Every year, more than a million people vie for a spot on America’s Game, “Wheel of Fortune.” Of those, 10,000 get to audition. Only 600, or 6 out of 10,000, actually get to spin the wheel as we watch from our living rooms.
Tensie Taylor is one of the 0.06 percent.
Taylor, a 2009 graduate of N.C. State University, will be on “Wheel of Fortune” Thursday. The show airs at 7:30 p.m. on ABC.
What we’ll see is a lifelong dream realized.
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“I’ve always dreamed big,” said Taylor, 27, manager of the Black Alumni Association at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Ever since she learned to play Hangman – very well, at 5 – Taylor has nurtured a passion for “Wheel of Fortune,” which is based off the age-old game. She’d watch it with her family at night and challenge herself via the Game Boy and computer CD-ROM her mother bought her.
“I was hooked,” Taylor said. “I loved the game, I liked the personalities on the show, I liked Vanna’s wardrobe – and I was really good at the game; three or four letters would pop up, and I’d solve the puzzle.”
Thursday, Taylor’s parents, Robert and Levonia Taylor of Louisburg, and her siblings and extended family will gather around the television for a “Wheel of Fortune” watch party.
“I’m just thrilled,” said Levonia Taylor. “My husband and I would always tell her, ‘Stay focused. You know what your dreams are, go get them,’ and she’s a go-getter.”
And her sights were set on “Wheel of Fortune.”
In 2013, Taylor tried 365 times. Literally.
She worked two years at the NCSU Office for Institutional Equity & Diversity before heading to school in L.A. in August 2012. She initially laid low in the game show pursuit, knowing her ultimate prize was the Master of Education in Postsecondary Administration in Student Affairs she received from USC in May.
But at a going-away part in July 2012, Taylor assured she’d be on “Wheel of Fortune.” Everybody laughed.
Once settled, she said, “Every day when I would get out of class, I would go online and submit a ‘Wheel of Fortune’ application.”
She also drove four hours round-trip to a “Wheel of Fortune” mobile event and waited for hours, hoping to be called to audition. Nothing.
Taylor applied again Jan. 2, 2014.
“When I got that email on January 7, I screamed; I was so excited. All I needed was to get in front of them,” she said. “I knew I would hold that golden ticket.”
She auditioned live Jan. 16 with more than 100 hopefuls. She made it to the final 15 and a chance to simulate a game. That included spinning the wheel, which weighs 2,400 pounds.
On Jan. 24, Taylor was called to tape on May 2. She was joined by friend Margie Cruz, and her older brother, the Rev. Jemonde Taylor, pastor of St. Ambrose Episcopal Church in Midtown.
Taylor explores Hollywood in other ways, too, using her communications degree from N.C. State as host of “Rich Girl Network,” an online show that takes her to eateries all around L.A., and lands her on red carpets with celebrities.
She also landed a role as an extra in Angela Bassett’s Lifetime movie about R&B great, the late Whitney Houston.
Taylor credits her tenacity to family, just as much as she does the bullies who tormented her physically and emotionally throughout school for being both petite and academically gifted – or, in the misguided words of some, “white on the inside and black on the outside, like an Oreo.”
Taylor’s already a winner with a message she’ll one day record in a book she will call “The Oreo Cookie that Didn’t Crumble.”
“I want to use my voice as a beacon of hope to other people: Don’t give up, be persistent and be patient,” she said. “Whatever dream you have, don’t ever give up; just don’t ever give up. I thank those people now.
“I refused to let them see me fail, or to let myself fail; I turned negative situations into positive ones. Now, look ... I get the last laugh.”