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'Abbott Elementary' Star Sheryl Lee Ralph Finds Her Voice

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By TheBlast Staff on December 18, 2022 at 4:00 PM EST

For the most part, the 2022 Emmy awards were a pretty tame event. 

I don’t mean that as an insult. After all, within the world we live in, “tame”, “uneventful”, and “as-planned” are all words that sound like music to our ears. 

This iteration of the Emmy awards was the 74th event to be held to honor primetime American programs. Like the 2021 awards, the 2022 awards were held in-person in Los Angeles. The 2020 awards were, of course, canceled in the account of, well, you know why. 

Anyway, as much as the 2022 awards show was business as usual, there was one special thing that happened that I felt was worth addressing. It especially hits close to home for me because, as a professional voice actor, I am always paying acute attention to the way that actors and non-actors alike use their voice. 

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And if there was somebody who used their voice at the 2022 Emmy awards, it was Sheryl Lee Ralph

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Who is Sheryl Lee Ralph?

Sheryl Lee Ralph is an actress and singer who has been in the industry for years. In fact, she’s been active since the late 1970s!

After growing up between Jamaica and Long Island, Ralph first showed an interest in musicals in high school before eventually landing roles in TV shows and broadway shows. One of her most noteworthy early roles was in the original 1980 Broadway run of Dreamgirls, where she played the character of Deena Jones.

Although it’s no surprise to anyone that Ralph has a gorgeous, show-stopping singing voice, lately she is most known for her acting performances. In fact, it was her acting performance in ABC’s Abbott Elementary that brought her to the 2022 Emmy awards. 

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Abbott Elementary is a mockumentary-style TV series that follows a group of educators at an underfunded school in Philadelphia. Ralph plays a kindergarten teacher in the series. 

Though Abbott Elementary didn’t take the most awards at the Emmy awards (that honor goes to the comedy-drama series The White Lotus), they did manage to rake up an impressive pair of accolades. One of these was a writing award for the pilot episode of Abbot Elementary. The other one was an award for “Outstanding Supporting Actress” which, of course, went to Sheryl Lee Ralph. 

Which brings us to our next point. Remember, the reason why we were here in the first place? I want to talk about how Sheryl Lee Ralph found her (oh so beautiful voice) on this fateful night!

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How Did Sheryl Lee Ralph Use Her Voice at the 2022 Emmy Award Ceremony? 

As I mentioned earlier, Ralph has been in the entertainment industry for many years (more accurately, many decades). However, she had yet to win an Emmy Award. Until 2022, that is.

When Ralph’s name was announced as the winner of the “Outstanding Supporting Actress” award, she was visibly surprised and overcome with emotion. After all, it was a highly competitive category with a star-studded nomination pool. 

In fact, the nomination pool has to be seen (er, read?) to be believed. The other nominees were Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live), Alex Borstein (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Hannah Waddingham (Ted Lasso), Janelle James (also from Abbott Elementary), Sarah Niles (Ted Lasso again), Juno Temple (also Ted Lasso), Hannah Einbinder (Hacks), and of course, Ralph. 

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When her name was announced, Ralph appeared to be surprised. She hesitated to even get up from the table she was sitting at and had to be assisted by her co-star Tyler James Williams. 

When Ralph made it to the stage, she somehow took her overwhelming surprise and gratitude and channeled it into a theatrical rendition of the 1993 song “Endangered Species”, originally sung by jazz singer Dianne Reeves. 

As I’m writing this now, I realize that words don’t do it justice. If you haven’t had a chance to experience Ralph’s sung acceptance speech, I humbly request that you take thee to YouTube and give it a spin. She doesn’t miss a note. If only there were awards for acceptance speeches! 

The Singing-Acting Connection

So, why do I bring this all up in the first place?

I spend a lot of time thinking about the intersection between singing and acting. They’re two different things, yes, but there is an undeniable connection between the two. 

When Ralph got up on the stage and sang her acceptance speech, she reminded us all that being an artist is so often a multidisciplinary commitment. Sure, we can’t all sing like Sheryl Lee Ralph, but we can feel her passion when we watch her acceptance speech. And it’s likely that passion that got her as far as she’s come in her career. That’s definitely something worth singing about.

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Maria Pendolino is an award-winning professional voice artist—and a trained vocalist. A true vocal chameleon, Maria dips her toes into voice acting of all kind, including corporate events, documentaries, training videos, video games, cartoons, and more. You’ve probably heard her voice on a radio ad or primetime TV commercial. She’s passionate about musical theatre and acting of all kinds and has been known to mark her calendar for the Emmy Awards. If you like rescue cats and charcuterie boards, you can follow here on Instagram

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