So I had my first cover interview with the voice of Siri. It appeared in last weekend’s The Star newspaper (10/11 Sept 2016). It’s one of my biggest conversations to date. It’s also one of my biggest life achievements. Check it out and be inspired!
As you read this, there are billions of Apple devices across the planet actively using Siri. Think of Apple TV, iPhone 4S, iPod touch 5G and iPads. This means that there’s a lady in Sandton, South Africa, finding her way to a boutique with the aid of the AI assistant. Somewhere in the Nairobi CBD, there’s a business executive finding his way to a meeting with the help of Siri.
You may have been cheesy enough to ask some random questions and the responses were somewhat hilarious. As if that’s not impressive enough for the five years it has been operational, the app has been credited for saving lives. Back in August 2015, Siri saved a teen’s life in Tennessee, after a truck collapsed on him. Earlier this year, it saved a baby’s life in Australia after her heart stopped beating. Who could imagine that the capability of this wonderful technology could surpass expectations?
The lady behind the voice of Siri is Susan Bennett, one of the most successful voice-over artistes in the world. In her Siri character, she has starred in movies alongside Samuel L Jackson and Zooey Deschanel. She was the emcee at the Dallas Digital Summit in 2013, where Apple co-founder Steve Wozniac was presenting. Her voice has been trusted by major brands like McDonalds, Delta Airlines, Cartoon Network and the Discovery Channel.
She is soothing, warm and down-to-earth. That’s why she did not want to come out and claim her throne as one of the most influential public figures in the world. In an interview with CNN two years ago, Susan said that she ‘was very conservative about it for a long time’. It wasn’t until people started confusing her for Allison Dufty, another prominent V/O artist. She knew it was time.
“Everyone was clamouring to find out who the real voice behind Siri is, and so I thought … what the heck? This is the time,” she said.
Despite the super-impressive portfolio and obviously busy schedule, she has managed to make time for what’s important to her in life, including her family. The Atlanta native is always on flights across the US, from New York to Los Angeles, where she has agencies representing her. I had a candid conversation with her about her success journey, and this is what transpired:
Susan, you’re now a reputable V/O artist who has worked with top brands in the global industry. You’ve even become a successful MC. That’s truly inspiring. How’s life now? What’s your normal day like?
Susan: Life is great, but I don’t really have what you’d call a normal day. Every day is different, which I really like. My days differ, depending on whether I’m travelling to do a Siri event, or staying at home and working in my studio. I also still do some singing and work with my husband in a couple of bands, so every day and every week is never the same.
In a CNN interview, you were quite conservative about coming out and identifying yourself as the voice behind the app, which is now used on various Apple products. Think of Apple TV, Apple Watch and even iPads and a wide range of iPhones. How did life change immediately you came out?
S: My life changed dramatically because I was doing a lot of radio and TV interviews, and public appearances talking about Siri. Before, I had spent most of my time in my home studio or working in other recording studios in Atlanta (which I still do), but there was the fame aspect to deal with. That’s one of the reasons I hesitated to reveal myself: I wasn’t sure how the fame and being known as the voice of Siri would affect my career.
You starred alongside Samuel L Jackson and Zooey Deschanel. Siri helped them accomplish something in their respective film roles. Your work has been featured on Big Bang Theory and the film Her. That’s an explosive turn of events, especially from a client’s work that you did back in 2005. Did you ever imagine you’d be this famous and successful back in the 70’s, when you started your career? What’s been your biggest inspiration?
S: I had no idea I’d ever be famous, and I didn’t aspire to fame at all. The only thing I ever wanted was to do a lot of good work with creative people, and have the respect of my peers. Siri was a complete and utter surprise. My biggest inspiration has just been my desire to be productive and utilise the talents I was given.
Your voice was recorded when Steve Jobs was working hard towards developing one of the best inventions of all time — the iPhone. How does it feel being a part of his work, the iPhone?
S: I’m very flattered and honoured I was chosen to be the original voice of Siri, and I know Steve Jobs was very involved in developing Siri. I feel very privileged, but I will have to say it was very strange at the beginning to hear my voice coming out of a tiny computerised phone that everyone was interacting with all over the world!
In your career as a V/O artist – who’s been heard by millions at Airport terminals – and an MC, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt while pitching work to potential clients?
S: It’s important to be professional and easy to work with… meaning, being in touch with exactly what your potential client might need.
As you answer this, Justin Bieber or Leonardo DiCaprio is probably using the Siri app right now. You’ve got the most iconic fans that you don’t even know. Who are you currently listening to? What’s your playlist like?
S: I mostly listen to classic rock favourites on my iPod, so my playlist is filled with Stones, Beatles, Bonnie Raitt, Dusty Springfield, etc. But I do like some contemporary artistes, like Bruno Mars and Rival Sons.
What do you do with your family during free time? You’ve always had a busy schedule.
S: My family doesn’t live very close to me, so I don’t get to see them very often. However, I do hang with my guitarist husband a lot. It’s nice to be married to my best friend! We like to watch movies, play music, and travel when we can.
With your big portfolio, do you have a team that works with you? What’s the best part of working with a team?
S: I’ve had a lot of great agents over the years in Atlanta, and I consider them my team. Since the Siri reveal, I have an additional agent in LA, Wes Stevens at Vox, who is absolutely wonderful, and works with me not only on voice overs but speaking engagements as well.
Which are your favourite travel destinations?
S: I’ve had the good fortune to visit a lot of different countries over the years, and I’d have to say my favourites are Italy, England, and Australia (so far!). In the US, I’d have to say Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a favourite.
Finally, what’s next for Susan in the next two to three years?
S: Well, hopefully, more of the same! I love my work, so I hope to continue to sing, do voice work, speaking engagements and who knows what else? I’m open to new adventures!
You can keep up with Susan on social media by following her on Instagram and Twitter @siriouslysusan
Siri is a virtual assistant with a voice-controlled natural language interface that uses sequential inference and contextual awareness to help perform personal tasks for iOS users. Spun out of the DARPA-funded CALO project, Siri was initially developed by Dag Kittlaus and his team of SRI International as an iPhone app. Apple bought Siri in 2010. In October of 2011 Apple re-released it as part of iOS 5. Siri is currently run by Bill Stasior, vice president, Siri, and the technology is integrated into the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, and into Apple’s new HomeKit home automation framework.
To learn more about Siri, visit www.apple.com/ios/siri/