New Baden dad stars in show for kids on cable network

News-DemocratMarch 2, 2014 

Darryl Williams is a stay-at-home dad who cooks, cleans and cares for his 1-year-old son, Jayden. But he still finds time to pursue an acting career.

About once a week, the New Baden man turns his kitchen into a TV studio and films a segment for "The Sunny Side Up Show," which airs on the Sprout cable network for preschoolers.

"It's so surreal to see myself on TV," said Darryl, 25, who beat out more than 1,800 applicants in a national contest last fall.

Until then, his main acting experience was in high-school theater and a military play used to raise awareness of sexual assault.

A Georgia native, Darryl spent four years in the Air Force. That's where he met his wife, Jennifer, 24, who still serves as a staff sergeant at Scott Air Force Base.

"I've always known acting is what he wanted to do," she said. "When he told me he wanted to audition for (Sprout), I said, 'Go for it.'"

"Sunny Side" runs from 8 to 11 a.m. daily. Live footage from Philadelphia is broadcast between prerecorded PBS Kids shows such as "Barney and Friends," "Super Why!" and "Sesame Street."

Human hosts and a chicken puppet named Chica help preschoolers prepare for their day with crafts, show and tell, games and birthday wishes from the Sunshine Barn.

They also have computer chats with Darryl via FaceTime for a 90-second segment called "Dial Darryl."

"The premise is that the host and Chica are stumped by something, and they need help to figure it out," said executive producer Meredith Halpern-Ranzer, who also is network vice president for creative.

Filming is done in Darryl's kitchen with a computer tablet. He props it on a Ninja Turtles kids chair elevated by a stack of books on the island counter.

On a recent morning, host Kaitlin was helping Chica dress up like a police officer during Hurrah for Heroes Week. They needed advice on making a badge.

"Have you thought about using aluminum foil to wrap it in?" asked Darryl, who then displayed some of the challenge coins he earned in the Air Force.

Show producers play up his military background and life as a stay-at-home dad. Sometimes he appears with Jayden, the main reason he got the TV gig.

The toddler is a huge "Sunny Side" fan who can access online programming with his iPad. One of his favorite toys is a stuffed Chica.

Sprout started a "host hunt" in July, inviting applicants to submit two-minute videos that were original, engaging and fun.

"We wanted someone who was preschool-friendly," Meredith said. "(Someone who) knew how to talk to preschoolers without talking down to preschoolers."

Meredith watched every video and helped pick three finalists. They traveled to Philadelphia for auditions in September.

Darryl won the contest, despite stiff competition from a New York City performer and a Florida preschool teacher.

"We were completely blown away by him," Meredith said. "He is a ball of energy. His smile captivated us. He completely understood what we're doing at Sprout. He personified what Sprout stands for."

Darryl began filming his segment in November. On Thanksgiving, he rode on the network's float in the Macy's Parade in New York.

Wife Jennifer likes the arrangement because it allows her to continue her military career while Jayden is being cared for by a parent, and Darryl can try his hand at TV acting without moving to Los Angeles.

Darryl isn't looking too far into the future, but he could see himself doing voice-overs for animated movies someday.

"I am very supportive," Jennifer said. "The first time I saw him on TV, I cried. I'm proud of him."

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