Actress, producer and podcast radio personality, Karan Ashley
From saving the world as a Power Ranger, to being uncensored on the internet, this multi-talented young lady shows no signs of stopping.
Most 30-somethings who were glued to the tube watching one of the most popular kid’s shows of the 90s, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, will remember her as Aisha Campbell, the Yellow Power Ranger. Yet, Karan Ashley had achieved stardom long before coming to the fictional town of Angel Grove. When she finally decided to hang up her morpher, she would trek through Hollywood and find herself asking all the questions.
Ashley was born in Odessa, Texas but grew up in Dallas, five hours outside her hometown. She already had her eyes set on stardom at an early age.
“I started in the industry as a singer before I was an actress,” said Ashley. “I had been wanting to do it since I was born.” She remembers lying about her age to audition for a local show at the age of 12.
“I lied and said I was sixteen-years old,” said Ashley. “I don’t know how I got away with that lie.”
She nailed the audition and her journey towards Hollywood began. Ashley became friends with another young lady through the show and they both caught the eye of a member of the production team. The production member who became Ashley’s first manager decided to form a singing group with the girls.
Now a part of the R&B group, KRUSH (Keep Reaching Up Some How), Ashley was signed for five years to A&M Records under Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis . The group got a single on the soundtrack for the 1992 film “Mo’ Money” starring Damon Wayans. Continuous projects prevented the group from finishing their album and eventually they were dropped from the label. Despite the group disbanding and leaving the label, Ashley says it was a great experience.
“You can imagine, 13-years old, I’m like sitting in a studio with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, New Edition, Janet Jackson,” said Ashley. “I got to meet everyone I ever idolized in my whole life.”
Two months later, another opportunity would present itself to Ashley through an ad in a newspaper. The ad was for an audition for the hit television show, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. She had never heard of the show but decided to audition for the coveted role of the Yellow Ranger, recently vacated by actress, Thuy Trang.
“When KRUSH ended, I was like, ‘I’m going to be an actress,’” said Ashley.
She remembers the auditions for Power Rangers at that time was a huge open call with scouting in Los Angeles, Dallas, Orlando, Atlanta and New York.
“Literally, there was a line wrapped around the building,” said Ashley. “From what they told us back then, there was probably about 10,000 people [auditioning] just in Dallas.”
After an all-day auditioning process, Ashley got a call back three days later, she was asked to fly out to Los Angeles to audition for the producers. After another lengthy set of auditions, she would receive another call, four days later, stating she got the part.
“They said, ‘You’re moving to L.A., tell your parents to Fed Ex your clothes,’” said Ashley. “My life changed.”
Ashley took on the role of Aisha Campbell, a bubbly, spirited teenager visiting the town of Angel Grove to compete in a Ninja Tournament with her companions, Rocky Desantos played by Steven Cardenas and Adam Park portrayed by Johnny Yong Bosch.
The characters would eventually replace outgoing characters Jason Lee portrayed by Austin St. John, Zack Taylor portrayed by Walter Jones and Trini Kwan portrayed by Trang. Ashley would be the second African American main character, after Jones, on the show and the first African American female to become the Yellow Power Ranger in the history of the TV series.
“It was such a positive show,” said Ashley. “They were very strict on what we wore, how we talked, how we interacted, they wanted [Power Rangers] to be very wholesome.
“I loved my character, obviously, I was the Black girl,” said Ashley. “They let me get braids—they let me be the Black girl.
“For me, it was such an important thing to be a positive role model for young Black girls because I felt like we had never had that on TV especially that young.”
In addition to being on a hit kids show, fighting witches and monsters in multi-colored spandex, Ashley also had the foreknowledge of a movie deal being in her contract. She and the cast would quickly relocate to Australia to shoot “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie,” which hit the theaters in the summer of 1995.
The movie was a huge financial success and the TV series would ride the wave for years to come but it would be a different story for Ashley. She would eventually leave the TV series due to low pay and an extreme work schedule.
“I had gotten to the point where I was really unhappy,” said Ashley. “I loved my cast, I loved being a part of the franchise… [but] I knew the way we should be getting treated.
“I made the decision to leave.”
The character Aisha would go on one last mission before passing her powers onto her successor, another popular African American character, Tanya Sloan, portrayed by Nakia Burrise-Gavino. While Aisha relocated to Africa to live a normal life, treating wild animals infected by a plague in the world of Power Rangers, Ashley went on to find her place in Hollywood in the world of reality.
She began pounding the pavement looking for roles in television and film. She would land a role in an episode of the ABC sitcom, “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper”, where her character was a victim of gang violence.
“It gave me hope because that was a show that was so fun,” said Ashley. “I was a SAG [Screen Actors Guild] actress now because of that show.”
Ashley would begin booking jobs and commercials here and there making sure the rent and bills were paid. She also began producing and co-writing films, adding that to her resume but work was a struggle to find in Hollywood for a Black actress.
“When you go to auditions, every single Black actress is at that audition,” said Ashley. “I can tell you that I’ve auditioned against every single Black actress in this town.
“If you look at TV or if you look at movies, you can count us. [It’s] very unfortunate that for every one role we have, a Caucasian actress will have probably 10. It’s very competitive and you literally have to be ready mentally because like with anything, you are going to get more no’s than yes’. It’s a tough business and you can’t be afraid and intimidated by it.”
She also commented on the recent success of Black producers and directors in Hollywood and how she sees barriers being broken.
“I’m so inspired by people like Shonda Rhimes, Lee Daniels, who are doing shows where there is a predominately Black cast and the reality of it—they’ve created a lot of jobs.”
Present-day life for Ashley consist of a popular podcast show, Uncensored Radio, amongst multiple conventions or “cons” as many know them, as well as married life. Ashley married Kimani Ballard on March 22, 2014. Uncensored Radio offered her a new way to touch audiences and showcase her brand.
“A couple of guys, who were fans of [Power Rangers], hit me up two years ago,” said Ashley, “ to do this radio show called Uncensored Radio.”
“[A] couple of times a week turned into me going there and doing two years’ worth of radio,” said Ashley.
She would also begin doing more conventions, greetings fans and signing autographs will fellow Power Ranger alums from multiple seasons of the still popular franchise.
“For us [Power Rangers] to be popular 20 years later blows my mind,” said Ashley. Morphicon is one of the bigger Power Ranger conventions which draw countless fans every year.
“Once Power Rangers was released on Netflix, I think that just made our business soar,” said Ashley. “Doing a couple a year [became]… doing a couple a month.”
Ashley is a Christian and says she tries to live a God-fearing lifestyle. Many of the actors from Power Rangers use their brands to bring awareness to variety of issues in society and so does Ashley.
“I did the NoH8 Campaign because I really believe in love,” said Ashley. “I believe in loving every single person. I don’t believe in judging people.
“As a Black woman, as an individual who grew up in America, I’m half-Black, half-Mexican… someone who was discriminated against… I want [LGBT] people to feel loved.
“It just reminds me of the struggles [Black] people go through. For me, doing the NoH8 Campaign and just taking that one single picture… it speaks volumes.”
Ashley has also started her own venture spinning off Uncensored Radio, Uncensored Talk, where she gets to ask questions to some of the who’s who of Hollywood. Most of the conventions are full of television stars such a Lou Ferrigno, Nichelle Nichols and many others. She saw this as an opportunity to introduce Uncensored Radio fans to even more.
“I love doing radio, love, love, love it,” said Ashley. “I need to sit down and interview these people and what I found is the fans really enjoy it.” On why it’s called “Uncensored”, Ashley says “because when it’s just me and them in a room, they’re a little bit more relaxed.
“They’re going to tell me stories or they’re going to crack jokes that they probably wouldn’t crack. I wanted it to be where [celebrities] could be themselves.”
Karan Ashley followed her dreams of stardom and didn’t let a couple of hills and turns in the road stop her. She’s learned how to brand herself by being herself and that has gotten her farther than most. Karan Ashley is an uncensored spirit and will continue to shine her light for all to see.
You can find Karan Ashley on Facebook and Twitter. For more of her on Uncensored Talk, please visit http://myuncensoredradio.com/ucrsite/.
All Photos Courtesy of Karan Ashley