Randy Thomas

Oak Park native Randy Thomas opened doors for other female announcers.

Photos courtesy Randy Thomas

Breaking gender sound barriers gave former Oak Parker Randy Thomas a showbiz niche.

Besides being the first woman to announce the annual Academy Awards presentations, she also has been the first woman to announce the Tony Awards, Emmy Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Kennedy Center Honors, Super Bowl and much more.

She also is the first female announcer for ABC’s Nightline.

“I love it all and take it in stride,” said Thomas, now a Californian and voiceover artist who worked as a radio disc jockey before being invited to audition for television. “It seems to be my brand, but I’m kicking the door open for other women. I even coach women so they can be really great at this, and I coach men, too.”

Randy Thomas
After attending Oakland Community College, Thomas, 18, got her start as a radio DJ at WWWW in Detroit.

On the occasion of this year’s Oscars, Feb. 9 on ABC, Thomas looks back on her 10 earlier Oscar presentations, dating back to the 1990s.

Thomas’ love for making making presentations before large audiences dates back to the Jewish Community Center of Metro Detroit, where her mentor was Rube Weiss, a multi-character actor on the locally produced Soupy Sales programs.

Thomas’ voice has been heard as film megastars approached the microphone to name Oscar nominees and as winning awardees walked the aisle to claim their statuettes.

“Generally, I did not have direct contact with anyone appearing on the Oscars show,” Thomas said. “I usually was able to attend the Oscar Ball after the show. When I first started doing the Oscars, I got new gowns. Then I started borrowing gowns from friends who have amazing closets.”

After graduating Oak Park High School, Thomas went to New Jersey and tried her talents on summer stock stages. Her experiences prompted her to study acting at Herbert Berkoff Studios in New York.

Randy Thomas
Randy Thomas during an Oscars rehearsal in an earlier year.
Randy Thomas
Thomas at the 2016 Tony Awards.

While working as a waitress to pay tuition, Thomas listened to Alison Steele (“The Nightbird”) on the radio and was inspired to try being a DJ. She went back to Michigan and attended Oakland Community College, which led to local work before moving on to various stations in New York, Florida and Los Angeles.

While Thomas was DJing a Los Angeles morning show in 1993, she was offered an audition for the Academy Awards job, a role she said “changed my life.” She quickly moved from radio into TV, supplementing awards shows with promotion assignments.

“Live award shows are fantastic, but they only happen X amount of times a year,” she said. “I have to work every week, and I have radio and TV stations that I’m now the voice of.”

The most dramatic Oscar moment that Thomas recalls happened in 2017, when La La Land was called as Best Picture instead of the real winner, Moonlight. A third accountant was later added along with security procedures to prevent any similar mistake.

Coincidentally, La La Land producer Gary Gilbert also grew up in Michigan, where he worked for his brother, businessman and developer Dan Gilbert.

Randy Thomas

Randy Thomas
Thomas at the 2018 Oscars.

Thomas credits many things with helping her rise to the top of her field.

“I think vocal tone tends to determine the kind of work I do,” Thomas said.

“Because my voice is big, I can project with control so my voice doesn’t waver. I can put gravitas into a read as well as a big, warm smile.”

Diet and exercise keep Thomas’ voice healthy and strong. Eighty-five percent of her diet is plant-based, and 30 days before a major show, she avoids sugar, dairy and orange juice.

Thomas, whose stepfather (Max Thomas) owned the Michigan Glove Company in Oak Park, has been married for 35 years to Arnie Wohl, a former record promoter who is exploring business opportunities with CBD oil. Their daughter, Rachel, a voiceover artist since childhood, recently graduated from the University of Southern California and does technical consulting.

“I wasn’t raised with a Jewish background; I was just raised by Jews and became the most observant of my family,” Thomas said, adding that her daughter became a bat mitzvah with Chabad.

Thomas appreciates producers like Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner, of the Tony and Emmy Awards, who have employed her over many years.

“A lot of times, producers are incredibly loyal to a production team,” she said. “If you do your best job and help them have a great show, they will bring you back, and that has been a huge blessing in my life.”

Thomas recently shared her story firsthand in a TED Talk, “Voice Lessons: How I Talked My Way to the Top,” available on YouTube. She hopes her experiences inspire young women to break other gender career barriers, and she repeats her grandmother’s encouragement to show chutzpah.

“If you would have told me that I would be the first woman to announce a global live television broadcast, I would have been shocked,” she said. “I think the opportunities that came my way happened because I was ready, and it also had to do with reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which discusses success. I wasn’t the first woman on the air in Detroit, but I was one of the first.”

And she’s not done with aspirations.

“I feel I want to be a branding voice for an entire network,” she said. “That would be amazing.”

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Suzanne Chessler’s writing-editing career has spanned many years, and her articles have been featured in secular and religious publications across the state and around the country. There was a period of time when she maintained three regular columns in three different publications – one appearing weekly to spotlight metro volunteers, another appearing weekly to profile stage enthusiasts in community theater and a third appearing bimonthly to showcase upcoming arts programs. Besides doing general reporting, she has had continuing assignments involving health, monetary subjects and crime. Her award-winning work builds on majors in English-speech and journalism earned at Wayne State University, where instructors also were writers-editors on Detroit’s daily newspapers.

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