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Q&A: Putting a face to the voice of Metro

Zach Montellaro | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Zach Montellaro
Zach Montellaro | Hatchet Staff Photographer

The Metro is the third-most popular public transportation system in the country. For the 800,000 people who ride it every day, the “doors closing” announcements are all-too-familiar. We caught up with the woman behind the voice, Randi Miller, to chat about making a living as a voice actress and avoiding the train.

How did you become involved in the project, and what was the process like for you?

Randi Miller: I was working at a Lexus dealership in Alexandria, where I had been forever. And my boss, who was the general manager, actually yelled across the hallway to me one day and said, “Hey, Randi, Metro’s looking for a new voice, you should enter the contest that they’re having.” And I said “Sure.” Of course, I didn’t. And then a couple of the sales people came up to me and said the same thing. And I had no idea there was a contest, no clue. So I went online to check it out and I saw that they had a script posted online, and you had to record the script and burn it to a CD and send it in. So I waited until the day before the entry was due and decided, “Well, what the hell, I should probably enter because everybody keeps telling me I should,” so I did and I won.

Did you then have to re-record your voice for the actual train, or did they just use what you sent in?

RM: What they did was they narrowed the field. There was 1,259 people that entered from all over the country and they narrowed it down to 10 finalists. And they called me and of course when they called me, my reaction to “Hi, this is Ron from Metro” was “What are you selling?” you know? I wasn’t very nice to him, I confess, because I didn’t realize. And he told me, “We narrowed it down to top 10 finalists, we’d like you to be one of them,” and they had us all come down to a studio in D.C. and record actual announcements to be the final audition basically for the gig. So we all did and then they had a press conference and they announced the winner at the press conference and there was a sea of photographers and camera people and reporters and “Good Morning America” and all these other people and I was just like “Really?” I had no idea that this was such a big thing, you know? So they announced that I won and then I had to go into another studio and record the actual train announcements and a few station announcements, including things like “Stepping onto a crowded platform can be overwhelming, please step to the side.” Stuff like that. And that was it. I never had to record anything else.

What was the voice like before this competition?

RM: (laughs) I know exactly what the voice sounded like before me because when the train first started running in 1976, and I just told you how old I am, we all skipped school, a bunch of us and rode the subway because it was such a big deal. And Sandy Carroll was a Metro employee who had recorded the announcements originally, and it was her voice that was on the train for the first 30 years. So for the first 30 years, what you would hear was, “Bing bong, door is opening. Door is closing.” And that’s all I heard and I used to mock her all the time, so it’s very ironic that I ended up being the voice that I used to make fun of.

Had you had any experience beforehand with recording your voice or being a spokesperson?

RM: My experience as a voice person was limited to singing and writing songs and performing from the time I was 11. And then in the early 90s, or mid-90s I guess, I worked for a video production company, and we had some industrial videos that we did that needed narration. If we couldn’t find anybody else to do it, I would step up to do it. But it’s not like I did it for a living or got paid for it or anything. But that was the extent of my experience.

Is it strange for you when you have to ride the Metro at all?

Media Credit: Zach Montellaro | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Randi Miller became the voice of Metrorail after she won a competition in 2006. Miller worked at a car dealership and was encouraged by her boss and coworkers to enter the contest, where she beat out 1,259 contestants.

RM: When my voice first went live on the train and I found out that it was on the train, initially they had me come down and be on a train in D.C. with media on the train as well for the big unveiling. And unfortunately when they realized that the clip was too long for the little chip that was in every train, what they did was they took pieces of it and they mashed it all together and it sounded horrible. I was so mad. And I was live on TV listening to it for the first time and of course all my friends, including my mother, called me later and said, “You hated it, didn’t you?” I’m like, “Oh, yeah.” Because it sounded like, “Step-back-doors-opening.” It was really weird, the way they pieced it together. But then when it actually did go live, I ran down to the King Street Metro station, which was right down the street from the dealership where I was working because I couldn’t wait to hear it. And so I stood on the platform and I would listen, you know, “Nope, that’s her. Nope, that’s her. Nope, that’s her.” And then I heard me and I jumped onto the train, I couldn’t wait to hear it. And then after about three stops I couldn’t wait to get off because I couldn’t stop saying it with myself and it was just very, very strange. So I very seldom ride the train.

To your knowledge, has Metro ever thought of doing another competition like this?

RM: There was some discussion. There’s been actually a lot of discussion about having me do station announcements, stop announcements, because the drivers are so difficult to understand but other than that, there’s been no discussion of doing any additional voices. What they did with the other top-10 finalists was they had them record some station announcements as kind of a consolation prize.

Has anyone stopped you and said, “Your voice sounds awfully familiar?”

RM: All the time. I meet people all the time and it’s very funny because they’ll say, “Have I met you before? Because there’s something about you that’s so familiar.” And then we’ll go through the whole where’d you go to school, where have you worked and then finally I’ll say, “How do you go to work?” and then they’ll tell me they ride the Metro and then I’ll be like, “Close your eyes,” and I do the thing. Pretty much every waiter in Montgomery County knows who I am because of my mother. Every time we go out to dinner, she never loses an opportunity or misses an opportunity to tell everybody, “You’re waiting on a celebrity. Do you ever ride the Metro?” and then I have to do the whole performance. And people get a huge kick out of it, it’s fun. And I’ve gotten a lot of voice work as a result. It’s very cool.

Is the reason you don’t ride the Metro because it’s not convenient, or is the reason you haven’t rode it in the past seven years because you don’t want to hear yourself talk?

RM: My primary reason for not riding the Metro is that there is no Metro in Woodbridge where I live. When I do come up this way into Maryland or need to go into D.C., I do prefer to take the train into D.C., I just haven’t had much occasion to do it. Secondary of course is that I can’t stand to listen to myself on the train because I can’t not say it with me and it’s just embarrassing to sit there and go, “Step back, doors opening. When boarding, please move to the center of the car.” And everybody looks at me like, “Who are you and why are you doing that?” I’m just some crazy person, that’s all. Ignore me, I’ll be fine.

Is there a particular announcement that you really like? And if you could re-record one, would there be one you’d re-recorded?

RM: I like the ones where I sound like a nicer person. When people don’t get out the way, I sound very mean and bitchy and I don’t like that because I’m not that way. But you have to be bitchy because the doors don’t stop. It’s not like an elevator door and people don’t get it and that’s the whole reason they did these announcements. But I would have to say my favorite one is when I say, “When boarding, please move to the center of the car.” I don’t know why, but I really like that one.

Closing thoughts?

RM: There was a lot of hooplah from professional voice-over people that refused to enter the contest because it didn’t pay anything and everyone was so mad about that. You know, the Metro slogan is “Metro opens doors,” and it’s true. I didn’t care. People asked me, “Aren’t you mad that they’re not paying you? Do you get any royalties? Do you get anything?” I got a baseball hat that says “Metro” on it, I got a Monopoly game – the D.C. version – and I think they gave me a $10 fare card because I had to come down and do a lot of press stuff and at the time $10 went a long way. But, to be honest with you, no, I didn’t get paid anything, but I got instant celebrity, which is what I always wanted when I was a kid. I thought I’d be a famous singer. I never thought I’d be a famous transit person, you know what I mean? And I’ve since done – I’m the voice on a bus in California, you know the Smart Bus, it’s kinda cool. But it’s been a wonderful experience, it really does open doors and I just really love being the voice of Metro. It sounds so stupid and I never thought that it would be a big thing, but it really has made some amazing changes in my life. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve gotten a lot of work as a result. And as it turns out, I’m really good at being a voice-over person and I’m never happier than when I’m in the studio, and I never thought I would ever say that.

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