Youth Impact Report 2011: Halo Awards

Nick Cannon has a vision. The chairman of the TeenNick network since 2008, the 31-year-old knew even then that there are plenty of American teens interested in more than just videogames and texting. He decided to “help start a movement” that will keep those kids engaged.

“With TeenNick, I had this brand that I thought had to represent something,” Cannon says. “We knew that the Millennials as a generation are actually driven and focused, and really want to dig in and be a part of change.”

Two years ago, Cannon conceived the Halo Awards, which are a surprise to the honored teens whose community service is paired with a celebrity dedicated to the same cause. When he pitched it to his bosses, they jumped on the concept.

“We got very excited by the idea right away, because we knew through research — and just looking around — that kids in our nation are more service oriented than ever before,” says Marjorie Cohn, president of original programming and development at Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids and Family Group. “And once we decided to do the show and started digging deeper, the stories were incredible. And it’s become one of our favorite projects.”

The Halo Awards are such a TeenNick fave the net is ramping up the program in a big way in 2011. What started as an annual show featuring taped segments will now be a full-blown black-tie affair.

“We’re holding a gala at the Hollywood Palladium and we’re going be rolling clips of what we used do on the Halo Awards show, with video of the moments when the kids meet and then spend time with the celebrities. But now there’s the gala, an opportunity for their family and friends to come join them in a very prestigious event.”

This year’s teens have already had their Halo Moment, surprised by Cannon and celebs Lady Gaga, David Beckham, Taylor Swift and Jessica Biel. They’re kids who have raised donations to fight bullying, for tornado relief, to build soccer fields for African kids and to empower girls in at-risk home situations.

Those teen honorees, and the award winners who have come before them, are shocked when they learn they have been chosen. It’s that moment that the TeenNick team believes makes the Halo Awards work so well.

“The Halo hits are so exciting,” Cohn says. We capture them unawares, just doing what they do every day, and Nick comes into the room, and you see the shock and the recognition, and the ‘what’s going on?’ look on their faces. The four first hits of 2009 were just incredible, since the awards were new. They will live in my memory forever.”

Getting kids to watch this year’s taping of the gala, which airs Nov. 6, shouldn’t be too tough, especially if Lady Gaga turns up. But Cannon and Cohn are keeping that info close to the vest.

“We don’t know yet exactly who is showing up, but we do know from what we’ve done in the past that it will be some good people,” Cannon says. “And we’ll have a couple of surprise musical performers and good presenters.”

Regardless of the gala’s celeb quotient, Cannon believes that his Halo Awards are actually causing change.

“I’m trying to create the Halo effect, so encouraging one act of kindness, one act of helping others who are needy, it kind of trickles down and becomes a movement,” he says. “I actually believe that it has already actually become a movement, and I hope there’s a larger movement happening, that young people continue to halo long after the show airs.”

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