A smarter Rachel Ray
Houston activist/Pride Parade marshal Fiona Dawson braves the Oprah scandal —and the Internet critics
"When people ask, 'Where are you from?' I typically answer West Texas," Fiona Dawson states, her striking face and British accent filling the screen.
This is part of the video audition Dawson submitted in hopes of getting her own show on Oprah Winfrey's TV network. Not surprisingly given her background as a non-profit crusader in Houston, Dawson describes her potential show as something that would embrace and tackles issues of all people.
"NOW with Fiona" is pitched as show that celebrates and presents diversity. Dawson's goal is to win Winfrey's “Your OWN show: Oprah's Search for the Next TV Star" contest. The one that's recently come under fire with accusations that it's being rigged to produce an African-American host winner.
When Oprah announced that she would step away from her talk show after next season, everyone wondered if there was something up her sleeve. Then, Oprah announced that she'd be working with famed reality TV producer Mark Burnett to find the next TV star. Oprah has made household names out of Dr. Phil, Rachel Ray, Dr. Oz and Nate Berkus. Oprah's even turned her close friend Gayle King into an OWN on-air personality.
Fiona Dawson hopes to join that list of Oprah-blessed super successes.
Dawson has been working and volunteering for non-profits almost her entire adult life. She is the co-chair for the HRC Houston Federal Club where she helps raise and maintain over $350,000 for lobbying on Capitol Hill for the election of "fair-minded candidates" at the national and state level. Dawson also helps education and awareness programs across the country.
She was honored with Outsmart's Gayest and Greatest Awards in 2006, 2007 and 2008 when she was awarded Female Volunteer, Female Fundraiser and runner-up Female Community Hero respectively.
She pitches her show about diversity by presenting two issues of discrimination. The most engaging one is about how women aren't allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, but they can fly an airplane. These women pilots have to be chauffeured to the airport. Dawson hits her potential audience with the question, "Wouldn't you love to go meet that very first pilot in Saudi Arabia and ask her, 'When are you going to get your drivers license?' "
A viewer comments, "I, too, want to hear about the airplane pilot without a driver's license!"
Another issues Dawson would like to explore is the economy, specifically housing market studies showing that there is still a racial bias in lending.
"That means African-American's and Latino's (getting a loan) is disproportionately harder," Dawson says. "There is also the civil rights issue of our time, which is important, the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender) community. That community faces discrimination, in central law, state law, and local law. But, it's a fully inclusive diversity show."
Dawson assembled a group of local friends to create a professional film and a video wiz to produce the video for the pitch. "It was her concept, her script, her talent that made that video come to life," says one of the friends.
Like Oprah, Dawson's already gained some appreciation and hate. A commentator wrote, "Sorry honey, you don't have a talk show host voice. Your idea is great for a segment or series not a whole show."
When asked to respond Dawson tells CultureMap, "I believe everybody has a right to their opinion, but that doesn't necessarily mean we have to agree with that opinion. But, I was happy to see she actually saw the video."
Dawson still has to fill out a questionnaire for the video, but it's already slowly gaining more and more viewers.
"Please watch the video, it's only three minutes long and it could help put another notch in Houston's belt," she says.
Dawson also hopes the profile she gained as a former Female Grand Marshal for the Houston Pride Parade (which takes place tonight) will inspire even more people to watch the video.
Meanwhile, Oprah fights back against the rigged contest accusations. The controversy started when one's video submission spiked up by 300,000 votes in 20 minutes while some charge that the contest leader's votes actually fell. Now, it's come out that the whole thing may have been the result of an Internet spam attack.
There's no doubt about Dawson's love for Houston though.
"I tell people it's hot and cheap," she says in the video — and when Dawson says it, it sounds really good. People can vote for Dawson — who is trailing the leader by more than eight million votes — here.
Watch Fiona Dawson's show pitch: