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Sweet Success

YTV's Sugar proves she's more than just a voice

By Jaclyn Newman

SugarWith a voice like Mickey Mouse on helium, she grabs the attention of anyone flipping through the channels. She’s Sugar, a voice actress and the bubbly host of YTV’s The Zone.

At 25, the Scarborough native, whose real name is Stephanie Beard, is well-known, even by those who are too old to watch cartoons and don’t have children. Off-air, her voice isn’t quite as childlike and squeaky as it is on TV. Even though it’s syrupy sweet, it has an air of maturity about it. So when a radio personality at the now defunct KISS FM heard Sugar emceeing a Roots staff party when she was in high school, he asked her to make an appearance on his hip-hop show. When the station’s management heard her unique sound, Sugar, at the age of 18, was offered the chance to join Jay “Mad-Dog” Michaels and Billie Holiday on their popular morning show as the personality Suga BayBee.

Julie Adam, a former program director at KISS FM, says the station got a lot of positive feedback from listeners who were drawn in by Sugar’s voice and upbeat personality.

“Being on the radio helped me in many ways,” says Sugar. “It was because I was on the radio that I got a call from an agent who got me doing voice work…my career took off from there.”

Indeed it did. Still living with her parents (she moved out for a few years but lives with them again now), Sugar’s life soon became a whirlwind of auditions, voice training and work in Canada and the United States. In 2001, she landed a role on Sailor Moon, a popular anime show broadcast on YTV. That same year, she caught the attention of executives at YTV and she became a host of The Zone – YTV’s long-running block of after-school programming.

Sugar’s voice – a trait she dubs her “calling card” – may have played a large part in her success, but it’s her personality that keeps people wanting more.

“Her voice is part of her success and individuality,” says YTV executive producer Melanie York. “It’s certainly part of her uniqueness and distinctness as a major Canadian host and it has given her great opportunities with voice work. However, as an on-air personality, she has so many winning qualities: her comedic timing, her wonderful connection with the camera and audience…a positive outlook, an energy and coolness that is unique.”

Sugar has hosted The Zone for almost five years, a job that requires being at YTV about eight hours every weekday. When she isn’t there, she is often auditioning for voice roles – she has been the voice behind characters in Beyblade and the Care Bears movies. She recently signed on to Captain Flamingo, a show broadcast on YTV, and is trying her hand at writing. She started a weekly column in April 2004 called Sugar Buzz for Brand New Planet, a newspaper geared towards nine to 14- year-olds in the Thursday edition of The Toronto Star.

Despite success, her busy schedule and huge fan-following – Sugar and her co-host, Carlos, receive hundreds of e-mails a day – Sugar remains down-to-earth and takes being a role model seriously. Children often confide in her when they are harassed by their peers, especially about their voices.

“When kids tell me they get teased, I tell them to brush it off their shoulders because everything about people, the things that make them unique, are so special. You are who you are and those unique things make us who we are. I am Sugar and my voice is one of those things about me.”

Sugar hopes she has a positive impact on children.

“I love to hear a child tell me they have a high voice like mine and that before, kids made fun of their voice, but now they say ‘Wow, your voice is like Sugar’s!’ I feel like I have made a difference, even if it’s only in some small way.”

Those who have worked with Sugar say she’s left an imprint on her audience, one that goes beyond relating to children who get teased about the sound of their voice.

“Sugar respects herself and respects her audience and kids pick up on that. She’s honest about who she is and doesn’t imitate anyone,” says York. “She has a sincere understanding and appreciation of her target audience. She totally gets the culture of kids and can relate to their interests in movies, music and clothes. Many kids express really liking Sugar – that she’s a great role model, that she’s friendly, funny and cool.”

Sugar also has some practical advice for those wanting to break into television.

“Tell every person what you want to be, what you want to do with your life,” Sugar advises her fans who want to break into TV. “Don’t be pushy and don’t trust everyone, but be open and share your hopes and dreams. You never know when you are going to meet someone who can help you reach them.”