The Next Great Voices in Podcasting Are Here

We asked for it, and we got it. Announcing the 2021 class of the Audible Podcast Development Program, who shared their voices, stories, and visions with us.

Sometimes it seems like everybody has a podcast. Since the medium's ascent in the mid-2000s, a growing number of first-timers and enthusiasts have joined media companies, brands, and studios to create more podcasts than ever before. The field is incredibly competitive. It’s easier for people to participate, but harder for individual creators to stand out, and for listeners to find them.

As part of Audible's longstanding mission to collaborate with emerging creators, we started the Podcast Development Program. We wanted to find fresh voices we hadn’t heard and give them the opportunity to reach millions of listeners. We asked for inventive, immersive, and original ideas, strong creative visions, and a willingness to take risks. We were flexible about professional experience—successful applicants ranged from beginners to experienced audio storytellers—and especially keen to partner with creators from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

Response was overwhelming. From a pool of thousands of applications worldwide, in a range of genres from true crime to self-development and everything in between, six projects were selected and are currently in production for projected 2022 release. Look out for more details as they become available; for now, get to know the next generation of tomorrow's must-hear podcasts.

Aida Holly-Nambi and Maeve Frances, Blood & Spice

A Ugandan born and raised in Kenya, Aida Holly-Nambi holds a dual PhD in Drama and Humanities from Stanford University. From 2017 to 2020 Aida was the Director of Arts and Culture for an Africa-wide LGBTQ+ digital media organization, None on Record, where she was part of the team that produced and reported the award-winning podcast AfroQueer alongside Maeve Frances, a Nairobi-based radio journalist who has covered migration and conflict in the Middle East and South East Asia for major media outlets. Their project, Blood & Spice will investigate the true story of Zanzibar's most notorious enslaver, Tippu Tip.

First word or sound out of your mouth when you heard you were selected?

Aida: "I clapped my hands and expressed my gratitude again and again."

Maeve: "It wasn't a sound out of my mouth! It was the sound of me rolling up my (metaphorical) sleeves to get going!"

One fun fact about you?

Aida: "Fun for me, not so fun for other people. It takes me a long time to get bored, I ate the same thing for breakfast for 10 straight years: porridge. These days with a toddler, I’ll mix it up. We’ll have crumpets or granola, occasionally porridge."

Maeve: "I grew up in Perth, Australia, which is often cited as one of the most isolated cities in the world. It takes 28 hours to drive to Adelaide, the closest major city!"

The first podcast you ever listened to and loved?

Aida: "It was Serial. I finished listening to the whole thing, and then made my family listen to it, all while we were away at a cabin in Kenya for the Christmas holidays. I then did the same with a group of friends."

Maeve: "I listened to The Moth religiously on public radio in Australia. I distinctly remember the episode 'Foxy' about a magazine editor getting into a confrontation with Foxy Brown."

Where’s your happy place?

Aida: "My happy place is usually with massive headphones while sitting in my garden, (weather permitting) surrounded by family as I go on a journey with my ears."

Maeve: "My happy place is Karura Forest, it's a large urban forest in Nairobi (where I live). The land was protected from development by Kenya's Nobel laureate, Wangari Maathai." 

Oscar Sifuentes, Just Desserts

This is writer Oscar Sifuentes's first journey into podcasting. He majored in English and psychology at Brevard College, with a minor in creative writing, and has self-published a novel, American Legends. His selected project, Just Desserts is a YA comedy/mystery that takes place in an ice cream shop whose teenage coworkers plan to infiltrate a local gang.

First word or sound out of your mouth when you heard you were selected?

Oscar: "I think it was a very guttural, instinctual 'yes.' You never know how you’re going to react in that moment, I didn’t want to embarrass myself."

One fun fact about you?

Oscar: "I was 13 or 14 years old when I started taking college courses through my high school that was on the same campus of the community college. One day I was sniffling because of allergies and I was in a computer systems class. One of the older students said, 'Don’t worry, don’t stress, it gets easier. It’s not that big a deal.' And I was like, 'No, no, I just have allergies.'”

The first podcast you ever listened to and loved?

Oscar: "I think the first podcast I listened to was Serial. Normally, that wouldn’t be in my top jam. But my mom and sister were very into it."

Where’s your happy place?

Oscar: "I go to this park very close to my house. It’s where my creative juices start flowing, and I listen to podcasts and music. But I’m just as happy at home with my family; they usually talk about the trouble I used to get into when I was a kid."

Noor Wazwaz and Obaid Siddiqui, Burn, Baby, Burn

Noor Wazwaz was previously a producer at Vox Media, NPR, and Magnificent Noise, a production house for podcasts and audio shows. Obaid Siddiqui, a writer, freelance journalist, and content marketer, started following the story of Jamil-Al-Amin, better known as iconic Civil Rights leader H. Rap Brown, almost 10 years ago. Their project, Burn, Baby, Burn is a true crime podcast that will follow Brown's rise, fall, rebirth, and eventual incarceration—which continues, despite another man's confession to the crime.

First word or sound out of your mouth when you heard you were selected?

Noor: "Oh, wow! Oh, my God!"

Obaid: "Woo! I definitely wanted to get up and start dancing."

One fun fact about you?

Noor: "My husband is Indian; my family is Middle Eastern Palestinian. I like to see what happens when I put the two cuisines together, with all the spices and flavor. Sometimes it works out!"

Obaid: "I was born in Birmingham, Alabama. It throws people. My look, my beard, my face do not add up to being born in Birmingham, Al. My father is from India; my mother, Pakistan. Sometimes my Southern accent sneaks in."

The first podcast you ever listened to and loved?

Noor: "Invisibilia. I was in a journalism graduate program and one of my professors put it on. It was such a different medium that I wasn’t used to in terms of storytelling and the intimacy. I was captivated."

Obaid: "It wasn’t the first but I can say Serial was a game changer in the South Asian community. There was always one person who knew someone who knew the subject of that story. Serial convinced me of the power of storytelling at that level."

Where’s your happy place?

Noor: "Jerusalem. I’ve never lived there but visited a couple of times when I was a child. My dad was born there. No matter what’s going on in the region, it feels so peaceful when walking through the old city. The history, all the different religions, it has so much presence. There’s something about it that consumes me."

Obaid: "My happy place is at a table with family and friends; it’s always been—great conversation and great food. The one dish we always expect is my mother’s amazing samosa. I never tasted samosa like hers anywhere else." (He told us maybe he’ll send some by special delivery.)

Paige Gilbert and William Moore, Sage the Podcast

Paige Gilbert has performed on and off Broadway, appeared in numerous films, including director Rhys Ernst's hilarious Adam, and is a tarot practitioner. William Moore is an actor, writer and photographer who also practices tarot and plays soul bowls. He calls himself an “anti-disciplinary artist.” Their project, Sage the Podcast envisions a journey through Blackness, queerness, and artistic wellness; their goal is to “heal the hood.”

First word or sound out of your mouth when you heard you were selected?

Paige: "I screamed. I was like, WOW!”

William: (INIMITABLE SCREAM) "Oh my God!"

One fun fact about you?

Paige: "I made my Broadway debut in 2019. I played Bessie in Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo. I think that role is usually played by a white woman. I was probably the first Black woman to play it [on Broadway]."

William: "Not sure if it’s fun, but I’ve been a vegan for four years. Last night I ordered in a pesto panini that had cashew cheese, which wasn’t great. I could’ve made better cheese."

The first podcast you ever listened to and loved?

Paige: "The 1619 Project. That was the first podcast that really transported me, and it was informative, but also just made me feel like I was going somewhere."

William: "The one that’s coming to my brain right now is Jemele Hill Is Unbothered. I love how candid and honest she is, and all she wants from her guests is the truth."

Where’s your happy place?

Paige: "The dance floor. I love to dance. I love soul music, house music, R&B. I love seeing people move, and it doesn’t matter who you are—so much expression and emotion can come out of the body when you dance."

William: "My ultimate happy place is at home in Detroit, Michigan, with my parents and family. All of my family's there for the most part. Yeah, that's my happy place."

Erika Kelley, Welcome to Touché

Four years ago, former HGTV producer Erika Kelley traded reality television for BET and HBO, where she served as a producer’s assistant. She is now turning her storytelling talents to audio with Welcome to Touché, a soap opera/mystery podcast about a man’s vision to create a modern-day Black Wall Street—and his disappearance. Erika is an alumna of Lena Waithe’s Hillman Grad Mentorship Lab.

First word or sound out of your mouth when you heard you were selected?

Erika: "I cupped my face, and then said, 'Oh, my gosh,' and then I started to cry."

One fun fact about you?

Erika: "I’m a classical pianist. I started when I was three years old, taking lessons from my father, a pianist. I went to a performing arts high school and played for about 18 years. One day I decided I didn’t want to play piano; instead, I wanted to write."

The first podcast you ever listened to and loved?

Erika: "The Friend Zone. That was five years ago. I loved it and the idea that we’re going back to listening to stories on the radio."

Where’s your happy place?

Erika: "My parents' home in Houston, Texas. That is home for me, where I feel nurtured and comfortable with people who support my vision. So, yeah, my home with my parents is my happy place."

Colleen Thurston and Allison Herrera, Lighthorse

Colleen Thurston (left), a member of the Choctaw Nation, is a documentary producer and assistant professor at the University of Arkansas in the School of Journalism and Strategic Media. She earned two Emmy Awards for her work as producer/writer on the series, Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People. Allison Herrera, who has Native ties to the Xolon Salinan tribe, is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio, and High Country News’s Indigenous Affairs desk. Their upcoming podcast, Lighthorse will shine a light on the 200-year federal and state overreach of five of the largest American Tribal Nations.

First word or sound out of your mouth when you heard you were selected?

Colleen: "I might have gasped. I was in disbelief, so surprised."

Allison: "Actually, I didn’t have a reaction. It’s really Colleen’s story. I’m just the producer and I’m proud to be able to assist her."

One fun fact about you?

Colleen: "I hate snakes but I like spiders. I used to have a pet tarantula."

Allison: "I’ve taken flamenco lessons."

The first podcast you ever listened to and loved?

Colleen: "The first podcast I really remember getting into other than This American Life was Serial. I think that's probably a really common answer, but I will never forget when it came out."

Allison: "Definitely Serial. Right now, I’m really enjoying Slate’s One Year."

Where’s your happy place?

Colleen: "I love to be in the water. I love to go to the lake. I love to go to the ocean. I love to go to the pool."

Allison: "On the couch with a glass of wine, watching Marvel movies with my daughter."

For more information, please visit the Audible Podcast Development Program.

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