MORE THAN A MONTH! LOVE + PRIDE 365! THE ALIEN SUPERSTAR: KALEN ALLEN
EDITOR IN CHIEF: COREY GUEVARRA
PHOTOGRAPHER: TIMOTHY SMITH
WARDROBE: MICKEY FREEMAN AT THE ONLY AGENCY
WARDROBE ASSISTANT: KYNDAL DAY
GROOMING: CHERYL BERGAMY AT EXCLUSIVE ARTISTS
Kalen Allen & his trajectory is in one wonderfully admirable summation; UNIQUE! (10s if you heard that in your very best Beyoncé Renaissance voice :) Against the odds he’s manifested an authentic life for himself many only wish they had the courage to cohesively conquer. Among his many character attributes is a sort of calculated, yet free-dreaming, risk taking that continues to lead him into the most incredible life experiences. Perhaps his most admirable quality is that he’s the definition of ‘what you see, is what you get’, authentic in every way & could truly care less what you or anyone else thinks of it! Even now, his care for future self harnesses a 4.0 GPA via a NYU master’s program, carefully curating safety nets & bridges between his now & his then. He’s got numerous shows on the horizon & as a fan favorite of fearless delivery, he shows no sign of slowing any time soon! But how did a black, queer identifying, young-man from the middle of Kansas suddenly find himself at the center of the world stage? A relatable, courageous, undeniable effervescence is how & were all so WILDLY proud watching him live (& manifest) it all, out loud!
SUNGLASSES: BALENCIAGA, FULL LOOK: LANDEROS NEW YORK, BOOTS: THE ‘F.U’ BOOT: BY KIRAKIRA COUTURE
KALEN WHERE ARE YOU FROM WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
Kansas City -from the moment I came out of my mama's belly [lol] all the way until age 18! After high school I moved to Philadelphia to attend Temple University & during my senior year I moved to Los Angeles to start working at Ellen. Presently I’m back on the east coast where I currently reside in Jersey City.
WHAT INITIALLY INSPIRED YOU TO BEGIN YOUTUBING & DOING YOUR NOW NOTORIOUS REVIEWS?
It all happened by accident believe it or not! -Totally unplanned! At that time I was at Temple doing theater and film. It was the first semester of my senior year and I honestly just saw a video and was like ‘I should record myself responding to this’. That was it, that was the entire thought process of it all. To my full and absolute surprise, that very first video went viral! -Because of that I figured I’d just keep doing them because if nothing else, people seemed to enjoy watching them as much as I enjoyed expressing my opinions on them! -I will note that then (& now) I still don't think I have the patience to make social content on a regular basis lol -I don’t think it’ll ever be something I’d want to HAVE to do consistently. From there however, everything happened VERY quickly! My first video went up in November 2017 & by January 2018 I was officially working at Ellen!
BODYSUIT: NORMA KAMALI, FACE MASK, CHOKER, AND BELT: BDODI
METALLIC FULL BODY HARNESSES, GLOVES, SHOE COVERS: SHO KONISHI, BOOTS: THE ‘F.U’ BOOT: BY KIRAKIRA COUTURE
WALK US THROUGH YOUR ENTIRE ‘ELLEN’ EXPERIENCE, HOW DID THE CONNECTION BEGIN? & HOW DID YOU FIND OUT YOU WOULD BECOME A SHOW REGULAR?
So, after the first couple of videos went viral, I got a lot of different offers from [literally] all over the place. It was wild, the opportunities were pouring in with people wanting to bring me on to do all types of collaborations or feature work. But once I saw the ‘Ellen’ email come in from one of her producers, it REALLY caught my attention. Of course I initially had to do a pre-interview, where they evaluate whether or not I’d be a good fit for the show or segment. Not long after that I received a callback asking me if I could send in some other food reaction videos! I agreed of course and by around the beginning of December they aired my seven-up cake reaction video on the show!
Now, I didn't know that it was going to be on the air, so it was a genuine surprise! Immediately after, Ellen invited me to actually be ON the show! -I think I filmed that first episode on December 13th of 2017. An even bigger, unbelievable surprise awaited me, when Ellen OFFERED me a job live on the episode! My original contract only required a couple of videos every now and then for regular show feature which I could’ve easily done remotely. I however, made the decision to move to Los Angeles because I knew that if I was on ground locally, it would increase the chances of them using me even more! I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so taking whatever initiative I needed and betting on myself in she process were the only options in my book! I got to LA, still completing school at night, popping into the show’s offices often, but I still felt like I just had too much idle time just sitting in my apartment most days. So again I went after more, I flat out asked them for an office at Warner Brothers and guess what, they said yes! That changed everything. Because they were seeing me on a daily basis, that visibility sort of naturally evolved me into being a part of the team and it boosted me to becoming a regular on the show!
WOW! INCREDIBLE KALEN. MOST PEOPLE WOULD BE SO AFRAID OR INTIMIDATED TO SPEAK UP AND ASK FOR WHAT THEY WANT IN A HUGE SETTING LIKE THAT!
I think for me, I knew that that opportunity was going to be what I made it. I think I also knew that I was entering into a world that was massive and that the food videos were not sustainable, they couldn’t last forever. Also, I’d worked my entire life to be an actor, to be an entertainer, to be a performer, I didn’t want my story to be limited to just talking about food in my bed (because I really didn’t care that much about that topic solely tbh). So I think I was very determined from jump to maximize the heck out of that time & opportunity.
Now I definitely do have to give Ellen her absolute due credit for being in my corner! From the moment I got to the show, she was very adamant about letting it be known that whatever I wanted to do, she wanted me to be able to do it. She gave me a ton of freedom & the producers & staff all did whatever they could to help maximize the vision! Nobody there ever treated me like I was lower or a newbie. They were in meetings very early on, like, ‘what do YOU want to do? What's the big picture? Tell me what you gravitate towards’. Coming to them with some sort of audience I think helped too, still very grateful that they were genuinely interested in helping enhance what I’d started & were completely willing to give me the resources & the platform to elevate it!
WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW SHOW AS A CELEBRITY JUDGE?
So because I [of course] began with the food videos, I still do have a healthy orbit within the food TV space! I've done shows for Food Network, where I’ve guest judged on food competition shows & so on. I think from those experiences I grew more interested in finding something that allowed lighthearted fun (as the Food Network shows generally judge real, serious, world-class chefs, so there isn't a lot of room to play all). When Roku Channel came to me and asked me about doing a celebrity family cook-off, it was a no brainer! I immediately loved the premise of random celebrities cooking because it could either be amazing or a complete disaster [lol]! A show like this is rooted in fun, it gives more room to play, which in many ways is my own origin story in this genre. The show is being executive produced by Sofia Vergara who we know enjoys working in comedy, so I'm really excited to shoot it and see who our celebrity guests will be! We also get to try all of the food as well, so if we book somebody like Oprah, I then get to say that I ate Oprah's food? -Yes Please!
IS IT TRUE THAT YOU’RE COMPLETING YOUR MASTERS AS WELL? IN WHAT FIELD? & EVEN WITH THE FAME, WHY WAS CONTINUING EDUCATION STILL IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO ACCOMPLISH?
I am!! So, I'm at NYU getting my Master's in journalism. I very often live in a space of following my instincts and universal signs. So, for instance just before the Ellen situation presented itself, a couple months before I’d received a teaching offer from a charter school back home in Kansas City. It was my senior year & I could’ve easily chosen the more stable, familiar, less risky path of considering this guaranteed job back in my hometown. Ultimately I decided against it because I just wanted more. -I still think that was a test to see if I was going to choose a route that would be more comfortable or if I believed in myself enough to enter into the unknown. I turned it down in October, the first video I made was in November & LOOK what happened with the trajectory of my life! Leaning into the unknown aligned me with specific people, Ellen of course, then meeting Oprah Winfrey (who spoke so much life into me) and then ending up doing a podcast with Ricki Lake (Please note the big talks show host theme here). -That first food video was from a sponsored ad on Facebook. That's how it came to me. Fast forward years later, I’m on Facebook again and there I see a sponsored ad for NYU's online journalism master's program and I believed wholeheartedly that similarly, that was a sign for me. When I was working at Ellen & eventually on red carpets & witnessing firsthand how that end of the industry worked, I was always thinking, that I’d wished I’d perhaps studied broadcast journalism in undergrad! So I've just always followed where my heart took me in that way. When I saw that ad [again] I just knew it was a sign for me because I know that I'm going to have a talk show one day! I thought to myself, I already know how to entertain people, I learned that from working at Ellen, but I also want to be able to have an investigative journalistic skillset just like, you guessed it….Oprah!
KALEN DO YOU REMEMBER THE MOMENT OR TIME WHEN YOU DECIDED OKAY, I AM ONLY GOING TO SHOW UP IN THE WORLD AS MY AUTHENTIC SELF?
I do, actually, now I’ve always lived in a place of authenticity and being who I am, but I do think there was a little bit of code-switching and a little bit of assimilating for a good while there. I think the ‘aha moment’ of it all however came when I was working with a youth group called Inner Circle, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was on my way to their annual youth conference that I’d been a part of on a yearly basis & this year they’d informed me that they’d printed T-shirts with a quote from me talking about living in your truth and being your most authentic self. I said to myself while on that plane, that I couldn’t go to this conference and speak to these young queer kids in particular about authenticity if I'm not doing that fully in my own life. So, I think that was the moment that I was like, from now on, I am not going to sacrifice or compromise any parts of myself for anybody else’s comfort. That’s silly. I have to prioritize my own personal peace primarily!
Now if I’m being transparent, I will also say that it can be a little lonely sometimes standing in your authenticity. When you sort of go against the tide, depending on your life’s personal variables, there just may be some people, places and things you can’t take with you, that won’t WANT to come with you in your honesty. I know that especially when I think about my relationship with my mother and the times that we weren't speaking and when we didn't have a relationship, those are the things some of us may find we have to unfortunately navigate through to show up for ourselves. As a result, It's like all I know is being alone and being independent and because of that, I know myself in a way that a lot of people don't and that can be very lonely. Reaching in, to choose your personal freedom over comfortable toxicity, does sometimes come with cost, but ultimately, it’s worth it.
WHAT DRIVES OR INSPIRES YOUR CONFIDENCE?
You know sometimes when I go back and I watch home videos, one thing I can say is that Kalen has always been Kalen. When I look at videos, I get emotional, when I think about who I was as a kid I see the fact that I all I've ever wanted was to just be me. I think I was always sort of made of steel, my mother eventually wouldn't even bother grounding or punishing me because it wouldn't affect me, I was always going to find the joy and the light; no matter what somebody said, no matter what somebody believed. My resiliency is my strongest suit and I think this confidence is because, to me, that's my ONLY choice! There are a lot of things that I have done where I know that if I ever fell short or failed at it, it was never because of my talent, it was only because I made the mistake of doubting myself. Those instances taught me the cost that comes with not being confident and I think I have learned that THAT cost is too great! -It’s a lot easier, it's more convenient and it takes less recovery to just be confident.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR 6 YEAR OLD SELF BASED ON THE LIFE YOU’VE MANIFESTED TODAY?
I think my younger self would look at who I am today and be amazed! I think he would be absolutely blown away! But I also do think that he would be disappointed in the sacrifices and the costs that it took to get here via the love we’ve had to give up or the support that wasn't there -I think he would be sadly disappointed by that. If I could give him any advice, my advice would be that the choices OTHER people make that don't make sense to him, feeling like they are against him, or that they don't believe in him, has NOTHING to do with him! I think if I could have learned that earlier, if I could’ve learned what projection was and had been able to comprehend that a lot of times people are just projecting their insecurities onto others. -You just have to believe that you are good enough without somebody telling you that you are!
WHERE DO YOU HOPE TO BE SOME 26 YEARS FROM NOW?
Okay. I'm 27, so I'll be in my 50s by then! Hopefully by that time, I'd have found either one good solid extra long running/multi season job or even that one big job that I can just retire from after and I can go live in Malibu and just mind my business ha! I do a podcast with Ricki Lake and Ricki just be living in Malibu, living it up! And I be like, THIS is the life I'm manifesting. I just want to live in joy. A lot of who I am was built out of trauma and survival so I'm excited to get to a place where I can just bask in the light. Where we've done it, we’ve accomplished what we wanted to accomplish and everything is now just a bonus!
WHO WOULD YOU SAY YOU ARE WHEN THE CAMERAS ARE OFF KALEN?
I think the one thing people who know me would tell you is that I’m not very different whether the cameras are on or off lol! I think the most surprising thing is that people believe that I am an extrovert. I can see how my authenticity can read as extroversion/turn up king lol, but in real life, I’m very quiet and at home. For example every morning, I like to listen to jazz music, it helps calm and settle me. I like to cook full meals, I like to cook for people, I like to take care of people. I'm kind of a recluse, so I think that would probably be the most shocking for some to see off camera.
WHAT BRINGS YOU THE MOST PEACE KALEN?
I'd probably say my dogs, even with how much I work, being on a flight every two weeks, the thing that stings the most is having to leave my dogs for periods of time! They bring so much peace, because of that, if there’s ever a way to take them with me, I don’t care, I’ll do it. I remember one time I shot a show in Knoxville TN, it was a 3 weeks schedule and it was simply too long, so I packed up a car and drove us on down there, the long drive just to have them was worth it. -It's even in my contracts that any hotel I stay in has to be dog friendly (just in case).
OUR STAPLE QUESTION KALEN, WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF LUXURY?
I would say my definition of luxury is rest. Being able to afford rest. I woke up this morning and I could just feel it in my body that I was just exhausted and tired from he demanding schedule I’ve been keeping. I said you know what? I’m taking the whole month of July off. Anything in July will have to be moved to August and we will just do it then. I can’t show up for future commitments as my best self if I’m exhausted. I realize how fortune I am, being able to make that decision, I’m sincerely grateful. Rest unfortunately in our modern world has become a luxury.
& FINALLY, IF YOU THINK ON YOUR ENTIRE LIFE, WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF KALEN?
That I've done everything that I wanted to do, that I went for it! When I look back I can already say that I’ve accomplish so many of my dreams and aspirations! And so from that vantage point, how do you redraft your dreams? What is the next dream? What are you striving for? -And that doesn't always have to be about work or career btw! Now I think, that my dreams include a family you know, or getting married or settling down and buying a house. It changes, self-evolution into newer dreams, into newer parts of ourselves is also something we can be proud of!