On July 2, as she wrapped up competing in a national pageant and was ready to head home, Taikirha Miller, 16, got the news: Tennis star Serena Williams had chosen her to be the voice of Williams’s daughter Olympia’s doll, Qai Qai, in a new YouTube series.
“I kind of had a freakout moment in the lobby, screaming in front of the people there,” recalls Miller, who lives in Silver Spring and is a rising junior at Kensington’s Albert Einstein High School.
Qai Qai (pronounced quay-quay) is no ordinary plaything. A best-selling doll on Amazon beloved for her self-confidence, she has more than 3 million followers on social media and her own YouTube channel. The Adventures of Qai Qai, a book authored by Williams, hits shelves in September. Williams’s husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, talks openly about possible collaborations and tweeted, “The @RealQaiQai Empire is THRIVING.”
After the announcement, “Voice of Qai Qai doll” shot to the front of Miller’s Instagram bio. Her other identities as an actress, dancer, model — she was named USA National Miss District of Columbia Preteen in 2017 — and voiceover artist still stand. But there’s a reason her latest venture quickly zoomed to the head of the line.
“Everything I’ve had the opportunity to do is great, and I wouldn’t change any of it at all, but…” she explains, laughing, “Serena Williams didn’t handpick me for those things.”
Miller had first auditioned for the gig in May, recording songs and a short script in her living room with a cellphone. Then she repeated the process, eventually getting called back for two more auditions, at her voiceover agent’s recording studio in Virginia.
Even though Qai Qai looks young and is marketed to children ages 3 and older, Miller didn’t need to alter the way she naturally talks.
“You’d be surprised how many people come up to me and say, ‘She has the cutest little voice,’ ” says her mother, Lisette Bethea-Scott. “At pageants I have to say, ‘Tai, please use your big girl voice’ because I want her to sound more mature.”
While Miller hasn’t yet met Williams, the 23-time Grand Slam champion recently told People magazine, “Everyone needs to find their voice, and I’m happy Qai Qai found hers in Taikirha.” And she asked the doll’s production team to send her best to Miller, calling the teen “a great inspiration!”
Miller, who once voiced a commercial for Nike’s Jordan brand alongside basketball players Russell Westbrook and Te’a Cooper, is having fun delivering some sass along with the doll’s no-nonsense, motivational counsel: “She gives really good advice and everything she says, she says with love, but she may be a little bit blunt.”
Hoping to spread some of her own lessons learned, Miller, who says she has been bullied since second grade, wrote I Am: 30 Day Affirmation Journal for Teens, which she sells on Amazon to help those struggling with self-worth. She also has formed a limited liability company called Tai It Together@; in its early stages, the company plans to focus on anti-bullying messages through the performing arts.
In Miller’s spare time, she’s prepping for a high school equivalency exam in October, even though she plans to continue pursuing a dual-degree program at Albert Einstein. The formality is so the actor, who has been in indie films and educational videos, can be more competitive soon at California casting calls.
“I want to be able to see myself on TV rather than just hear myself,” she says. “I feel like that would bring a lot more of me to the table.”
Bethea-Scott says her daughter’s new manager—signed after the Qai Qai deal was finalized—is well-connected, owns a large acting studio in Los Angeles, and reminds her of famous mom-to-the-Kardashians Kris Jenner. She is excited to see what’s next for Miller, who works hard and does “what she needs to do, no matter how long it takes, because she has always aspired to be in front of the camera.”
“It’s a lot to handle,” Miller acknowledges, “but with time I’ll understand everything more.”
Childhood dreams of studying political science and becoming the first female president remain. That’s been the goal since age 9, and “you always need something to fall back on,” she says.
In the meantime, she’s living another kind of dream.
“I think they want to take this thing as far as it can go,” says Bethea-Scott, adding that Qai Qai fans have been asking for a cartoon or TV show. “So I think she’ll be employed for a minute. For a good minute.”
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