July 11, 2008
Dance Machine Host Made Right Steps
By Nick Sortal, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Jul. 11--No one, no one, had a playroom like the Kennedy family's in Lighthouse Point.TV editing equipment and four cameras. A police scanner. Twenty -- 20 -- televisions.
All because their son, still in high school, told them he was going to become a TV personality, and he needed to do mock newscasts.
A decade after taking a cab to cover a shooting because he was too young to drive -- for a "newscast" only his parents saw -- it's Jason Kennedy's time. He's the host of a network TV show, Dance Machine, which airs at 8 p.m. Fridays on ABC.
The show merely cements his footing among the in-crowd. Last year, he made the Los Angeles Times' list of top young hosts, alongside Ryan Seacrest and Carson Daly. Two weeks ago, his picture made People magazine's hot bachelors issue, next to Lance Armstrong, Yankee Derek Jeter and The Office's John Krasinski.
"I'm literally pinching myself right now," said Kennedy, 26, who graduated from Westminster Academy in Fort Lauderdale in 2000. "I wanted to go interview Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and cover premieres, and now I'm hosting a network show."
He caught the TV bug back during a fifth-grade field trip, when WSVN-Ch. 7 staff let him read the sports on the set. By the time he started as a 15-year-old volunteer cameraman at Comcast SportsTalk, a cable show just in the Fort Lauderdale area, everyone knew he was on his way. He moved up to co-host before heading to the University of Miami.
"He was still in high school and did better work than everyone. You knew he had it," said host Ric Green, now president and chief executive officer of the Greater Pompano Beach Chamber of Commerce.
But it took a while for Los Angeles to buy in. Kennedy flew out after graduating from UM in 2004, he hired a manager and ended up folding jeans for a year at a Diesel clothing store, waiting for the phone to ring.
"I did the real-life stuff that makes you very thankful," he said. "I'm grateful it only lasted a year. For some it lasts longer."
E! Entertainment eventually called to be a correspondent and weekend host. Covering the Anna Nicole Smith death and legal proceedings for a month bolstered his place. He belonged.
"It sounds crazy, but I had been going to the news scenes since I was a kid. I had experience asking the hard questions, and I have 2,000 VHS tapes with everything from a house fire to a softball game to back it up," he said.
Kennedy took another step up on June 27, when ABC aired the first of five Dance Machine episodes. Everyday people dance in front of a live studio audience; he interviews them and coaxes the crowd to vote. The winner gets $100,000.
"I got to watch a 62-year-old man break it down to Salt 'n Pepa," he said. "I'm still blown away by the type of dance moves people do for a lot of money."
Program: Dance Machine
With: Jason Kennedy
Airs: 8 p.m. Fridays on WPLG-Ch. 10
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