(born March 21, 1973) is an American
social activist, and model. She appeared on Maxim and AskMen.com's
Hottest Celebrity Lists in 2001. She was an MTV
from the late 1990s until
2001, when she left the network to host her own talk show, The
Ananda Lewis Show
born on March 21, 1973, in Los Angeles, California.
She is of African American
and Native American
descent, specifically of the Creek
tribes. Her name means
"bliss" in Sanskrit
. Lewis's mother worked
as an account manager for Pacific Bell, and her father as a
computer-animation specialist. Her sister, Lakshmi, is a physician.
parents divorced when Ananda was two years old, and her mother
moved with her daughters to San Diego, California, to be near her own mother.
Her mother took
an extended trip to Europe to escape the pain of her failed
marriage, leaving Ananda and Lakshmi with their grandmother. During
her absence, which lasted less than a year, Lewis felt abandoned.
"It was like she nurtured me and carried me in her womb
and then completely left."
Lewis often fought with her mother while growing up and rarely saw
her father, who had remarried. Lewis and her grandmother also
frequently "locked horns" while she was growing up.
Lewis struggled with a speech
, stuttering until she was eight years old. In grade
school she earned a reputation for outspokenness; her comments
provoked her teachers' ire or, less often, their amusement. In 1981
Lewis entered herself in the Little Miss San Diego Contest, a
beauty pageant, and won. During the talent portion of the
competition, Lewis performed a dance routine, which she had
choreographed herself, to Stevie
and Paul McCartney
ballad "Ebony and Ivory
." After her
win, Lewis attracted the attention of a talent agent and began
working in local theater productions and on television. In fourth
grade she enrolled at the San Diego School of Creative and
Performance Arts (SCPA), a public magnet school, where she remained
for nine years. At the age of thirteen, Lewis began volunteering as
a tutor and counselor at a Head Start facility. Lewis was inspired
by the work and decided to become a teacher or a psychologist, with
the goal of helping young people. However, Lewis's family urged her
to follow a more lucrative career path specifically law.
majored in history at Howard University, in Washington, D.C., from which she graduated, cum laude, in
Lewis has credited her mother, grandmother, and sister for
providing her with a positive, supportive environment. By her own
account, as she grew older she felt increasingly upset by her
parents’ divorce. In adulthood, Lewis has healed her rifts with
both parents. Lewis was a good friend of singer and actress Aaliyah
before her accidental death. She has six godchildren.
Throughout college Lewis had volunteered as a mentor with the group
Youth at Risk and at the Youth Leadership Institute. She was
considering attending graduate school to pursue a master’s degree
in education when she learned that auditions were going to be held
for the job of on-screen host of BET's Teen Summit. She states that
the children she was working with that summer were the main ones
pushing her to go to the auditions. She states:
"The kids said, ‘You better go audition for that
You don't have a job, and this job is almost
Lewis's audition would be a success and she became the host of Teen
Summit. For three seasons she discussed serious issues affecting
teenagers for a television audience of several million. The show’s
topical, debate-driven format enabled Lewis to follow her passion
for helping young people, and use her skills she had acquired at
the performing-arts school in San Diego. Lewis is known for having
the courage to openly discuss taboo subjects without flinching. Her
executives knew that this kind of gumption was the right stuff for
a live show host," In 1996, on an installment of the show entitled
"It Takes a Village," Lewis interviewed then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
, whose book
with that title had been published earlier in the year. Also in
1996 Teen Summit was nominated for a CableACE Award, and the next
year the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People
presented Lewis with an Image
for her work on Black Entertainment
(BET). Soon afterward the cable network MTV
offered Lewis a position as a program host and video
jockey. The thought of leaving Teen Summit was painful for her;
indeed, several sources quoted her as recalling that she "cried for
three weeks" while pondering her choices. In opting to move to MTV,
the deciding factor was the possibility of greatly increasing the
size of her viewing audience and, therefore, her potential for
influencing America’s youth.
Lewis's style as recognized at BET is responsible for bringing
celebrity interviewing to a new level on a pair of regularly aired
MTV shows: Total Request
, a daily Top 10 video-countdown show, and
The Hot Zone
, which offered
both music videos and Lewis's interviews of musicians and others.
On one notable installment of The Hot Zone, she berated the rapper
about the number of scantily
clad dancers in one of his videos. In a reference to Lewis's
broadcasting savvy, Bob Kusbit, MTV’s senior vice president for
production, told Douglas Century for the New York Times on November
21, 1999, "In the past our talent was sometimes just pretty people
who could read cue cards. But when we brought Ananda to MTV, we
decided we were going to do a lot more live television."
called upon Lewis to host other, topical programs, including two
MTV forums on violence in schools, which aired after the Columbine High
School massacre and several memorial tributes for the singer
Aaliyah, who perished in a plane crash in
In 2001 Lewis earned another NAACP Image Award, for
her hosting of the MTV special True Life:
I Am Driving While Black
In 1998, Lewis made headlines while at MTV when she announced, that
she intended to remain celibate
least six months. She states:
"I made the decision for selfish reasons, but I'm going
public here because I realized I might be able to help other girls,
I know the kind of drama that being sexually active
brings to your life.
I felt that if it was good for me to take a break, it
might be good for other young girls, too.
You see, I think I would be a whole different person if
I hadn't had sex so early.
Everybody was saying, ‘Do it!' but nobody ever said,
‘You don't have to do it'.
I think hearing that would have made a huge difference
in my life."
during that period Lewis became a familiar presence at
celebrity-attended events in and around New York City.
"If you don’t recognize the name Ananda
Lewis, it may be because you’re older than 23, or not a hip-hop
star, or not a regular supplicant in the land of the velvet ropes,"
Century wrote at the height of Lewis’s fame. "In the last year, Ms.
Lewis has emerged as the hip-hop generation’s reigning ‘It Girl,’
meaning she is not just an MTV personality but a woman whose looks
and attitudes have made her perpetually in demand."
In 2000 People
Lewis on its list of the world's "50 Most Beautiful People." In
2001, Lewis decided to leave MTV in order to start her own talk
show. The Ananda Lewis Show
debuted on September 10, 2001,
after much advance press in which Lewis was compared to Oprah Winfrey
, the wildly popular talk-show
host long considered to be one of the most powerful women of
African American descent in television. Lewis continued to do
special presentations for MTV after her show had begun. Lewis's
series, which was syndicated by King World Productions
women between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four by addressing
such issues as domestic violence
and breast cancer
; it was billed as an
alternative to the sensationalism and provocative offerings of
and Ricki Lake
, whose talk shows were then dominating
daytime ratings. Lewis's show aired on some WB
stations before the Ananda Lewis Show was canceled after one
season. Her show premiered the day before the September 11 attacks
, and it aired for
only one year. Lewis then worked briefly for BET. Her show's
producers stated: "We started on a Monday and then there was the
World Trade Center bombing the next day, and everything has become
a mess since then," Roger King, the chairman and CEO of King World
Productions and CBS Enterprises.
In 2004 Lewis became the chief correspondent on celebrity subjects
for the nationally syndicated, nightly entertainment program
, a spin-off of the
. In the spring of 2005, she has interviewed the
heiress and performer Paris Hilton
and Ryan Phillippe
(two of the stars of Paul Haggis
's ensemble film Crash
), and actress Dyan Cannon.
Lewis herself has made guest appearances on several sitcoms.
In 2004 Ms. Lewis also appeared on the ABC network's reality show
called Celebrity Mole
Yucatan. This reality series won an Emmy for Outstanding
Achievement for Enhanced Television.
An avid animal lover, Lewis has served as co-host of the A&E
television-network show America's Top
and as a spokesperson for the Humane Society
. She has been known to
frequently introduce her two pet chihuahuas to interviewers.
She has also been a
spokesperson for Reading Is Fundamental, a nonprofit literacy