‘DWTS’ Judge Seeks to ‘Inspire the Next Generation’

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From left: Wenda Fong, CAPE co-founder and co-chair; William Suh of Verizon; and Carrie Ann Inaba of "Dancing with the Stars." (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

“Dancing with the Stars” judge Carrie Ann Inaba has joined the board of CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment), which honored her June 7 at the Japanese American National Museum.

CAPE also used the occasion to launch the “I AM” campaign, which will include public service announcements by Inaba and other Asian Pacific American role models in the entertainment industry.

Inaba was interviewed on stage by Wenda Fong, co-founder and co-chairperson of CAPE and an executive at Fox who is in charge of the reality shows “The X Factor,” “American Idol,” “Hell’s Kitchen” and “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Fong established CAPE in 1991 with publicist Fritz Friedman and film producer and executive Chris Lee to make the industry more culturally aware and to prepare Asian Pacific Islanders for artistic and leadership roles. In partnership with the broadcast networks, CAPE holds workshops on writing, acting, casting and other aspects of the business, and provides networking opportunities through mixers.

Prior to the main program, Inaba spoke briefly with the press, accompanied by representatives of the evening’s sponsor, Verizon: Tim Youn and William Suh, who are in charge of multicultural marketing, and Asia Powell, director of strategic programs.

Inaba, who was a pop star in Japan, a Fly Girl on the Fox comedy show “In Living Color” and a dancer in Madonna’s “Girlie Show” tour before becoming a household name, said that she has benefited from CAPE’s programs. “I’m from Hawaii, born and raised. I’m Japanese-Chinese-Irish, and a Pacific Islander at heart, so really there’s no other place for me to be except involved with CAPE … I was involved with the ABC Showcase, which CAPE sponsors. They look for Asian talent and I was one of the people who were auditioning.

“I was a dancer at the time. I was like, ‘I want to become an actress. I want to try and see how it goes,’ and I was fortunate enough to be one of those chosen for the program. And it really made a huge difference. For the first time I was in a room with other Asian Pacific Islanders, working on my craft and having people that looked like me who had similar backgrounds but yet different … We could kind of ask each other for advice. It became this wonderful support group.

“And it dawned on me that this is really important to have in this business because this business is difficult … It’s a great community.”

Inaba said of Fong and CAPE Co-chairperson Adele Yoshioka, a dancer/actress/model who became a film executive, “Their hearts are so open and they welcome everybody, and they really want you to succeed. It’s not like other places where they’re like, ‘Yes, come be part of our thing, but we don’t really want you to succeed because we want to stay on top.’ This organization is not like that at all. It’s truly a welcoming world.”

Before landing the job on “Dancing with the Stars,” which premiered in 2005 and just concluded its 14th season, Inaba’s credits included appearing as a dancer in the movies “Showgirls” and “Lord of Illusions” and as an actress in “American Virgin” and “Austin Powers in Goldmember”; and serving as a choreographer for the TV shows “American Juniors,” “The Swan” and “American Idol.”

Since joining the hit ABC series, she has guest-starred on “Hannah Montana”; choreographed for “The TV Land Awards” and “America’s Got Talent”; co-produced a documentary, “Tokyology”; executive-produced a TV movie, “Grace”; hosted the Game Show Network’s “1 vs. 100” and TV Guide’s “Red Carpet Live”; and guest-hosted “Live with Kelly” and “The View.”

In the area of animal welfare, she has appeared in a PETA campaign promoting animal birth control; served as a celebrity ambassador for Best Friends Animal Shelter; co-created “Crib Cats,” an online series that finds homes for shelter cats; and hosted the Humane Society’s Genesis Awards.

Inaba has been nominated for a 2012 Teen Choice Award for favorite female TV personality along with Christina Aguilera of “The Voice,” Tyra Banks of “America’s Next Top Model,” Jennifer Lopez (also a former Fly Girl) of “American Idol,” and Jessica Simpson of “Fashion Star.”

Being honored by CAPE was “a bit awkward,” Inaba admitted. “I’m this girl from Hawaii who had this dream and I pursued it. I didn’t know what I was doing, sort of paved my own little path …. So to be here today being recognized for my achievements, it’s a strange thought … I’m honored, I’m touched, and I’m excited, but I really don’t know how to place it.”

At the same time, she said, “without these types of events, people don’t have access to people who have been through it, and I think what’s good about tonight is that people can ask questions. We’re going to have an open forum.”

Through the “I AM” campaign, which is sponsored by Sony, “we’re going to talk to a lot of people who have been successful in this industry, and what we’re trying to do is show role models,” she added. “When I grew up, there was not a lot of people who looked like me on TV. Adele was one of them … I watched her dance and she kind of set the path for somebody like me.

“I know how important that was for me to be able to look on TV and say, ‘Oh look, she kind of looks like me … I can do this too.’ I think that’s what we want to do. We want to show people that it’s possible. We want to … let them see all the different paths that they can take. The options are limitless.”

Serving on CAPE’s board will enable her to “learn even more about how to work in this business,” such as developing as a writer and producer, while maintaining the organization as “a resource that you can go to that is genuinely open … If we can give it back to other people, that is wonderful. I think by doing that we’ll hear more of our stories and it’ll inspire the next generation.”

Fong said she was “thrilled” that Inaba is “joining a hard-working group of stellar board members, and we are excited to be working with Carrie Ann.”

Other board members include Steve Tao (president), consultant for Participant Media; Sheri Bryant (co-vice president), producer with Intelligent Life Media; Gordon Ho (co-vice president), principal with GKH Media; and Kevin Iwashina (secretary), managing partner of Preferred Content.

For more information on CAPE’s programs, visit http://capeusa.org.

Carrie Ann Inaba poses with the evening's volunteers. At left is CAPE Executive Director Jennifer Sanderson. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

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