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To hearty applause, Jeff Gelder is honored with the VO Atlanta 2023 Unicorn Award for "giving back without the expectation of profit or publicity."  
The Stories Behind The Wins At VO Atlanta 2023:
A Unicorn, Exciting UVOS, Team Challenge & More
March 31, 2023 
By John Florian
More than a thousand voice actors at the 10th Annual VO Atlanta Voiceover Conference last weekend rocked the Hilton Atlanta Airport with good vibes of all kinds â€" including well deserved whoops and cheers for winners of competitions and awards.  
This was the conference's first year under new owner ACE Events, the company founded by J. Michael Collins and Anna Alcasas-Collins.  
"I'm so grateful for the energy, fun, laughter and humanity of this community," J. Michael Collins said at Sunday's closing ceremony about the four days of learning, networking and fun. "It is more than we ever expected."  
The closing ceremony was also showcase time to announce the winners of competitions and awards.
After the conference, I interviewed by email the competition sponsors and winners for their thoughts …  
Three finalists â€" Jeff Gelder, Rebecca Davis and Kesha Monk (pictured, l-r) â€" had risen to the top of many nominations for the VO Atlanta 2023 Unicorn Award.  
Now the three are onstage as J. Michael Collins explains that the award celebrates voice actors who "give back without the expectation of profit or publicity." All were worthy of that description.  
And the 2023 Unicorn is … Jeff Gelder!  
Last year's winner, Bev Standing, presented the Unicorn trophy to Jeff. And true to his nature, Jeff's acceptance speech focused on the Children's Holiday Magic Project he founded in 2003, which sends a recorded story of holiday skits and songs to brighten the days of children in hospitals worldwide. All the work is done by volunteers in the voice over and related communities. 
 "Wow, I am so honored to be chosen for this award, and especially proud that it was voted by my peers," Jeff says today.  
"I looked up the meaning of the word Unicorn," he adds, "and one definition is 'something that is highly desirable but difficult to find or obtain.' I am most grateful for this platform to share the Children's Holiday Magic Project's mission with the entire very talented VO community. And to bring smiles to even more children who are in the hospital during the holidays."  
Back at the microphone on Sunday, he added, "Donations are appreciated." 
Collins founded the Unicorn Award at VO Atlanta in 2017 and continues to organize the annual program that brings all finalists many thousands of dollars of donated voice over services and prizes from VO industry coaches, service providers and equipment manufacturers.  

Get Mic'd's Deb Munro (left) and Elley Ray Hennessy announce and cheer UVOS winner Tim Heller.  
Multi-talented VO Tim Heller (pictured) survived the gauntlet of months of earlier audition rounds and the Thursday night onstage competition of six finalists to be declared the winner of Get Micd's Ultimate Voice Over Survivor â€" Take 3 competition.  
The six finalists facing judges for the final round of hilarious performances of a challenging nonsense characters script â€" were:  
  • Kera O'Bryon, Halloween Howl winner (Episode 1)
  • George Nowik, Commercial Promo winner (Episode 2)
  • Sacha Chambers, Narration/Audiobook winner (Episode 3)
  • Chris Tester, Wildcard winner (Episode 3)
  • Tim Heller, Animation/Gaming winner (Episode 4)
  • Brian Doe Chua, Wildcard winner (Episode 4)  
Tim says today that he'd been searching for a way to "put myself out there in new ways. To grow my business, but more so, to meet people and build community."  
His friend and coach Melique Berger recommended entering the UVOS competition, and Tim submitted a video the next day.  
Many prizes were awarded during the competition, but Tim says "The greatest reward of the experience was getting to be in community with the Get Mic'd team, the other finalists, and everyone at VO Atlanta. The abundance of kindness and encouragement from my peers was truly overwhelming." 
The time-intensive Ultimate VO Survivor competition is the brainchild and labor of volunteer love by longtime voice talent/coaches Deb Munro and Elley Ray Hennessy. They are also partners in the Get Mic'd VO training company, which sponsors UVOS. 
"Eight months of love from 1821 storytellers got us to that moment of the final round," Deb and Elley say today.  
"The Get Mic'd team is beyond grateful for the outpouring of support from all the incredible talent who supported this venture, the generous sponsors who wanted to give back to the community, and the hard-working team of volunteers," they add. 
"But more importantly, we are grateful to Anna and J. Michael Collins for allowing us this grand opportunity to perform the final round in front of a live studio audience. We have created a family and say 'thank you' to the entire voice over community for helping us change the vibration of the planet and uplifting storytellers one at a time." 
You can enjoy all episodes here:  

Group Two celebrates its Team Challenge win. L-R: Finley Smith, Smurf Brown, Leslie Carter, Caleb Harrelson and Alicia Hiller. Absent from the photo: Yuliya Patsay, who'd departed the conference earlier. 
VO Atlanta's annual Team Challenge taps the talents of voice actors who form teams that are tasked with creating and producing a commercial for an Atlanta charity organization.  
This year's spot promoted the activities of the Lifeline Animal Project, which offers services and operates animal shelters in the Metro Atlanta area. 
"All nine teams did a fantastic job," says longtime Team Challenge organizer Dan Friedman, who is also a voice actor, coach, audio engineer and author. 
In a video played at the Sunday closing ceremony, Heather Friedman â€" the Project's Chief Marketing Officer â€" said the decision was difficult, but they chose the commercial created by Team Two. 
"The Lifeline Animal Project was the perfect organization for us to write a commercial for," says Team Two's Leslie Carter, who mixed and produced the commercial, and along with others, collaborated on the copy and voicing. 
"I am so passionate about my love of dogs," Leslie adds. "The first line of the commercial was me talking about my very own best friend. We all spoke from the heart, and I guess that came through."
Also on Team Two were Alicia Hiller, Caleb Harrelson, Finley Smith, Smurf Brown and Yuliya Patsay.  
"Collaborating with the team to craft a message on such a tight deadline was a fun challenge," Alicia says. "Seeing and hearing it all come together was great â€" especially for such a worthy cause."  
When the script was completed, team members read and were chosen for the various sections. 
"I have a slight southern accent so it was decided I would voice the last two lines of 'Atlanta bring the love home' and 'Our City Our Animals," Smurf says. "It meant so much that we were able to put together a spot that brings attention to so many animals that need help, love and a loving home. I'm a huge dog lover, so it meant the world that I could help."  
Caleb adds: "I had fun working on this challenge. The part of this project I helped the most on was setting the tone, meaning and structure of the script. Helping strategize what goes where, how we should say it, brainstorming ideas of who could say what. Unfortunately, I had to go to a meeting, so missed out on the finalizing of the script and recording the VO. Leslie killed the editing! She deserves special recognition."  
Finley chose the commercial's music, and Yuliya's voice role was the announcer. 
In the closing ceremony, J. Michael Collins noted that since the Unicorn Award focuses on voice actors only, a new honor was initiated this year: The VO Atlanta Industry Service Award
And the first winner: John Florian, founder and webmaster of VoiceOverXtra.  
Wow. It feels awkward to write about myself here, but that unexpected announcement had me (almost) speechless as I accepted the award with a hug from J. Michael, and approached the mic.  
Stalling to compose my thoughts, I flippantly said, "Somebody please take my picture," since I'm typically the one jumping into position to do that for a VoiceOverXtra article. (And thank-you to so many people who sent me a shot.) 
After thanking VO Atlanta for this tremendous honor, next to come to mind was how meaningful this conference has been to me for rekindling friendships â€" some reaching way back to 2007, the year of VoiceOverXtra's birth - which is also the year of the very first voice over conference, called VOICE. That was organized by James Alburger and Penny Abshire, and it was joy to see Jim again at VO Atlanta.  
Most rewarding, though â€" and something that never fails to give me goosebumps â€" was hearing from voice actors how my efforts had helped their voice over careers. For me, that's what it's all about.  
In the VO Atlanta exhibit hall, a stream of voice actors at the Gravy for the Brain training company's booth were recording something that invariably brought smiles and laughs: the Fox In Sox tongue-twister competition.  
It was won by Cherie B Tay, "the best 'human' who had only one mistake," earning her the Sennheiser MK4 mic prize, reports GFTB CEO and co-founder Hugh Edwards.  
"But the only contestant that managed it flawlessly was Carin Gilfry's AI model," Hugh laughs. "So the competition carries on. If anyone wants to enter it, they have to film themselves doing the entire book without a single mistake. The first person to do it is the winner!"  
The prize is free tickets to GFTB's One Voice Conference USA 2023 (August 10-13, Dallas) and VO Atlanta 2024 (next March in Atlanta).  
To enter, write to 
VoiceOverXtra traditionally sponsors a drawing at conferences, offering the winner their choice of an upcoming VoiceOverXtra webinar or the Voice Actor Hat.
There were so many entries at VO Atlanta, that cards for two winners were drawn. Congratulations to Renee Payne and Marc Remi!

VO Atlanta also welcomed voice actors Cynthia Makena, Terry Briscoe and Symphony Elmore to the conference, who in February were declared winners of the 2023 VO Peeps VO Atlanta Scholarships (see earlier article).  

Congratulations to all!   
The VO Atlanta Voiceover Conference returns in March 2024.
For more, please visit: 
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Comments (6)
Melissa Harlow
3/11/2024 at 3:55 PM
Jeff Gelder was on the stage again this year at VO Atlanta 2024 for acknowledgement of his previous Unicorn Award in 2023. What a delightful and authentic person and it was very special to meet him. Of course he is in San Diego!
John Florian
3/31/2023 at 10:13 AM
Thank you, Mark!
John Florian
3/31/2023 at 10:06 AM
Thanks, Doug! Great to hear from you.
Mark Smith
3/31/2023 at 10:05 AM
Congratulations John! Well-deserved. Your newsletter is very informative, and I always look forward to reading them.
Doug de Nance
3/31/2023 at 9:57 AM
Congrats on the award, John. Nobody more deserving for the first industry service award than you!
Janice Hunter
3/31/2023 at 8:52 AM
John, You are an amazing writer. As I read this article, It was as if I were listening to you reading . Thank you!!!
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