We can often tell a lot about someone by the sound of their voice. We detect warmth, intelligence — or lack thereof — status, often regionality. But can we ever really judge or know someone by how they sound?

For over 15 years I’ve been a professional voice actor. Before that, I was a radio announcer. Much of that time, listeners thought I was blonde. Now, thanks to the aging process and Goldwell HairColor 8GB, and a few strategically placed strands of 10B, I am blonde. Almost. And none the ditzier for it. Although I can certainly sound that way.

This doctor I know from a blue-collar town never abandoned her roots, tight miniskirts or Boston accent, which pretty much horrified her Harvard Medical School peers. Imagine the reactions within those ivy-covered walls when she proclaimed diagnoses like ‘cahradid ahdary’ or ‘dieva-ticklitis.’

She had it all: brains, beauty and a great bedside manner, yet her speech — and a black Harley — betrayed her. Although she graduated with her class, she he was not welcome in the club, which come to think of it, was filled with boys. Not that she cared. “These mooks don’t know what to make ‘a me.” She said with a mix of pride and humor.

Since the late 1920’s there’s a widespread acceptance of the General American accent, aka Broadcast English, a decidedly neutral dialect, the gold standard favored by news readers across the land. Its usage coincided with the rise of network TV, and great trust in early broadcasters like Walter Cronkite. What it lacks in uptalk and vocal fry, it makes up for in homogeneity.

But I digress.

Back to voices. What do ours really say about us? They can reveal who we are. Yet, there are times they conceal vast swaths of our innermost selves.

Many voiceover auditions include specs like ‘Looking for a Morgan Freeman or Tina Fey type.’ Since we’re not all celebrity soundalikes, one could interpret that directive to deliver the ‘essence’ of that person. Trustworthy. Zany. Exotic. Confident. Aspirational. A complete jerk.

A colleague was once in a recording session and was asked if he could sound taller.

Yes, he could.

One script may call for a middle-aged woman: ’30- years-old’. Who’s casting these jobs, tweens? Often the ’25-year-old’ male ‘voice’ who books the job is pushing 60, or the loving mom type actually hates kids. It ain’t called voice acting for nothing.


Speaking of voice acting,  can we take a moment to appreciate the fabulous Kathleen Turner and her hottie-hot-hot turn as the two-dimensional sultry spouse of the anthropomorphic rabbit — Roger Rabbit – brilliantly portrayed as a frantic, accident-prone, aggravating yet lovable ‘toon by actor Charles Fleischer.

Jessica Rabbit’s come-hither style, voluptuous form and breathy voice could be deceiving. As she says, “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.”

Do you think you look like you sound? Let me know in the comments.

Meanwhile, in the last few years advertisers, audio producers and creative directors, like other industries, seek to level a playing field which has traditionally favored white people. Auditions with specifications for an African — or ‘urban’, Asian-, Native- or any other hyphenate American abound. Or Latino. Sound like J. Lo. Does J. Lo even sound like J. Lo anymore?

Is it me, or do these labels seem a tad racist? At the start of the millennia, a high-profile radio announcer who worked at an alternative rock station often shocked listeners by showing up at a live event — black. Fans would walk up and say, ‘You don’t sound black.’ Which begs the question: What in fact does ‘black’ sound like? Or any color?

Don’t get me started on requests for a non-binary voice. Yes, I’m being a little coy. I know how this work. But really? Are we casting the vocal equivalency of the old SNL ‘Pat’ character whose sexuality and gender was in question?

When I was a teenager, I was smitten with a radio DJ who sounded tall, dark and handsome, not to mention oh-so-cool. When I met him as he MC’d a concert, he lacked the aforementioned qualities, and was notably challenged in the follicle department. Although he had sounded like a great guy, he pretty much turned out to be a dick. Moral: Choose your potential partner by voice alone at your own peril.

Not to say voice doesn’t matter. It absolutely does. I ascribe to that quote by Longfellow that the voice is the organ of the soul. We use it to share ideas, create intimacy with another human, to persuade, make someone laugh. Our human voice create speeches that can shape the world or shake it from complacency to right action. Still, we might use a little discretion in how we perceive and label people based upon a regionalism, their pitch, a lisp or a stutter.

Just as we can’t always tell a book by its cover, we can’t assume who a person is based on how they sound. Not convinced? You might take me a little more seriously if I sounded a little taller.