For many child stars, their transition into adulthood is rife with financial struggles, diminishing roles and a myriad of other problems that far too often make headlines for all the wrong reasons. So revisiting the origins of that strife can be a painful experience that oftentimes they have no desire to revisit.
In the case of Jaleel White, who is immortalized forever for his iconic stint as Steve Urkel on Family Matters, his journey had its challenges, but he learned to expand his repertoire to include writing and producing in order to extend his success well beyond his teenage years. As such, he’s one of the lucky ones who’ve found their happily ever after.
And with his new podcast, Ever After, produced by Audio Up Media, he’s joined by Raven-Symoné, Keke Palmer and other former child stars to explore their own personal journeys in the entertainment industry and how their paths diverged from their early days of fame.
He’s the perfect host for a podcast of this nature, and in speaking with The Root, he explained how Ever After came to be.
“We’ve reached a new peak of authenticity in media now. So a lot of the things that we’re going to talk about were taboo to discuss,” he said. “In the past, I would’ve had to be on a radio station or host a show that got picked up by a conglomerate. Now technology allows people to create their own talk show formats that allow for a level of honesty that when I looked around, I realized I know everybody. I’ve worked with all these people.”
He ain’t lying.
In listening to Jaleel discuss his friendships with people like Raven-Symoné (“I’ve known her since she was Hanging with Mr. Cooper!”) or the myriad of other friends (you and I would call them celebrities) that he casually name drops or posts on social media, it’s clear that these relationships are genuine bonds that just so happen to reach further than most. But with almost 40 years in the game, he should know everybody, right? Which, again, makes him the perfect host for Ever After. He’s the Forrest Gump of the entertainment industry: much like Kevin Bacon, all roads inevitably lead back to Jaleel.
Just don’t expect any former child stars embroiled in controversy—and I ain’t saying no names—to appear on his show.
“An ideal guest for Ever After is someone who has transcended their past,” he explained. “Someone who, as soon as you say their name, you know who they are. Someone who doesn’t have a long history of being involved in the law or a history of hitting rock bottom or anything like that.”
In being a member of this exclusive fraternity of former child stars, Jaleel has no interest in exploiting any of his troubled peers for clicks or downloads. Instead, he prefers to offer support while also holding them accountable for their actions, or only revisiting those prior struggles after those demons have been conquered.
“My show is not about trashing people that have had reputations. My show is about celebrating people like Miley Cyrus who’s like, ‘Yo, I’ve done some drugs.’ If you want to have a conversation about drugs, we’ll have a conversation about drugs,” he said with a laugh. “Everything in life is [...] about learning from it. You learn a lesson so you can move on to the next lesson.”
He also hopes that the show is able to dispel any ugly myths or stereotypes about his guests and possibly create new opportunities for them in the process.
“A lot of executives that we deal with are highly educated and very capable individuals with Ivy League backgrounds, business degrees, etc.,” he said. “And they have very, very staunch opinions about content and what makes it work. I would hope that some of the execs we work with stumble upon my podcast [and realize] we have very similar educations. Our kids are going to the same schools. We have the same gray hairs in our chins. I’m feeling like we’re equals a bit.”
The podcast also provides Jaleel with an opportunity to give his peers their flowers while they can still smell them.
“Raven should be one of the biggest stars in the friggin’ world,” he said. “I will always sing her praises. Raven is literally the most well-liked Disney Channel star there has ever been. But in comparison to all the white girls that came in front of her, all the Mileys and Hilary Duffs, she didn’t have their earnings. She didn’t have their distribution. Nobody pushed her like that.
“Her merchandise was sold at K-Mart while everybody else’s shit was sold at Wal-Mart. But she was ‘urban’. And that was back in the day when they would tell you to your face, ‘We aren’t doing the urban thing right now.’”
This all circles back to Ever After’s underlying theme: perseverance. And why it’s so important for these pillars of our childhood to provide context to the characters we all knew and loved—as well as the lives they’ve led outside of them.
“This whole life’s journey is about perseverance, man,” Jaleel said. “When people are throwing obstacles your way. It’s cool for people to see some of the obstacles that we’ve had to overcome.”
Ever After is available now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcast fix.