Host of show produced by Toledo native nominated for NAACP Image AwardWritten by Danielle Stanton | | email@example.com
Toledo native Cleveland O’Neal III, who created and runs a TV and film company out of Los Angeles, said the NAACP Image Award nomination for one of his employees, TV moderator Eric Keyes III, is a classic case of David versus Goliath.
O’Neal’s Connection III Entertainment Corp. competes against industry giants like The Walt Disney Company and Nickelodeon. The competition is a daily battle, O’Neal said, and he is pleased Keyes has won a round against such multibillion-dollar companies.
“We are always that little engine that could, the independent distributor battling the giants,” O’Neal said by phone from his offices in LA. “We are continually competing with multibillion-dollar parent companies – Nickelodeon, Disney Company. Connection III is the only non-billion-dollar company nominee.
“It’s a little David and Goliath and we couldn’t be more pleased with this nomination with our meager resources.”
Keyes, who lives in North Hollywood but is originally from Chicago, faces tight competition in his nomination for a 45th annual NCAAP Image Award. The award honors the accomplishments of people of color in television, music, literature and film. Stars such as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman, Halley Berry and Angela Bassett have been previous recipients.
Keyes is nominated in the Outstanding Performance in a Youth/Children’s Program category for his role in the nationally syndicated TV series “Live Life and Win!” He’s up against China Anne McClain of “A.N.T. Farm,” Karan Brar of “Jessie,” and Zendaya of “Shake It Up,” all from Disney, and Fatima Ptacek of “Dora the Explorer” from Nickelodeon.
“We couldn’t be more excited for Eric. He has played a major role on ‘Live Life and Win!’ since its inception,” O’Neal said. “We hand-picked Eric from a long line of auditions. We decided to take a shot and make him the lead.”
Some well-known names up for other Image Awards this year include Don Cheadle for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series, Rashida Jones for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and LL Cool J for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series.
The ceremony will air live at 9 p.m. Feb. 22.
“Live Life and Win!” is a weekly, half-hour educational and informative show meant to inspire and enlighten young viewers with teenage success stories. Keyes, a segment reporter, interviews teens from all walks of life.
“We’ve met so many interesting people,” Keyes said by phone from North Hollywood. “In the first season there was a blind golfer, a young entrepreneur [who] started his own business – so many amazing kids. We go out and get to talk to most of them and they take us into their world for a little bit.”
Keyes said he has learned during his three years as co-host on the show that one person can make a difference.
The 21-year-old actor began in the industry at a young age. He said he remembers his mother bringing him to auditions for Oscar Mayer and Soul Food commercials. One ad campaign job led to sitting on Oprah Winfrey’s lap.
At 11, Keyes became a published author. His book “The Light in the Dark” was sold at Borders bookstores nationwide. He toured schools, promoting his message “You can turn off your fears and turn on your inner Light in the Dark.”
He went on to land lead roles in national commercials for Disney and McDonalds. He was the male lead in a music video “Wild Ones” by hip-hop artist Flo Rida and was the lead dancer in a music video by rap duo L.M.F.A.O.
He said he would like to go on to study his true love, acting.
The Image Award nomination is “kind of crazy” because his name is up there with well-known Disney actors, he said.
“It’s kind of exciting because I know it means a lot to me, of course, but it means a lot to my family,” Keyes said. “They were thrilled. … Your family puts a lot of work into you. My family has never not backed me on any dreams I might have.”
O’Neal recently sold the 10th season of his signature series franchise, “Made in Hollywood,” and the ninth season of its shoot-off “Made in Hollywood: Teen Edition.”
The “Made in Hollywood” entertainment news series is a behind-the-scenes look into the “how” and “why” movies are made in Hollywood and features interviews with celebrities, including Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Sandra Bullock, Johnny Depp and more.
O’Neal founded his independent production and distribution company after spending time in theater and radio. He produced the first African American after-school special “What About Your Friends: Graduation Blues” for CBS. The show, a first in network television history, was nominated for an Emmy and won an Image Award.
O’Neal said he has an instinct for talent. While developing a script for the first hip-hop beach movie “Phat Beach,” he hired an unknown, Doug Ellin, as director. Ellin would go on to create “Entourage” on HBO.
“We have a long, long history of finding complete unknown talent,” O’Neal said. “We’re hand-picking this talent … no one had heard of [Keyes] and now we’re competing with worldwide giants as we always do.”
Tags: A.N.T. Farm, China Anne McClain, Cleveland O'Neal III, Connection III Entertainment Corp., Disney, Don Cheadle, Dora the Explorer, Eric Keyes III, Fatima Ptacek, Jessie, Karan Brar, Live Life and Win!, LL Cool J, Made in Hollywood, Made in Hollywood: Teen Edition, NAACP Image Award, Nickelodeon, Rashida Jones, Shake It Up, Toledo native, Zendaya