Shaquille O’Neal and Melissa McCarthy Join Roster of Alexa Celebrity Personalities
Amazon has added Shaquille O’Neal and Melissa McCarthy to the Alexa celebrity cast list, as first reported in Variety. The basketball star and actress join Samuel L. Jackson as alternatives to the standard Alexa voice, synthesized using extensive audio recordings, along with a few unique responses to certain questions.
O’Neal and McCarthy’s voices handle several tasks for Alexa, but the default voice returns if the request is beyond the scope of the celebrities. The new voices are able to answer questions about the weather, stream music, or tell jokes and stories. Each has a bunch of pre-recorded dialogue to go with the artificially generated words. To create the artificial voices took about 60 hours of recording, for up to eight hours at a time. Amazon’s neural text-to-speech (NTTS) technology then had enough to teach Alexa how to sound like the celebrities. Amazon even built a sound studio at O’Neal’s house for the project, which includes his unique rapping. As the intro video above indicates, the personalities of the celebrities flavor how they interact with users.
“That’s right folks, get ready for the vocal stylings of this nasal midwestern gal!” McCarthy said in a statement. “I am so excited to join the Alexa family. It’s been such a fun experience working on this project. I hope you all enjoy all my dad jokes! Fun fact—if you hear a slide whistle, it’s my personal one that I brought with me to the recording studio!”
To activate the celebrity personalities, users just have to ask Alexa to introduce them to their chosen star and pay $5, the same price as Jackson. Though Jackson’s voice debuted as an option in December of 2019, it wasn’t until last September that the voice received its own wake word. Both new celebrities come out of the gate with one, either Hey Melissa or Hey Shaq.
“Customers have had a lot of fun with the Samuel L. Jackson experience on Alexa, and when customers love something, we look for ways to give them more of it,” Alexa Experience vice president Toni Reid said. “We’re thrilled to add two new celebrity personalities to Alexa and had a great time working with Shaquille O’Neal and Melissa McCarthy on this project. We can’t wait to see what customers think.”
Amazon also added a different new, male voice and a new wake word, Ziggy, for Alexa, unconnected to any celebrity. The new voice and wake word options can be chosen by asking the voice assistant to change the two features. That said, those looking for a more dynamic voice will likely look toward McCarthy and O’Neal.
“It’s on! Shaq is in the house to make your speakers bounce. Boomshakalaka!” O’Neal said. “I’m so excited to be a part of the Alexa experience.”