Born Nicholas Scott Cannon, October 8, 1980, in San Diego, CA; son of James Cannon (a televangelist) and Beth Gardner (an accountant).
Addresses: Agent —Endeavor Agency, 9601 Wilshire Blvd., 10th Fl., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Began career as a stand-up comic in the Los Angeles area, and as a warm-up performer for the Nickelodeon cable channel's studio audiences; appeared on the Nickelodeon show All That , 1998-2000; series writer for the Nickelodeon shows Kenan … Kel and Cousin Skeeter ; series creator, performer, and writer for The Nick Cannon Show , Nickelodeon, 2002-03; star and sketch director for Nick Cannon Presents: Wild 'N Out , MTV, 2005—. Film appearances include: Whatever It Takes , 2000; Men in Black II , 2002; Drumline , 2002; Love Don't Cost a Thing , 2003; Garfield (voice), 2004; Roll Bounce , 2005; Under-classmen , 2005; Weapons , 2006; Bobby , 2006. Released debut album, Nick Cannon , on Jive Records, 2003.
Nick Cannon emerged as a rising, multitalented performer when he was barely out of his teens. A talented stand-up comic, he was writing for Nickelodeon kids' shows at a time when his peers were finishing their high school credits, and went on to star in the surprisingly well-received marching-band movie, Drumline , in 2002. In 2005 he began hosting his own hip-hop improv comedy series for MTV,
Born in San Diego, California, on October 8, 1980, Cannon was raised partly by his grandmother while his mother, Beth Gardner, finished her education and established her career as an accountant. He also spent time with his father, James, who was an assistant pastor of a church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and hosted his own television ministry. An energetic child, Cannon was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder (ADD) in elementary school, but both his parents and his grandmother encouraged his obvious love of performing in front of others as an outlet for his liveliness. Reflecting back on his childhood and other relatives in an interview with Philadelphia Daily News writer Gary Thompson, he believes his ADD was inherited, but was grateful he realized that "if you learn how to channel it, it can work for you."
Cannon's first exposure before an audience came thanks to the cable public-access show his father hosted in Charlotte. He wrote some jokes for it, and his father gave him a regular stand-up slot. At the age of 15, he was picked to appear on the long-running dance show Soul Train to compete on its Scramble Board. By that point he was already performing in Southern California comedy clubs, and went on to work as a pre-show comic who warmed up the young audiences for the Nickelodeon cable network shows. He admitted to nearly being way-laid by clothes, cars, and the popularity race during his first years at Monte Vista High School in San Diego, but once he had his first taste of professional success he realized he needed to keep focused on his studies. "Suddenly, it wasn't about being popular or what other people thought, " he told Boston Herald writer Stephen Schaefer.
Cannon graduated a year ahead of schedule, and landed writing gigs for such Nickelodeon fare as Kenan … Kel and Cousin Skeeter. He also appeared on another Nickelodeon show, All That , between 1998 and 2000. His film debut came as the chess-club kid in a 2000 teen comedy, Whatever It Takes. But Cannon was determined to break into Hollywood's upper echelons, and concocted a scheme to pitch a movie idea to actor/comedian Eddie Murphy by pretending he was a television reporter. He made it into the room, but his ruse was quickly discovered. "His people tried to shoo me away, " Cannon recalled in a People interview, "but Eddie wanted to play. He gave me a high-five when I left."
Cannon had better luck in finding a high-profile show-business connection when he met actor, rapper, and producer Will Smith, who bought him a drum machine and gave him a small part in Men In Black II as the autopsy agent. Cannon also wrote and appeared in his own show on Nickelodeon, The Nick Cannon Show , which ran for two seasons beginning in 2002. His first genuine break, however, came when he was cast in the lead for Drumline , the sleeper hit of the 2002 holiday-movie season. Reportedly based on the real-life experiences of music producer-songwriter Dallas Austin—also the film's executive producer— Drumline featured Cannon as Devon Miles, a hotshot New York City musical prodigy who wins a scholarship to a prestigious Atlanta college. He joins the school's marching band, but chafes at the tough, military-style discipline under the leadership of the respected band director, Dr. Lee (Orlando Jones). Devon's arrogance covers some flaws, including his inability to read music, and the coming-of-age story follows him on that journey of self-discovery.
Drumline pulled in impressive box-office numbers, and scored well with critics, too. Writing in Entertainment Weekly , Owen Gleiberman declared that the film "does more than capture the excitement of marching bands; it gets their clockwork beauty as well." Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert lauded it as "a movie that celebrates black success instead of romanticizing gangsta defeatism. Nick Cannon plays Devon as a fine balance between a showoff and a kid who wants to earn admiration." Ebert also commended the film's writers for avoiding "all the tired old cliches in which the Harlem kid is somehow badder and blacker than the others, provoking confrontations."
Despite his impressive rise, Cannon claimed that he received no star treatment from his family. "My grandmother don't care about none of this stuff, " he told a reporter for the E! Online website in 2003. "I went home yesterday, and I had to take out the trash, I had to mow the lawn." His next project was a remake of a 1987 movie, Can't Buy Me Love. Re-fashioned as Love Don't Cost a Thing and starring Cannon as a nerdy high schooler who pays a girl to hang out with him, the 2003 movie was the No. 5 box-office draw for its December opening weekend.
Love Don't Cost a Thing featured Cannon as the goofy Alvin Johnson, an automotive whiz and high-school nobody, who hatches a plan to boost his profile by bartering with one of his most popular classmates, cheerleader Paris Morgan (Christina Milian), to fix the family SUV that she smashed. In exchange, she must pretend to be his girlfriend for two weeks. "Gawky and guileless, Cannon makes a good case for Alvin's social awkwardness, " noted Carla Meyer in the San Francisco Chronicle. Citing its Eighties-era predecessor, Meyer also noted that "the biggest difference in this version is the leads are African American. Otherwise, it's your basic rich-girl-transforms-nerd story, made relatively fresh by lanky … Cannon." Robert Koehler, writing in Daily Variety , singled the movie out for its portrayal of modern life, commenting that what he found "intriguing" was "the prickly interaction between barely middle-class blacks like Alvin and the ultra-upscale blacks like Paris. This kind of commingling is rare in American movies, as is the depiction of a casually integrated Los Angeles student body that is past racial issues."
Cannon had said in interviews that he turned down many film roles after the success of Drumline , and was determined to keep writing his own material and even produce his own projects when possible. "As a young African-American man, there aren't too many quality scripts out there, " he told Schaefer in the Boston Herald article. "There are scripts where you can be drug dealers or [there are] hood movies or degrading comedies, but I'd rather do some quality things that are catered to me." Cannon was also busy with other projects, most notably his music career. After a few months of delay, his self-titled debut CD was released the same month as Love Don't Cost a Thing , and featured an impressive roster of guests, including Mary J. Blige and R. Kelly. The tracks were divided between a shady alter-ego character he called Fillmore Slim ("Gigolo" and "Feelin' Freaky") and more wholesome R…B crooner fare. Reviewing it for Billboard , Rashaun Hall found a middle ground in the themes with the track "Get Crunk Shorty, " which Hall termed "the perfect balance of crunk and old-school hip-hop."
The success of Drumline helped Cannon score a deal with the Miramax film studio, which paid him $1.5 million for one of his movie ideas, which he then finessed with two other screenwriters and executive-produced. Filming began once he finished his commitment to other projects, including the voice of Louis the Mouse in Garfield in 2004 and an appearance as Bernard in the 2005 roller-skating comedy Roll Bounce. That next major project, which he wrote and produced, was Underclassmen. It was the number-three box-office draw for the September 4, 2005, weekend that it opened, but critics were merciless. Cannon played a new member of the Los Angeles police force, a rookie whose brash, impulsive nature keeps bringing him trouble until he convinces his bosses to give him an undercover assignment: his youthful appearance lets him pass as a new student in an elite private high school to crack a murder investigation there. The film critic for the New York Times , A. O. Scott, conceded that Cannon "has a loose, quick-talking charm … but in this picture he tries on a series of secondhand movie star identities, trying so hard to be the next Will Smith or Eddie Murphy that his own personality all but dissolves."
Cannon finished his second LP, Stages , just before Underclassmen was released. Its breakout single proved to be the track "Can I Live?" in which an unborn child asks its mother to rethink her decision to terminate the pregnancy. Cannon based it on his own story, as he told many journalists once the song was adopted as an unofficial anthem by pro-life groups. "My mother was pregnant with me at 17 years old, " he explained to Thompson, the Philadelphia Daily News writer. "A lot of people were telling her she wasn't married, she was still in high school, so she should probably get an abortion. But she said that like a voice spoke to her, and said she should have this child. I used to say to her, that was my voice! I was talking to you!"
The video for "Can I Live?" featured former Fresh Prince of Bel Air cast member Tatyana Ali as his mother, and became one of the top-requested clips on BET and MTV. Anti-abortion groups promoted it as a positive artistic expression of their moral message. Yet Cannon refused to take a side in the debate, saying only that he was opposed to abortion as a method of birth control. "It's a tough choice for a woman to make, and people who have all these opinions about it should put themselves in her shoes, " he told Elon D. Johnson in Essence.
By mid-2005 Cannon was also hosting his own improv-comedy series for MTV, Nick Cannon Presents: Wild 'N Out , for which he also served as executive producer and sketch director. The show was arranged in contest format, with competing teams led by such guest stars as rappers Kanye West and Method Man. The improvisational challenges were largely the pranksterish Cannon's ideas, and he reveled in exposing the big names. "When somebody's really good at improv, that's entertaining, " he told Entertainment Weekly 's Dan Snierson, "but it's not as much fun."
Nick Cannon , Jive Records, 2003.
Stages , Motown/Can I Ball, 2006.
Billboard , December 20, 2003, p. 62.
Boston Herald , December 9, 2003, p. 39.
Chicago Sun-Times , December 13, 2002.
Daily Variety , December 12, 2002, p. 14; Dec 12, 2003, p. 6; April 30, 2004, p. 4.
Ebony , February 2004, p. 22.
Entertainment Weekly , January 3, 2003, p. 47; June 27, 2003, p. 53; June 10, 2005, p. 65.
Essence , October 2005, p. 90.
New York Times , December 22, 2002, p. ST4; September 2, 2005.
People , January 20, 2003, p. 86.
Philadelphia Daily News , September 1, 2005.
Philadelphia Inquirer , August 4, 2005.
San Francisco Chronicle , December 12, 2003; December 28, 2003, p. 44.
Variety , September 5, 2005, p. 32.
"Nick Cannon, " E! Online, http://www.eonline. com/Features/Features/Sizzlin2003/Guys/ index.html (May 10, 2006).
— Carol Brennan