An Emmy nominee for casting Peacock’s deceptively engaging reality competition series, “The Traitors,” Casting Director Jazzy Collins (CSA) has the rare distinction being the first African American two-time Emmy nominee in the Outstanding Reality Casting category.

“The most important part of selecting an ensemble cast is creating a balance. Celebrities like Cody and Rachel from ‘Big Brother’ are going to come in swinging,” shares Collins. “You want to make sure everyday Americans have a chance to shine.”

Collins has found success frequently in her decorated career, having credits on some of the biggest hit reality shows including Lizzo’s “Watch Out For The Big Grrls” (Amazon), “The Circle” (Netflix), “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” (ABC), and “Love Island” (CBS).

Collins spoke to Awards Focus about the highlights of building a career in reality television and casting her latest hit, “The Traitors.”

Awards Focus: With this nomination for Peacock’s “The Traitors,” you’re the first African American two-time Emmy nominee in the Outstanding Reality Casting category. Can you walk us through the day you learned you were nominated?

Jazzy Collins: It truly is an honor. This time around I was watching the nominations come in and then I looked down on my phone and then my phone started buzzing non-stop with “Congratulations!” I screamed so loud that my daughter started crying. Poor girl thought something bad happened!

AF: Can you delve into the cast composition on “The Traitors?” Specifically, you had two pools of cast members–famous faces and everyday Americans. How was this decision made and how did you go about casting these two pools?

Collins: The most important part of selecting an ensemble cast is creating a balance. Celebrities like Cody and Rachel from “Big Brother,” are going to come in swinging. They understand how games like this work and you want to make sure everyday Americans have a chance to shine.

To do that, we made sure the civilian cast was composed of incredible folks with different backgrounds, diversity, and jobs. That way viewers across America could see themselves in these characters and empathize. We had a small-town guy like Michael, a political analyst like Quentin, a hairdresser like Anjelica. The civilian cast really held their own against the celebrities and our team is really proud of it.

AF: Can we be a fly on the wall in the casting room with you for a second? What does the room look like, who’s in it, and how do you work with the individuals auditioning?

Collins: The casting process is rigorous, but it has changed a lot due to the pandemic. What was once boots-on-the-ground scouting and in-person interviews, is now fully remote.

First, our team of associates are on the hunt to find someone they may feel is fit for the show. They use all social media platforms, including Instagram and TikTok. After getting in touch, the associates will have a call with the contestant and get a sense of who they are and their story.

Then they’ll hop on a Zoom call with a producer. This is where the team will have a chance to see how they are on camera and get even more details of what their story is and how they plan to play the game. This 30-minute interview gets cut down into a 2-3 minute casting reel by our casting editors and then pitched out to the network, who will make the final decision. It truly is a team effort.

AF: How does casting for unscripted differ from casting for scripted television? 

Collins: Casting Directors on the unscripted side are plucking everyday people off the street and turning them into stars. We source, guide people who have never been interviewed before, and build and edit coherent stories, all while being their biggest cheerleaders when pitching to the network. 

AF: What is the “it” factor for you? How do you make your casting decisions, especially when it comes to building an ensemble and finding chemistry?

Collins: I love great storytellers. If I’m going into an interview and asking “Are you competitive?” Don’t just tell me “yes.” Tell me a story about it.

Being able to tell me a great story, that’s concise and to the point, with energy and passion, is the “it” factor for me. When making casting decisions I try to balance personalities, gameplay, and diversity. We need to see a microcosm of America in a cast of 20. Speaking to future cast members over the course of months, you really understand how they would act under pressure and in different environments. That also helps guide us in helping make decisions at the end of the casting process. 

AF: How can hopeful talent engage and network with you outside of the casting room?

Collins: Talent can always reach me on Instagram, @JazzyCasting, and I post all the shows I’m casting for there and I engage a lot with other future talent via my direct messages. 

AF: You’ve long said that your professional goal is to have your own casting company with BIPOC executives and leaders, and you’ve crafted that dream into a reality with Forced Perspective. This full-service casting boutique and production company is really making some big moves. As the leader and visionary of the company, what do you find is the best way to promote inclusivity and representation in the entertainment industry? And congratulations!

Collins: Thank you! It all starts from within the company. It’s important to consistently hire others that understand the project professionally and personally. If I’m casting something that is for a Latinx audience, I make sure to have someone from that community on my team. I also mentor many women in the BIPOC community who are just starting out in casting.

I will sit down and break down how casting works, take them through how to run interviews, and how to build a pitch. I didn’t have anyone coming up in the industry to show me the ropes due to how competitive this industry is. I also make sure to cast an incredibly wide net with diversity. I like to share untold stories in the diaspora of communities. I want to expose to the world there’s a lot more than what normally makes a cast on TV. You have to be the change in the world you wish to see – so I will do anything I can to make that happen.

AF: What’s your next North Star, professionally or personally?

Collins: I want to continue making great television, telling untold stories, and highlighting the diaspora of BIPOC communities. I’m proud of how far I’ve come and I’m excited to see where it takes me!

About The Author

Founder, Awards Editor

Byron Burton is the Awards Editor and Chief Critic at Awards Focus and a National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award winning journalist for his work at The Hollywood Reporter.

Byron is a voting member of the Television Academy, Critics Choice Association, and the Society of Composers & Lyricists (the SCL) for his work on Marvel's X-Men Apocalypse (2016). Working as a journalist and moderator, Byron hosts Emmy and Oscar panels for the major studios, featuring their Below The Line and Above The Line nominees (in partnership with their respective guilds).

Moderating highlights include Ingle Dodd's "Behind the Slate" Screening Series and their "Spotlight Live" event at the American Legion in Hollywood. Byron covered the six person panel for Universal's "NOPE" as well as panels for Hulu's "Pam & Tommy Lee" and "Welcome to Chippendales" and HBO Max's "Barry" and "Euphoria."

For songwriters and composers, Byron is a frequent moderator for panels with the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) as well as The ArcLight's Hitting the High Note Oscar series.

Byron's panels range from FX's Fargo to Netflix's The Crown, The Queen's Gambit, The Witcher & Bridgerton; HBO Max's The Flight Attendant, Hacks, Succession, Insecure, & Lovecraft Country; Amazon Studios' The Legend of Vox Machina, Wild Cat, & Annette; and Apple TV+s Ted Lasso, Bad Sisters, and 5 Days at Memorial.

In February of 2020, Byron organized and hosted the Aiding Australia Initiative; launched to assist in the restoration and rehabilitation of Australia's wildlife (an estimated 3 billion animals killed or maimed and a landmass the size of Syria decimated).

Participating talent for Aiding Australia includes Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Jeremy Renner, Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Josh Brolin, Bryan Cranston, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, JK Simmons, Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Danny Elfman, Tim Burton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Tim Allen, Colin Hay, Drew Struzan, and Michael Rosenbaum.

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