'The Host' at GCU chases his new dream

Caleb Duarte presides over his Canyon Night Show. (Photo by Cole Parker)

Story and photos by Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau

On the long summer nights bathed in light in Chugiak, Alaska, Caleb Duarte lived out his dream. Broadcasting Alaska League college baseball games, Duarte described the action in colorful and accurate tones, striving to reach the professionalism of his favorite announcers, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow. Their narrative of San Francisco Giants games was the soundtrack of Duarte’s youth in Morgan Hill, Calif., along with the crooning baritone of Frank Sinatra.

Caleb Duarte plays the GCBC chugging game on CNS as GCBC managers Danny Pezzullo and Lauren Lentini applaud.

Incredibly, Duarte’s career path took a sharp turn only a few months later. The tipping point for his transition was Lip Sync 2017 on the Grand Canyon University campus. Decked out in a white and black tuxedo, his suave emcee performance – a mixture of warmth, confidence and humor – opened the door to the host role on campus, the creation of Canyon Night Show (CNS) and a video application for a Jimmy Fallon internship.

"He blew everyone away and has been de facto host ever since,'' said Scott Kolmer, Student Activities Coordinator for the Canyon Activities Board (CAB).

Duarte, a 20-year-old communications major, has over 1,400 followers on Instagram and an official Grand Canyon Beverage Co. (GCBC) drink – The Host, a combination of chocolate milk and caramel mocha drizzle.

As Duarte prepares for his fourth YouTube taping of CNS, before a live audience at 7 p.m. on Valentine's Day in Thunderground, his new dream – hosting a nationally televised talk show – is being sown in numerous ways. After hosting TedxGCU on Feb. 22 at Ethington Theatre and Mr. GCU on April 11 in GCU Arena, Duarte will have nine major events and five CNS shows on his digital resume.

With GCBC manager Lauren Lentini watching anxiously, Caleb Duarte cheers for Danny Pezzullo as the GCBC manager chugs a GCBC drink on CNS.

The spotlight does not shine too brightly on a man inured to nerves. He calmly chugged his GCBC drink on the third episode of CNS, made quips about University president Brian Mueller and showed a video clip of the late night Taco Bell run he made with two pals. In a demonstration of versatility, he showed his serious side by conducting an interesting and informative interview with his guests, GCBC managers Lauren Lentini and Danny Pezzullo.

He also mixes his faith with his humor, proclaiming, 'The Lord is my shepherd,' while gulping a drink containing the blueberries he despises and ending the show with 'God bless all of you.'

Like Fallon, Duarte dresses in a suit and tie and opens with a monologue. Interviews with guests and a musical number are part of the programming, along with a pre-taped humorous video segment.

The CNS band, comprised of GCU students Caleb Wiseman (keyboard), Fletcher Milloy (guitar), Bryce Morrow (drummer) and Casey Moreno (bass), made its debut for the third episode, and Tajzia Holmes, a junior, sang “Confetti’’ by Tori Kelly, demonstrating a glass-breaking range that earned her auditions for “The Voice’’ and “American Idol.”

The CNS band plays in and out of every break.

With lights, sound, set, camera work and event management, the show is a collaboration of more than one dozen students and several CAB staff members  under the direction of Cierra Burnett. Duarte co-founded, co-created and co-produced it with junior Ethan Collins. It is believed to be only the second talk show on a college campus, along with Central Florida’s Tonight’s the Night.

It might seem odd that the show was scheduled for Valentine’s Day, given the many students who will be on dates or attending parties. But for those who don’t have plans, attending CNS might be the perfect alternative.

“We feel like by doing it on Valentine’s Day we will get the people who might not have something to do,’’ Duarte said. “We would love for everyone to have friends to go out with or a person to go out with, but frankly that is not the truth for everybody. And we want to be able to provide a night of entertainment for those who might need it.’’

GCU junior Tajzia Holmes poses with Duarte after singing on CNS.

The love-themed event features a speed-dating video, a visit from Stephen Steininger, the eloquent Vice President of Associated Students of GCU, and a surprise musical guest selected via taped auditions.

“The show is about expanding opportunities,’’ Duarte said. “GCU is very diverse, so we want to be able to showcase the different talents people have – so it is not necessarily always a singer. It might be musicians, maybe they are a stand-up comedienne, maybe they are a magician.”

With a little help from his friends, Duarte continues to expand opportunities for himself. A cover letter and resume were required for the Fallon internship application, but Duarte and student videographer Connor Bennett went several steps further by making an exceptional video that shows Fallon walking on stage at the beginning of his show, then flashes to Duarte doing the same thing. It seamlessly leaps from Duarte listing the talk show greats of history (Jack Paar, Johnny Carson) to Fallon completing the list. After Fallon introduces his band, Duarte welcomes his band and the camera turns to the CNS band.

Duarte on the set of CNS.

While it took only one hour to shoot in Thunderground, Duarte and Bennett labored for seven hours to edit it.

Regardless of whether he is selected for the internship, Duarte is gaining attention in another sphere – the business world. Through his emcee efforts for TedxGCU, a CEO is considering hiring Duarte to emcee a corporate event.

Dr. Randy Gibb, Dean of the Colangelo College of Business, saw Duarte perform for the first time on Jan. 11.

“I am a random guy who went to the Tedx preview event and was really impressed with how he had a leadership comedic presence as he hosted the event,’’ Gibb said. “It was outstanding. It is one more step in the evolution of our Tedx team in having one of their own emceeing it whereas last year they had a professional emcee come in. Now they don’t have to go outside GCU – they can have one of their Lopes help them out.’’

Gibb was most taken by Duarte’s understanding of his role.

“He was witty, clever but remembered that, as an emcee, it is not about you, it is about the guests and the people onstage that you are introducing,’’ Gibb said. “At a young age, he’s captured that subtlety of being funny, clever, entertaining and at the same time being respectful and then stepping away, so that the reason you are there can be seen and heard.’’

The CAB marketing team poster for CNS.

Peers such as sophomore Isaac O’Farrell also are wowed.

"I think Caleb does a really good job,'' O'Farrell said. "He is super engaging; he is super quick on his feet. Even if he messes up, he keeps moving on. It is nice to see him in his element because that’s what he wants to do. A lot of people might say, 'I want to be the next Jimmy Fallon, I want to host my own thing.' But they are not out there doing it. He is really taking the initiative and sprinting after his dreams."


Related content:

GCU Magazine: Herrrrre's Caleb! How Duarte became 'The Host'


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