While waiting to interview TNA Wrestling President Dixie Carter prior to the March 14 “Impact” broadcast out of Chicago, I had the good fortune to observe goings on in the interview area. The presence of a steel frame backdrop and television screens pulsating the crystal-blue “Impact Wrestling” logo transformed a sometimes high-traffic thoroughfare under the bleachers into a mini television studio.
A local reporter had a playful interview with Taryn Terrell. The Knockout ref turned wrestler is also a movie stuntwoman, in addition to being an actor who has a recurring role on HBO's “Treme,” which is set in her native New Orleans.
Cameramen from one of the cable providers snagged a sound bite from Jeff Hardy, whose appearances on television next to giants such as Hulk Hogan belies just how tall and muscular the Carolina resident is.
Kenny King taped a promotional spot for an energy drink sponsor, with his X-Division championship proudly in frame.
Devon led the Aces & Eights gang into the area and promptly hoisted SoCal Val over his shoulder, but thought better of abducting her.
A short time later, Kurt Angle passed through wearing his “Save Wrestling 2020” T-shirt, the 1996 Gold Medalist's public-awareness campaign to persuade the International Olympic Committee to keep wrestling in the Games, as they have been since 708 B.C.
Even in a casual stroll, distracted by his phone, Angle radiated intensity. His high trapezius and lats cut a wide diamond form over the expanse of his back, so much so that his arms look as though they are resting on either plane of a triangle, rather than hanging perfectly vertical at his sides. It is a wrestler's body, for certain, the overdeveloped musculature of which probably saved his life when he broke his neck at those Atlanta Games.
Another surprise was SoCal Val, the promotion's red-haired spokesperson. She and Robbie E riffed in a series of entertaining domestic and international promos, including one that pitted the Jersey boy's wits against a triumphant fifth grader's.
What soon became apparent was that Val was also effectively producing the segments. After Robbie E shouted his last exuberant “Oh!” and exited, Val taped various international promos for the brand, and in just about as many different languages!
Later in the evening, her voice would welcome fans filtering into the arena, as she circled the ring, firing up the crowd for the soon-to-be broadcast.
In hindsight, perhaps the rise from ring girl to television producer is not all that surprising, considering that despite being only 27, Val is one of the most seasoned performers on the roster, having started her career at just 15 years of age.
Before signing with TNA Wrestling in August 2006, the Beverly Hills siren worked the circuit in California and Florida, befriending fellow journeymen she shares the TNA spotlight with today, including King, Christopher Daniels and Kaz.
Engaging and with infectious good humor, Val methodically crossed off her shot list between facilitating the area for the local interviewers.
When her work was done, and with the sounds of an epic mauling from a backstage fight echoing through the cavernous walkway, Val agreed to have the questions directed at her for a change, at least for a little while.
(And while the following transcript is suitable, there is something to be said for the telling, such as the playful growl Val undertook while pronouncing the name “Jay Lethal,” as a for instance. The cold monument of the written word does not always translate the nuances of the human voice, especially for a vibrant performer like the rapid-speaking Val, but we'll give it a go.)
STEPHEN SONNEVELD: Are you producing segments now, too? When did that start?
SOCAL VAL: Oh, a couple years, maybe. But it sounds funny, “Oh, I'm a producer.”
SS: (laughs) So what does that entail?
SCV: I started producing backstage about a year or two ago, and it pretty much just entails me helping talent go through different lines that we need for television shows and commercials. A lot of it is international, like we just did some liners today for Germany, and it's basically just a wrestler coming in and saying, “I'm such-and-such,” saying hello to all of our fans in Germany. So, it's basically just me running a prompter and knowing the scripts, and just kind of directing the talent, which is really, really cool. If I'm not on camera, I'm usually behind the camera helping them.
SS: How did that come about?
SCV: I was a ring girl first—actually, first I was a production assistant here, then I was a ring girl, then I was in a storyline when I fell in love and been in love with one Jay Lethal, and, you know, then we were engaged, (wry) then, you know, a little stuff happened—
SCV: —I don't want to get into it.
SCV: Better things came along, and I took an opportunity. I think it's pretty cool that I was kept around after that, to do ring girl stuff, as well, and then the producing was just something else that I could help out with backstage while I'm doing promos.
SS: Did you have any intention of ever being on camera when you started as a production assistant?
SCV: Oh, definitely, that was always my goal, which is to do what I'm doing now, which is the hosting and announcing, because to me—well, also to be a manager. But the thing with being a manager is that there's not always longevity in a certain amount of time in a storyline. So, to me, all I wanted to do was to be involved with wrestling, and to creatively contribute, and to host on the camera and talk on the mic, so I'm really lucky that that's what I've got to do for so long.
SS: Are you happy doing what you're doing?
SCV: Honestly, I'm really, really happy with what I'm doing. A lot of times at the live events, I'm the emcee and ring announcer for the entire event, and really the only one on the mic. Our merchandise guy does help with intermission and things like that, but as far as being the emcee for the whole show, I get to do that. So, in addition to live events, and now doing this hosting backstage and being the anchor for a lot of the commercials, especially with a lot of them being international, that's exciting. I'm really happy with where I am, I have to say.
SS: And you speak French and German?
SCV: J'étudie le Français. “I'm studying French.” And I learned a few bits of German because I went to Germany last year, and I wanted to be able to converse with the fans during the meet and greets, and to be able to say, “Hello, how are you, hope you're having a good day,” things like that. So, because I learned a few words, I thought it would be nice to integrate that into my German preview closes. I have a buddy of mine—big shout out out to Arno—who helps me with my German, so I thought that would kind of be a cool way to kind of let the German fans know that we respect and appreciate them, was to speak a little bit of their language. Same thing with France.
SS: And Australia.
SCV: And Australia, of course. I throw an “oi” in there when I can. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi! I say “mates.” “Hello, mates, this is SoCal Val.” (to Sonneveld) How's your day going here?
SS: It's going great.
SCV: Except for those Aces & Eights, yeah?
SS: Yeah, the jerks.
SCV: Be careful of them.
SS: —Where's my wallet?
SCV: (laughs) Where's my wallet!