proving a point.” Although she placed second in the Miss Montreal pageant, it led to other opportunities, and when Powell eventually won the Miss Canada title, she had faced and overcome her public-speaking fears.

She also emerged from the pageant with more than an award. She had learned how to deal with the press, write speeches and speak to an international audience-the skills Powell needed for her future career in television.

Host Juliette Powell

Powell was simultaneously accepted into the Finance and International Business program at McGill and hired as a VJ and host at MusiquePlus, MuchMusic’s French language counterpart in Montreal. Although her critics at McGill and MusiquePlus didn’t understand why she was working at two different things at the same time, Powell says it made sense to her. “There’s an incredible convergence between television and computers. Plus, it’s essential if you’re going to be a producer of a television show to know the business aspects. All of these different elements that were interesting to me came together in one field.”

Soaking up as much experience as she could, Powell worked at MusiquePlus for four years. “As an on-air personality, you have the choice between strictly doing your job or using the opportunity to learn other things.” With newly acquired knowledge about lighting, camera angles, editing, producing and directing, Powell eventually wrote her own show. Her idea was web casting-a concept that meant a program could be aired live in several different locations with a chat line component. Although the idea doesn’t seem overly ambitious now, it was considered so at the time. The sting of rejection drove Powell to persevere. She decided to fax her idea to Moses Znaimer at CityTV. She hoped he would recognize her potential because she figured if Znaimer hadn’t been ambitious, he wouldn’t own a television network. Znaimer faxed her back and offered her a job with CityTV’s MuchMusic station in Toronto.

Powell has worked for MuchMusic for three years as host and producer of Electric Circus, French Kiss, RapidFax and Fax. Her work centers primarily on showcasing artists and marketing them to the MuchMusic audience. She’s also responsible for introducing interesting and innovative ideas for the shows. Powell co-ordinates the technical aspects for live performances and is accustomed to handling a crew of about thirteen people as well as dealing with artists, managers, schools, students and audiences. She makes sure everyone involved understands what should happen on the show frame-by-frame right down to minutes and seconds.

Her job inevitably requires long hours during the week and sometimes working on the weekends if she’s hosting an event. The typical day begins on her laptop to keep abreast of the day’s entertainment news. She pre-programs shows such as French Kiss so she has time to host live shows like Rapid Fax. She often has to learn about twenty-five pages of entertainment news in between being on-air and taping. The job, she says, is all about multi-tasking.

Keeping current with trends in the music industry is another aspect that keeps Powell busy. She has developed relationships with recording companies, not just in Canada, but also in the U.S. and Europe. Because the bands are ultimately marketed on MuchMusic, the companies often call Powell with updates and information about new artists. A significant amount of research and details such as preview clips, permissions and rights from record companies are required before Powell can put together a segment for a show or the website.

An interest in technology helps because keeping up with rapidly changing technology is also part of the job. When Powell came on board to host Electric Circus, it was a straight-up dance show. Now there’s interaction via chat lines with audiences in Brazil and Japan. MuchMusic has also expanded with launches in Argentina, Mexico, Columbia, Europe, Finland, Israel and Malaysia.

Much Music VJ Juliette Powell reading the premier issue of Faze Magazine
Checking out the Spring Issue of Faze in the MuchMusic studio.

Powell says she’s acquired her on-air style from watching others and learning from her own mistakes. However, there are programs that can help you prepare for a career in television. She cites the graphic design, radio and television arts programs offered by Sheridan and Ryerson as the educational background most new employees have when they’re hired at CityTV. Ultimately, your choice of education depends on what kind of company you want to work for. To work for a company like CBC, you’ll probably need a degree. For other stations such as CityTV, sometimes your raw talent is enough to get you the job.

Host Juliette PowellBefore you apply for a job anywhere, Powell emphasizes doing your homework on the company first. Before she had her first interview with MusiquePlus, Powell attended some of the station’s events to get a sense of what the job entailed. She advises researching companies and their sponsors to make sure the company’s philosophy fits with your ideas.

She also recommends business courses because you’ll need that knowledge to read contracts, establish budgets and hire a crew. Sticking with your French classes can also give you an edge over the competition. Powell’s bilingualism helped her get the job at MusiquePlus and at CityTV.

The opportunity to be both creative and logical is the best part of Powell’s job. Her only frustration is to determine how to achieve her future goal to own and operate an international television network. “I’ve been in television for seven years and there’s still so many more skills that I need. I have to figure out how to make the gap smaller between what I’m doing now and what I want to do in the future.”

Regardless of what the future holds for Powell, her ultimate goal to inspire keeps her looking for ways to stimulate and encourage the minds of teenagers who feel the same way she did in highschool. And it’s also why Powell’s credo is to teach by example. “If you live your life according to what you believe in, people are going to see that around you, and if it’s something they believe in as well, then you might just inspire them.”

Host Juliette Powell

(Note: Juliette, in pursuit of her plan to run a global media empire one day, has been expanding her career horizons by working for City-TV’s 24 hour news channel, CP24, as a business reporter while continuing with MuchMusic’s French Kiss show which she hosts and produces. Update 2010, Juliette has been doing amazing things in New York City as an entrepreneur and as an expect in social media/data. Good luck J.P!)

Here’s a powerful presentation Juliette Powell gave at a NYC TED conference on social media, data and society. Brilliant AND beautiful.

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