Emmy Award-nominated presenter Scott Evans has worked with some of the greatest self-made success stories that America has ever produced. He starred alongside Jennifer Lopez as the host of NBC show ‘World of Dance’. He was handpicked by Oprah Winfrey to co-host ‘OWN Tonight’, the first live show on the TV mogul’s network. And as an entertainment reporter, he’s interviewed A-list stars including Jennifer Aniston, Will Smith and Tom Hanks, while an accidental in-depth exclusive with Taylor Swift changed his life. Now, he’s working with entrepreneur Joy Mangano on his latest primetime offering, ‘America’s Big Deal’, created by the Miracle Mop founder to give life-changing opportunities to entrepreneurs around the country. Scott’s road to success began with his first taste of the entertainment world as a third grader, and ever since then he has known his life’s mission, and ensured he has been present enough in each opportunity to learn, grow and succeed. Now an established primetime TV star, he’s hoping to inspire others to pursue their own purpose. Here’s Scott’s story, as told to Mr Feelgood’s Pete Samson.
By Scott Evans
We all have these experiences that help point us in the direction that we’re headed, if we’re willing to take notice. In the third grade, I was booked by Stacy Paetz to play a young Reggie Miller for the Indiana Pacers intro video they screen to the crowd as the players enter the arena. I remember I got a day off school and $50. If you would have asked me then, I would have told you about this big production, with lights and crew and cameras all over the place. Looking back it was a cameraman and one light tripod, but as a third grader it was huge.
I remember saying in the car afterwards, “I’m going to do this for a living.” So from then on, if there was a crowd, or a microphone, I was there. I was invited to go and watch the Pacers season opener when they played my video. The lights turn down, the jumbotron turns on, and the crowd goes crazy. I was aware they weren’t screaming for me, but I was also aware I wanted to work on stuff that made people respond with that kind of energy because of the collective efforts of everybody involved.
I joined an after school program at an organization called the Indiana Black Expo, which was created to help Black people to learn more about their history and culture, and to reinforce the contributions of Black people in America and around the world. I was involved in a program called the Youth Media Institute, and that gave me the opportunity to learn the basics of video production, and from that we launched a television show called ‘360 Degrees’ that aired on an MTV2 affiliate in Indianapolis. My mom worked for the organization too. She was 20 when she had me, and was feeling her way through what it meant to not only be a young mom, but the young mother of a Black boy. So she centered herself in experiences that would enrich her life, and also mine.
My father was not, at this time, a big part of my life, so my mom was raising me on my own. It was just me and my mom for 13 years, then she got married and had two girls, and I’ve got an older adopted brother and sister too. My father has 15 or 16 kids with other women. His nickname on the streets of New York was ‘Hornet’, so all us kids affectionately call each other ‘The Hornet’s Nest.’ He worked in nightlife in New York and Brooklyn, and got his nickname because, like a hornet’s sting, he was not a guy to be messed with. He passed six years ago, but one day you might turn on the TV and see a show about how these young Black people are all getting on and getting to know the essence of their father. We are from every walk of life, we have a correctional officer, a post office worker, an attorney, a doctor, a real estate agent, a stay-at-home mom, a museum curator and more.
I got a full scholarship to Purdue University, but quickly realized that path was going to delay what I felt was an urgency to put the skills and talent I had to work as soon as possible. I believed that it was real-life experience was what was going to set me apart, not necessarily my degree. So I packed up my car and drove back to my mom’s and told her I was moving to LA. She told me I should reconsider and asked me about my backup plan. I just knew that Plan A had to work.
I worked for a production company when I arrived in LA, but that disbanded within weeks of me starting. So then I became a live-in nanny for a family, nannying kids who were in the industry, so I was constantly on set and taking them to auditions. I was gaining experience and close enough to the industry that I didn’t feel like I was failing, but it wasn’t my own success. Then what really started the ball rolling for me in television was when the Pacers called again, looking for an on-court host. I was the first Black person to hold the position for the Pacers, and at 19, was the youngest in the league to ever hold that role. I was hosting the NBA games for the Pacers and the WNBA games for the Fever, and entertaining an audience of between 13,000 and 18,000 people live, nightly, at these games. It was the best kind of live training. From there I became a CBS entertainment reporter, which eventually led to the opportunity to anchor the ‘Channel One News’ in New York. I also launched a nonprofit in Indianapolis called Fight the Wackness, in order to help activate young people to find their purpose. And then an accidental exclusive interview with Taylor Swift in New York changed my life. It was supposed to last for seven minutes and ended up lasting for 22, and led to me becoming the East Coast correspondent for ‘Access Hollywood’. We were having such a good time they had to pull her away at the end, and the producer for Access Hollywood pulled me aside and said, “That does not happen! I don’t know where you came from or who you think you are. But continue doing exactly what you’re doing!”
Those little moments can make a big difference. I remember walking away from that Taylor Swift interview knowing that interaction was going to change my life. And it was because I was in the moment, and aware and present, I was able to reap the benefits of it. It was the same idea behind Fight the Wackness, that if we could get those kinds of experiences and opportunities for young people they could get on track to success, as early as the third grade. Taylor also inspired me to be sure that whatever platform I’m on, I’m going to use it for some sort of good, to try and make this place a little better than I found it. I’m excited to now be in a position to be able to do that: Telling stories that matter to me and sharing people’s perspectives that have impacted me.
I believe that we all have a purpose to serve the greater good, and it’s about finding how we can contribute and align our personality and our talent with a service mindset. I’m not saying that everybody is going to be a big star like Taylor Swift because they’re passionate and they’re kind. But I’m certainly saying that, whoever is willing to pursue their purpose, and allow service to be a guiding light in that, they will certainly feel like a star and be a star to others. They may not be famous and make millions of dollars, but certainly they’ll look back at their life, and be proud of the efforts they made every day.
Thinking about my own experience, I think one great thing was that I was exposed to people at a very young age who had success that showed itself in different ways. It wasn’t just people with a whole bunch of degrees, a bunch of money, or a bunch of kids. It was all of those things. And it was also people who traveled the world and taught yoga for a living, who defined success differently. These days, you have much more control over what success you can experience beyond just working your job and waiting for them to promote you. You can shape your own future, and have all these great opportunities to launch your life into a different direction. I’ve worked with and for some incredible women who have said, “I’m not going to let anyone else dictate my future. I’m going to ensure the life I have is the life I want. And the life I want is also going to raise up others.” Look at Jennifer Lopez, who I worked with on ‘World of Dance’. There is a woman who, at a very young age, said, “I’m going to do something different.” Or look at Joy Mangano, who produces the new show I’m hosting, ‘America’s Big Deal.’ If you’ve seen the movie or are familiar with her story, this was not a woman who became a billionaire overnight. Now she’s elevated not only her life, but also the individuals around her. And it was also a dream to work for Oprah Winfrey, and be selected to co-host the first live television show on her network. It was clear to me that opportunity was a meeting of my effort, my desire, my focus, and what some people might call luck.
The whole premise of this new show, ‘America’s Big Deal’, is about lifting people up, giving people that one shot to do the things they dreamed of. And I would hope that my own experience, or my own success, is a reflection of that same kind of energy of identifying what it is you want, or what it is you believe yourself to be here for, and then getting about the business of making it happen. Not waiting for anybody to give you the opportunity, and then also not accepting ‘no’ as a reasonable answer. And having a Black person on television that looks like me, that sounds like me, is also something that I hope is moving people to to pursue their own dreams, whether it be in television, or any other avenue of their interest. When you can see someone that looks like you, doing the thing that seems like their dream, it validates your own.
‘America’s Big Deal’ is a live, shoppable competition show, and each episode you’ve got four entrepreneurs introducing their business, and the viewers are in the driving seat as they can buy the products featured that night live. Then the entrepreneur with the most dollars gets to stand in front of these major retailers, and hopefully make a big deal and a life-changing amount of money. I’m excited about helming it, but also terrified, and I’ve had moments of imposter syndrome. Sure, I come from an entrepreneurial family, but I’m not a billionaire and I don’t represent entrepreneurs in that capacity. But what I decided to lean on instead was that as a Black man, and certainly a Black man that looks like I do, dark skinned with dreadlocks, I’m also standing in this space helping to legitimize every Black man and woman, and show that they belong in these business arenas as much as anyone else does. I had a moment where I was considering cutting my hair for the show, and the narrative that I was giving myself was, ‘Well, in order to be taken seriously in business, I have to look a certain way.’ Then I remembered why I loved my hair in the first place, which was to remind people that if you do happen to have dreadlocks, you still belong anywhere. And I reminded myself that I was not selected to host this show because of how I look, or my business expertise. It was to be the guy who amplifies the energy in the room. Just like I did at that first job at the Indiana Pacers.
America’s Big Deal premieres on USA Network on October 14. Find out more here.