David Holmes did not appear to be a likely candidate for "Dream Job," the ESPN reality show that puts a one-year contract as a "SportsCenter" anchor up for grabs. The 22-year-old Kent State University senior admits he wasn't exactly the hottest man on the set.
"My girlfriend would joke around and say how cute the other guys were," Holmes confesses in the same good-natured, gee-whiz tone of all-time "Jeopardy" winner Ken Jennings. On top of that, Holmes was so bad on camera he was almost cut in the show's third week. The four "Dream Job" judges were split, but viewers' online votes saved him.
"I watched some tapes, and I thought, Wow, this is pretty brutal. This is not going to be a good experience if I keep this up —it's going to be a short experience," he recalls.
Fortunately, America knows a good thing when it sees it and Holmes improved enough during the final seven weeks of the season to beat out the eight remaining contestants to win the prized "SportsCenter" gig and a new Mazda 6.
As it turns out, he was a natural for the job. As a kid growing up in Uniontown, Holmes says he spent more time figuring percentages and averages for games than playing them. "I could never play a basketball game on my driveway without writing down the stats of the imaginary players," he says. "I've always been a real fan of sports and also the numbers, just the trivia around it."
He passed up opportunities to attend smaller colleges on golf scholarships to study broadcast journalism at Kent State University, where he served as general manager, sports anchor and basketball play-by-play announcer at the campus television station.
"When the time came, I wanted to go into broadcast sports, no matter what," he says.
Holmes attended open tryouts in Cleveland for the February 2004 debut season of "Dream Job" and was picked as an alternate after surviving rounds in Chicago and New York. He auditioned again for the second season and was selected as one of two "wild-card" candidates for the show.
The dozen candidates moved into a hotel near Madison Square Garden and embarked on a number of high-pressure tasks: debate, sports-highlight and mock "SportsCenter" segments and interviews with professional athletes and analysts.
After his disastrous third week as a "Dream Job" contestant, Holmes says he began to relax and started acting like his old hanging-out-with-the-guys self on camera.
"Everyone said, You're probably going to go next week,' " he remembers. "So I thought, If I'm going to go, I'm going to go like me, with a little personality. The judges raved the next week. After the fourth or fifth week, I started to have fun."
Of course, the fun has only just begun. He's already signed autographs for employees at the McDonald's near the KSU campus and been approached at stoplights by other motorists who get out of their vehicles just to congratulate him. At press time, he was planning a move to an apartment near ESPN's Bristol, Conn., headquarters prior to the January start of his new job. He's also started thinking about how he's going to spend his $70,000 salary.
"The first thing you got to do is get that nice TV to watch ESPN on," he says only half jokingly. (He's looking at a couple of flat-screen models.) He's also adding some television-personality pizzazz to his image.
"I've actually thrown a little pink and purple into the wardrobe in the last couple of weeks," Holmes admits. "Everything I was doing was blue and black. I always ask ["Dream Job" host and "SportsCenter" anchor] Stuart Scott for advice — he's doing the whole striped-tie-on-a-striped-shirt thing. But Michael Ervin and "Neon" Deion Sanders, they all wear the loud stuff. I can't pull that off."