For the past two decades, Tina Treadwell has been instrumental in the lives of many of today’s biggest names in entertainment. As the former Vice President of Talent Development, Casting & Alternative Programming at the Disney Channel Treadwell is credited with spearheading the network concert series which was a defining moment for artists like Justin Timberlake when he was a member of N’SYNC, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, LeAnn Rimes and the Backstreet Boys to name a few.
Having grown up in the entertainment industry, the daughter of music managers, it was inevitable that Treadwell would follow a similar path. Prior to her father George Treadwell succumbing to lung cancer, the veteran music manager’s clients included Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday and Sammy Davis Jr.
Following the death of her father, Tina’s mother, Fayrene ‘Faye’ Treadwell became one of the first African American women music managers who took a brazen step to move to London with the R&B group, The Drifters. Tina’s youth included traveling abroad for summers and holidays to visit her mother before she began her collegiate career at Princeton University.
While initially having interest in being in front of the camera, Treadwell selflessly took that passion and her knowledge for the entertainment industry and became a renown casting director with an impeccable eye for talent.
With her own imprint, the Treadwell Entertainment Group, she’s now managing the careers of up-and-coming talent.
Never one to be complacent, Treadwell’s brand is continuing to evolve with several film projects in development. In an exclusive interview with the L.A. Sentinel,Treadwell gives no-holds-barred insight on having a viable career in the entertainment industry.
LAS: What’s the difference between talent and star power? There are people at home who may feel as if they can sing, dance or act better than their favorite celebrities but haven’t had the same opportunities.What propels an artist to be successful?
Tina Treadwell: It’s good fortune, opportunity and hard work all coming together. There are African American women in choirs across the nation that can whale but I think it’s about drive, good fortune and right place, right time. One of the young ladies on this season of “Empire” was doing hair in a barbershop when one of the show’s producers came in; she was able to hand him a CD and she got the role. There are actors who’ve gone to Julliard and been classically trained then this girl just so happened to land a role in the most unconventional way. I think it’s about inner drive and an ‘it factor’.
The environment that people are in also plays a part; oftentimes people have parents that nurture their talents and can invest in their kids pursuing careers in the arts at a young age. There have been countless artists that have a machine behind them and they go away. You have to really strike a chord with an audience.
Talent is elusive. I can go to a workshop where there will be nearly one hundred kids from all over the region and just when I think I’ve seen it all, there will be one 10-year-old that will blow me away. There’s just something that certain people have and when that resonates with people who aren’t necessarily in a position of power but a position to provide an opportunity, I have a company where I can give someone an opportunity to make them rise. the particular 10-year-old that I’m referencing, his parents have the means to come to LA for six months and help him pursue his dreams. So how did the universe conspire that this particular talent was born into this particular family that had the opportunity to meet me to then open the door for me to help him flourish? There are a lot of different perfect storms and everyone will have their own unique story about how they got in.
LAS: What’s your advice for aspiring casting directors on developing an eye for talent and not having a personal bias when it comes to spotting talent?
TT: In terms of bias, you can’t [for example] compare Rihanna to Beyonce and say who’s ‘better’ because in casting, that isn’t viable because you need to take into consideration what the end result is. In depends on the environment in which you’re placing the talent. When you’re looking at a role, you’re looking a the scenario that the character is going to be in and what plays real. When you’re casting a movie of a series for a network, it may come down to five people who are equally good but which ever person is cast, the role is going to be different because how the words flow through each person is different based on their perspective and life experience and our journey.
LAS: Has it been an issue or challenge for you behind the scenes to secure opportunities for people of color? Have we really made progress?
TT: Yes, absolutely and its an evolution of society. Everything is driven by ad dollars as well as visionaries who create something that’s successful. There have been times when movies made by people of color have been released and they didn’t resonate with the audience and studios will go, ‘well we can’t put money behind them because they don’t support their own stuff’ then you’ll have something that comes along that’s mind blowing then everyone wants to get on the bandwagon and do more. We are in an amazing time with creatives like Shonda Rhimes, Kenya Barris and Ava DuVernay at the helm of major TV shows. What we’re seeing now in TV and film is more of sense of reality and what’s really out there.
It’s that alchemy where something not only has to be good, it has to strike such a chord that many people want to see it. The success of these shows aren’t all because of people of color watching them, it’s people watching and recognizing that there’s a universal story that we can all relate to. People are seeing talent for talent sake, I think that’s where we are now.