Notable.ca has partnered with Grey Goose, the World's Best Tasting Vodka, to celebrate an exclusive series of Grey Goose Notables: young professionals and entrepreneurs who are influential taste-makers. For the next 10 weeks, we will feature two unique Notables who have made it – young professionals who have reached success beyond their years. We'll show you how these Notables enjoy what they've earned – how they entertain friends, where they travel, what drives them from the office to the golf course – and how they celebrate life and all it has to offer. So, raise a glass as we toast to the Grey Goose Notables...
Aliya-Jasmine Sovani is one of MTV Canada's most well-known and respected personalities. She's a TV host and producer, currently anchoring MTV News and hosting the frank talk show 1 Girl 5 Gays – which airs not just on MTV Canada but also on LOGO TV in the US – that's credited as giving a candid voice to the gay community. She also does field reporting for the Discovery Channel, and can be seen on occasion on CP24. But this is just a taste of the talents and accomplishments of this grounded and wise young professional.
Aliya-Jasmine grew up in Barrhaven, a suburb of Ottawa. She attended the arts program at John McRae Secondary School, and credits the arts as “literally what kept me involved in school.” It's no wonder: Through her program she was able to travel to New York City and Italy, and got to experience a world outside the confines of suburban Ottawa. Aliya-Jasmine went on to study psychology with a minor in advertising – which is where her initial passions laid. She loved advertising and the power it had to manipulate the masses by messages, especially written ones. She started to lean more towards her writing throughout her first year, and began pondering journalism as a career route.
During the summer between her first and second years, Aliya-Jasmine was in a terrible car accident. Driving in the purple Jeep her father had bought her for her 16th birthday, she had to swerve abruptly to avoid hitting another vehicle that had lost control. Her car rolled, and she was dragged with her left arm beneath her, suffering a degloving. That night at the hospital, AJ was told she'd have to undergo an amputation, but her mother – the Director General for the Government of Canada – forcefully fought to have another diagnosis found. Luckily, the top vascular surgeon in Ontario was in Ottawa, and he was called to the hospital to see what he could do. All Aliya-Jasmine asked was that he try to save her arm for the night, and if he couldn't, then she'd accept the results. She woke up two days later alone in the hospital room, fully tucked beneath the sheet. Very slowly, she pulled it down with an understandable trepidation, and saw her fingertips. (Aliya-Jasmine was told she's one of only a handful of people in the world who has a separated vein in her arm, meaning that her left arm in essence as a secondary link to her circulatory system.) When she tells the story, you can see she's still at odds with believing she could be so fortunate – a humbling characteristic that is by no means contained to this incident.
After she returned home from the hospital, Aliya-Jasmine had to stay in Ottawa instead of returning to university in Southern Ontario to heal. She had to start living a more protected life, not able to go out a lot and having to take extreme care in the winter cold because of the lessened circulation in her left arm. She transferred her credits to Ottawa University and began courses in broadcast journalism.
Aliya-Jasmine worked at a men's magazine, local Ottawa papers, and starting working on different projects in media, pushing herself as far into her studies and new career path as she could. She began an internship at Fashion Television, and then became a cable wrangler for Star – her first paying job in television. A gig field producing for BPM TV followed, and her love for producing flourished. She was then hired at Muchmusic to work on Much On Demand, and through her new role she produced shows that saw Rick Campinelli and George Strombolopoulos as hosts – two of Canada's television veterans.
Aliya-Jasmine's boss at the time, Alex Sopinka, taught her much about television, and when MTV Canada started, he called AJ over for an interview with Mark McKinnis to be producer of MTV News. Mark took an interest in grooming Aliya-Jasmine, herself never thinking she would be capable of being an on-air personality. But Mark and Alex believed in her so strongly, and helped her realize that she was indeed poised to step in front of the camera.
When Aliya-Jasmine recounts her steady rise, she's very humble, with a humility one might expect would be lost with such an ascension. It's refreshing, and reminds us that the hard work and endless hours wrought with days of exhaustion become a part of the make up of any successful young professional. AJ still feels blessed and like she's on top of the world, an appreciation that surely won't dissipate anytime soon.
“I feel like in a lot of ways, things have just happened. I always wanted to work in TV, but never expected this. I made a deal with myself when I first went on air that I was just going to enjoy the ride...and now look at what's happened. I get to work on an amazing show, MTV News, that's a real passion project, and I'm giving youth issues a voice,” she says introspectively. There have been tough times, of course, especially given that Aliya-Jasmine is a young female minority in a world dominated by white men. But, she made it through, and she did it her way. Her career is on the fast-track to being one for the history books, and AJ has become a role model for young men and women Canada-wide who are impassioned by the prospect of the “ideal career,” whatever that may be, and she's a totem of hard work and determination leading towards personal greatness.
Aliya-Jasmine is a Notable, and to her, notable is that “beauty and brains don't have to be mutually exclusive. You don't have to choose to between being Pamela Anderson or a CNN Anchor. It used to be that these lived exclusively, but we are now in a generation where you can live a fab life and be socially conscious at the same time.”
If there was one location that every person must see, what would it be? Why?
There is a spot I love in Istanbul, Turkey that is stunning. It looks like an undiscovered neverland out of the movie The Never Ending Story, or the 80s kids show Fragglerock. On the Anatolian side of Istanbul, you can only get there by foot and it’s a one-hour uphill climb through a residential area. It is somewhat of an attraction because it’s a high spot that allows you to see the European and Asian divide of the city...but there are no signs, no taxis to bring tourists to the top; it’s totally undeveloped and actually pretty unsafe. But all of that makes it so breathtaking.
You have 3 weeks to vacation, cost is not a factor, where are you going and who are you taking?
I’d take my parents to Africa so they could show me where they grew up in Ouganda and where my grandmother was born in Kenya. They haven’t been back since they both left as children, but they talk about East Africa all the time. The food, the life, the uniforms at school, the zebras in their backyards, and my dad had a pet monkey! I’d just love to see the nostalgia in their eyes as we walked around their old ‘hood.
What is your general life philosophy? / What advice would you want to share with others?
Write down what you’re grateful for every day. Life can always be better, life can always be worse, but when you allow yourself to feel happy for what you have it's truly an unbelievable feeling! Reverend Run (from Run DMC) once tweeted, “Happiness takes courage.” It's true...you need to decide to be happy, and work at it. It’s a goal worth putting in time for.
What is it about you that you feel attracts others to you?
I am pretty sure people are attracted to the idea that I lead a glamorous life in the world of entertainment, but when they get to know me they realize I’m actually a huge dork. Which is probably...let’s be honest...much more fascinating!
How do you enjoy life? What are some of your life indulgences?
Food. Food. Food. Food. Food. Food. Food. Food makes me so happy.
When entertaining at your home, what is your one staple item that you must serve, and why?
Grey Goose La Poire. I recently got introduced to it, and my guests love it. It’s actually fantastic! You can serve it with water on ice, it tastes like pear, and it keeps the guests happy. It’s the perfect assurance everyone will leave your home having had a good time.
What is one of your favourite lounge/restaurants? Why?
Starfish. Amazing Oysters, great vibe, good service, and I go so often everybody knows my name. (That should read in the tune of the Cheers theme song).
Images from Aliya-Jasmine's White Party by Arthur Mola.