For a lot of people, finding what they want to pursue for the rest of their life is a difficult hurdle to overcome; one that takes years to discover. Some people go through school and job after job and still find themselves questioning if this is what we want to be doing. Others figure out at a young age what they want to do and pursue it. For 15-year broadcasting journalist veteran Aliya-Jasmine Sovani it’s the latter. Ever since she picked up her first tape recorder at 9 years old, she knew what she wanted to do with the rest of her life; tell stories.
Not in the conventional way of putting a pen to paper and creating fictional characters, but in the way of breaking down global issues, topics and news that are relevant to our society today. Canadians will know her from her beginnings at Much Music and MTV Canada, while Americans will have seen her on E! News and Fox Sports West, but what she is doing now will introduce her to the world. I sat down with fellow Canadian and honorary Torontonian, Aliya-Jasmine Sovani to discuss her new NBC program ‘The Cycle’ as well as her pursuit of a degree in environmental journalism. Check out the full interview below:
Def Pen: You’re a Canadian out there living in sunny Los Angeles, how is it transitioning?
Aliya-Jasmine: It’s great! I just got back from having lunch on the beach in Santa Monica with a girlfriend who’s also a Canadian.
Def Pen: Are there a lot of Canadians out there?
Aliya-Jasmine: There’s a huge Canadian Contingent here in LA and we all seem to kind of find each other. I was lucky enough to do some work with them and they hosted some amazing events including a Grammy event where they were honoring a bunch of Canadian Artists like Drake, Justin Bieber, E-40, Boi-1Da and other musicians.The Canadian Consulate here advocates for Canadians to live here and it was great working for them.
Def Pen: Well you’ve obviously met a ton of celebrities, what would you say is your personal favorite interview conducted? Or who do you really want to interview?
Aliya-Jasmine: I interviewed Adele in Canada on MTV and she was funny and transparent and kind of says whats on top of her mind, even if it’s politically correct and that’s what I love about her.
Def Pen: Okay, and what about someone you really want to interview in the future?
Aliya-Jasmine: I really want to sit down and have a long form interview with Hilary Clinton. Not for any political reason, because I’m Canadian and I don’t get a chance to vote here one way or another, but she’s such a huge political figure right now and her defeat in the last election has brought up so much, in terms of socioeconomic issues and misogyny and sexism in the U.S. I’m just so curious to pick her brain, I know that she’s done a lot of serious interviews, but I’d like to do an interview to kind of understand her ‘lighter’ side. One of the things I’ve noticed is that after the election, she was very calculated and you can tell that people had advised her on how to carry herself and I just think that she’s very guarded. I feel like that is one of the reasons she didn’t get elected by us. Because she wasn’t real enough she was too calculated, but ever since the election, I’ve seen a couple of interviews and she’s been so loose and funny, she says whats on her mind.
Def Pen: Hilary that’s off the Campaign trail for sure.
Aliya-Jasmine: Ya! And I feel like this Hilary is someone I’d like to sit down with and shoot the shit with.
Def Pen: It’s funny that you say you want to conduct a ‘lighter’ interview with her because, on your new show with NBC ‘The Cycle’, you guys tend to take a lighter approach to some of the news you guys put out, would you agree?
Aliya-Jasmine: I don’t know if it would necessarily be ‘lighter’, we try to be more real. One of the big things we wanted to do was to avoid being a stuffy news show and telling the news like our parents would have heard it. We wanted to tell people the news how we would if we were all at a bar together. You know? Like if I were at a bar with you and you ask me ‘Hey, AJ what’s happening in the life of Trump today?’ and we would have a dialogue about the discussion and I think that’s what gives us that edgy voice that helps millennial audience hear the news on a digital platform. That’s what we’re here for. They look for a much more casual and authentic story telling voice and that’s what me and Jacque wanted to do. We try to dissect the news in a way that stays very true to our natural voices and that’s hard to do. Because you want to be accurate in order not to offend anybody, but at the same time you want to be natural.
Def Pen: Touching on that point about Millennials, I’d assume that’s the audience for the cycle?
Aliya-Jasmine: Definitely. People in their 20’s and 30’s. We really wanted ‘The Cycle’ To be a news outlet for people that are unplugged from regular cable who don’t necessarily go home and watch the news. Like for me personally, during the election, I was getting most of my news on Twitter and Snapchat a little bit. But what I realized is that you can’t really control how much inaccurate information comes out, to the point where I had to turn my phone off during the election because there was so much inaccurate information on Twitter. I feel like, at that time, everything was about getting you to click on the headline and you open the article or it was too long to read or the article had nothing to do with the headline.
Def Pen: Bait Click. I mean I would rather have the truth over anything.
Aliya-Jasmine: Totally! And Also I feel like you obviously sound young too. So people who are in their 20’s and 30’s, all that ‘Click Bait’ stuff are people trying to use us and they aren’t actually trying to provide information to us. That makes me feel skeptical about where I’m getting my news from, so that’s a very important thing for me when it comes to the ‘Cycle’. We have to have informative headlines that peak interest and offer something to the public. Not only are me and Jacque are in that age group, but our entire team is in that age bracket where we all kind of understand the same issues.
Def Pen: Do you think that’s what makes The ‘Cycle’ Unique? Or How is it going to differ from something else that’s going to tell us the news? Like what’s the difference between you guys and the Daily Show?
Aliya-Jasmine: I think the answer is that we really love the Daily Show. For us, it’s less about competing because we’re not trying to be comedians. We’re not doing long form stories and documentaries like Vice. When we first started this show we had intentions of making it like ‘The Daily Show meets Vice’ and shorten that all into a 10-minute clip. Ok so how about this. To answer your question I would say that most news programs repurpose their content for digital. So they have their main stuff on TV and then they’ll have clips online you can watch too. We create original content just for your phone. Our show is 10 minutes long and you can stream it live. Everything that we put out is for social media consumption in mind. Which is what a majority of people our age received their news. We’re trying to be forward thinking in the way we want to give news to people and I give props to NBC for getting out of their comfort zone and doing something on digital.
Def Pen: You’ve certainly done a lot throughout your career when was the first time that you actually discovered you had a talent?
Aliya-Jasmine: I’ve always wanted to work in TV. I’ got my first job as an Intern when I was 19 or 20 so I’ve been doing this for over a decade and I’ve always wanted to work in TV. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a shooter, producer, host or anything like that, but I just knew I loved to work in TV and I loved story telling. We used to live in Calgary and my mom has this tape recording of me, because when I was 7-8 years old she had gotten me one of those old school tape recorders and I remember this was the beginning of the Iraq war and my grandfather was a news junkie, like 12 pm, 3 pm, 6 pm,11 pm, he’d be watching the news. I very vividly remember this broadcast my grandfather was watching where it was the footage of the night vision of the bombs dropping in Baghdad and it was the first time you would ever see that footage. I would take my mother’s tape recorder and we had this rock shallow fire place in our old house and it had a big echo. I would go into the fire place and talk as if I was a journalist like ‘I’m Aliyah-Jasmine and I’m from BBC’ in my horrible English accent and my voice would echo in that fire place and I remember doing that every single day. My mom has a bunch of tapes of me doing that so it’s fair to say I’ve always wanted to work in Television in some capacity.
Def Pen: That’s really good. That’s like one of those stories you can write in your ‘Tell-All Book’ like 50 years down the line, you know?
Aliya-Jasmine: Totally! Definitely, something to consider. I think we played one of those tapes on an episode of MTV Live back in the day.
Def Pen: So what would you say is your biggest career milestone?
Aliya-Jasmine: I’m really proud of the documentary I created for MTV impact that we did in the Great Bear Rain Forest. I found that story, I researched it, I pitched it, wrote it, produced it, and went in front of the camera for that and worked with other producers. The Documentary was called ‘Pipeline Wars’. There’s a company called Enbridge and they wanted to build a pipeline through the last Canadian Rain Forests and its the only place in the world that the white and black bear (aka the Great Bear) exists. It was a Canadian story that wasn’t getting much attention around the country and so we went out there, I slept on a boat for 2 weeks in the Ocean and we did this incredible documentary.
Def Pen: Wow, Wow. First off. A boat for 2 weeks? That’s pretty intense.
Aliya-Jasmine: Yeah! It was really smaller quarters too and definitely not suitable for the claustrophobic at heart. But it was great, It was such an incredible experience and I’m really proud of this documentary because it started a dialogue between young people and in the country. There were definitely a lot of great companies like the WWF that tried to bring awareness to the issue but our documentary. At the time, Prime Minister Harper green-lit the pipeline and by the time the documentary came out it really started a dialogue and by the time PM Trudeau was in power, he put a halt to the construction of that pipeline and in essence the documentary saved the pipeline. That documentary is what really sparked my passion for environmental journalism and that’s why I applied to graduate school at USC for journalism. Once I got to LA, there were a lot of things I wanted to do, but I knew that this was one thing I had to accomplish because I had been to so many great areas like Haiti and Tanzania for MTV and those stories really spoke to me because I spoke about social injustice and the environment and those were the types of stories I missed. It’s all this experience I’ve had working in TV in Canada, and now in Hollywood with these big-time producers and now I want to take all that experience and channel it and tell stories about the environment and what matters and with my masters, I think I’ve found my niche.
Def Pen: So would you say that environmentalist inside you is what inspired you throughout your career?
Aliya-Jasmine: Not really. I think what I’ve realized is that these stories are the most important stories to tell right now because of the political climate of the world. But I think what’s fueled my fire is my curiosity. I’m a naturally curious person and I think that comes with the profession. You want to ask questions, you want to find the details. So I think curiosity is kind of my Achilles heel because it’s the best trait and worst trait I have. It’s stopped me from focusing on one thing, like for example; I love doing sports reporting, and that’s why I’m a Jack of all trades. If there was a story to be told, you know, whether it was a basketball court or a rainforest or on an Oscar red carpet, I just wanted to be able to tell that story. So I would say curiosity.
Def Pen: So, back to sports. Here at Def Pen, we love our sports and music, so I got to ask you; What’s your favorite sports team?
Aliya-Jasmine: Raptors. Raptors. Raptors.
Def Pen: Yes. I’m definitely going to have let some of the guys down that you’re not a Laker fan. And what about music? Who are you listening to right now?
Aliya-Jasmine: I listen to everything. I truly do. When I first started working in MTV I was very into old school rock. Once I worked in the industry for a while, I began to discover other different genres that I fell in love with. One thing that you begin to realize when you work in Music television is that you stop idolizing certain musicians because you meet them and they’re not what you expect and so you kind of get an appreciation for real music. I listen to country radio, a lot of hip hop and R n b. I don’t listen to that much Pop or EDM. But I do love my Rock, Country and Hip Hop. You know what’s funny? Here in LA, I drive a lot. I live in Santa Monica, kinda near the beach and I drive all the way down to the Universal Studios lot for ‘The Cycle’ and that’s like an hour drive each day. I’m in my car for so much time of my day that you really start to listen to podcasts an local radio. In the past 3 years that I’ve been here, there’s this local Hip Hop station that plays all the SoCal rappers from like back in the day. Like lots of Snoop, Ice Cube, Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre. I think that lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of SoCal Rap. And S/O to public radio?
Def Pen: Honestly, I thought most people in LA Uber, so I’m pretty surprised you’re even driving places.
Aliya-Jasmine: Yeah! I used to watch a lot of PTI. I don’t know if you know by Pardon The Interruption was this great sports show on ESPN and it’s my favorite sports show of all time. I used to watch it on TV all the time in Canada, but here since I’m in my car so much I just listen to it on podcasts every day. I listen to PTI and public SoCal stations on the radio.
Def Pen: Ok, a couple more questions and I’ll get out of your hair. What would you consider your most challenging part of your career?
Aliya-Jasmine: I think it’s been figuring out my Niche. The hardest thing in my entire career was obviously having that ‘big break’. Once I had my foot in the door, I got in and in the last 2 years, it’s been figuring out what kind of stories I would like to tell. It’s really easy to follow what you think would get the most interest in a story or get the most attention or most glamorous but it’s taken me a minute to realize that’s not what makes me happy. I think figuring out which stories make me happy in terms of reporting that and figuring out my niche.
Def Pen: So if you had to give yourself advice 15 years ago or give someone who is in the position you were back then, What advice would you give them?
Aliya-Jasmine: I would say; What do you want to be an expert on? Start there, Learn from the people who are doing those kinds of things and keep your blinders on. If you’re just about chasing the money or chasing the fame, you’re not going to be telling the story you want to tell. The industry is moving towards wanting experts, not a generalized journalist or host. I mean look at TV Hosts, back in the day, MTV or Much Music used to have hosts and that doesn’t exist anymore. If you have a cooking show, the person hosting it is a world renown chef. A renovation show? The person hosting it would be a well-known contractor. Decide what you want to be an expert in, do what makes you happy and then just do that.
Def Pen: Sound advice, I also realized that you’ve done a couple things outside of hosting, like acting and modeling.
Aliya-Jasmine: I have not!! What have I done?
Def Pen: I swear I saw somewhere, I believe on your website, that you did modeling for the NFL and CFL.
Aliya-Jasmine: Ohhhh that doesn’t count! That wasn’t real! For MTV I had created this show called ‘Play with AJ’ it was a joint venture between TSN and MTV and it was a sports show on MTV and we interviewed athletes about sports and pop culture. We were launching that show and were working with a bunch of leagues and the NFL approached us and said they’re looking for someone who works in sports that can represent Canada. It was a women’s apparel NFL ad. They wanted one Canadian because at the time the Buffalo Bills had a big contract and they even played in Canada for a couple years. They picked me to represent Canada in that commercial and we did it around the launch of ‘Play with AJ’, but that was NOT a modeling gig. Like I can not claim at all to be a model. The CFL thing was because of my boyfriend. I was hosting ‘Play with AJ’ and they gave me the opportunity to design a CFL shirt and there were a couple women hosts who designed a shirt for one of the anniversaries of the grey cup. Like actual, Non-pink, women’s apparel that I would actually wear. But then again, I put a picture of my self-wearing it and put it on my Instagram, I can not claim to be modeling. I’m like 5 foot 4 and I’m also good looking at a very specific angle, so I can not have it out there that I’m modeling
Def Pen: I think that’s everybody, everybody’s gotta pick their angles. I learned that the hard way. Alright so that’s all the questions I have, is there anything you’d like to let people know or anything extra we missed out?
Aliya-Jasmine: Not really but I think you guys should follow me on Social Media! I promise I’m good at replying to people.(@aliyajasmine)