Arts & Life, Features

Former CSULB student is creating an original show to create inclusivity in entertainment

In an old newspaper, there is a black-and-white photo of a 13-year-old boy grinning, lifting a pair of sunglasses from his eyes. Next to the photo reads that the boy, named Jonathan Aldridge, wants to become an actor, and that maybe, we’ll see him on his own television show one day.

Though the newspaper clip is decades old, the sentiment has not changed for Aldridge, who has since worked to see those words come true.

Aldridge, who now goes by the name AJ Billions professionally and personally, has his hands in all things related to television and film, from doing red carpet interviews at the San Francisco Black Film Festival to hosting the radio show Live With AJ Billions, featuring celebrity guests.

And instead of starring in a television show, though Aldridge has appeared in a few, Aldridge is working on getting his own show picked up, titled “Minorities.” The show, as Aldridge said, is inspired by shows like “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and will be built around improvisation and comedy.

A clip from John Casablanca's Modeling and Talent Convention that took place in New York when Jonathan Aldridge was 13. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Aldridge.
A clip from John Casablanca’s Modeling and Talent Convention that took place in New York when Jonathan Aldridge was 13. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Aldridge.

“The great thing about being a writer is that we can tell authentic stories and we can be the difference and we can be the voice and we can help underserved people,” Aldridge said.

The show is Aldridge’s attempt at creating diversity in Hollywood, and said that minorities often don’t get a fair chance to make it in the field.

Aldridge was a student at Long Beach State in 2018 through the Open University program, which allows people to take classes within the California State University System without being admitted.

One thing Aldridge said he took away from his time at CSULB was the ability to refine his skills. But Aldridge adds that for any young writers, they don’t need a perfect script, because by the time a show gets picked up, it can go through many changes.

But before that, he played baseball for teams including the Sioux City Explorers in 2001 to Saskatoon Legends in Canada in 2003. Playing baseball was another goal listed in the newspaper clipping, but Aldridge soon moved to his next venture, the entertainment industry.

After baseball, Aldridge was living in Orlando, booking commercial opportunities before heading to Miami to sign with a talent agent. It was a challenge for Aldridge, who was met with resistance once agents realized he didn’t live in Miami and wouldn’t be available quick enough for casting calls.

But Aldridge was determined, prepared to jump in his car and drive to any opportunity that came his way. Eventually, he was signed by an agent and would later travel to different parts of the country for work, and said he focused less about the destination and more about the journey.

When Aldridge was at CSULB, he met Amza Nantwi in their shared intro to screenwriting class. Nantwi, an exchange student from Coventry University in England, said Aldridge was genuinely friendly and interested in talking to Nantwi, later showing him around Long Beach.

“He was really enthusiastic about jumping ahead, he’s always on board for whatever you really pitch at him, which is really, really encouraging especially when you’re not so sure of yourself and he’ll support you 100% of the way,” Nantwi said.

It’s that type of enthusiasm that caught Jackie Wright’s attention, who runs her own public relations firm and worked with the San Francisco Black Film Festival when Aldridge came on board in 2015, handling all red carpet interviews at the film festival.

It’s an important role, Wright noted, due to the mix of guests that attend, some more established filmmakers and others newer to the scene. Wright recalled that Aldridge was able to make the up-and-coming filmmakers comfortable, and brought a lot of energy to the event.

Wright said Aldridge had reached out to the film festival, which has been going on for over 20 years, and was interested in getting involved and showed initiative on his part.

“He is the kind of person that creates opportunities for himself and others,” Wright said, explaining that people benefit from Aldridge’s ideas as well.

The two have remained in touch over different projects, and Wright said Aldridge is an inspiration.

“He makes you want to bring your A-game to the court when you encounter him because he is very vocal, he’s very energized,” Wright said.

Jonathan Aldridge, who goes by the name AJ Billions personally and professionally. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Aldridge.
Jonathan Aldridge, who goes by the name AJ Billions personally and professionally. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Aldridge.

Aldridge will continue to work towards making “Minorities” happen, but it’s not the only project that’s going on, evident in the recent release of a new episode on his radio show. Although that drive is in part fueled by being doubted by former baseball coaches and from being told to focus only on one thing by a professor, it is also about showing people in Aldridge’s life that if he can do it, so can they.

It’s why, Aldridge said, he is here today. The people who came before him experienced hard times, but they made it.

“We can create our own destiny especially with the internet, with a laptop, with a cell phone and with our own God-given gifts, we can move mountains,” Aldridge said. “Anything is possible for anybody.”

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