It's rare when a child actor can enjoy longevity in the business. Especially when he had a unique look for years.
For most of the '90s, actor Jaleel White grew up in everyone's living room on the sitcom "Family Matters" as geeky next-door neighbor Steve Urkel.
While the show still airs in reruns, White has made a career for himself without getting typecast as a geek.
He has tried it all -- serialized TV, movies and even reality shows. In Food Network's "Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition," airing Wednesdays, White and other celebrities try to hone their cooking skills with the help of Rachael Ray and chef Anne Burrell.
amNewYork spoke with White about his lengthy career and the changing climate of entertainment.
What do you think qualifies as being the worst cook in America?
You know I kind of resent that tag! They have to name the show for people to watch but I'm like, "I don't think I'm that bad!" It's a great title and a funny premise. Any time you set a clock when other people aren't used to cooking under time constraints, that's where your humor is going to come from.
Reality TV has completely changed the game, in that it's added to this immediacy in how we consume pop culture.
Oh yeah! I'm not even one of those veteran actors that's going to knock it. It's like the emergence of rap music in the '90s. It's a genre. It's a game changer. It's born with the YouTube generation, because they're very comfortable with seeing images that are raw, and look grittier. It gives you the feeling that you're right there. It's what we're used to now. It's here to stay so I picked my spots.
When "Family Matters" ended it was a completely different world. There wasn't many reality shows out there. Did you struggle coming off a show like that?
I went to college and that's what you did then. It's interesting how times change, because, if I were coming off a television show now, I wouldn't have gone to college. I was right on the cusp of that. Fred Savage and myself -- we were the last generation of kids that felt any kind of obligation to go that route. This current generation is smart enough to pick up and move right into their careers.
The Internet has really pushed the constructs of celebrity. These kids now that are growing up in the business have no anonymity.
No, they don't. They're all in! It's kind of crazy. I was pretty responsible in college, too, but I see some of the backlashes that people take for doing silly things that young people should be able to do. That's how it is now, and these kids grow up with a whole different level of awareness.
All of the '90s shows are making a comeback, and now with Netflix picking up the spinoff to "Full House", I'm sure people ask if you would do a spinoff to "Family Matters"?
I really wish I had the answer, where I could give a yes or a no. What I know is this, "Full House" worked for different reasons that "Family Matters" worked. The comedy that we pursued was more along the lines of "Honeymooners," and "Full House" was more "cute." We weren't cute in every way possible. Any reboot, I'm not sure it could be PG. I almost feel like "Family Matters" would work better today in satirical form. That's my personal take on it.
What is it about TV that speaks to you as an entertainer?
I love single camera right now. Television is better than the film industry right now. There's nobody in television right now that can say, in this point in time, "You're neglecting us." Everyone is represented across the spectrum right now in something that's compelling on a cable channel somewhere.
It's not just drama either. I was watching "The Carmichael Show" and that sitcom is breaking barriers.
I love it! You could tell whoever surrounds Jerrod, they're shepherding his voice, and quite frankly, two or three years ago, that couldn't have happened, but "Empire" is here, "Black-ish" is here, and "Power" is here. The NAACP awards are looking like the NAACP awards and not just the Tyler Perry awards right now. It's fantastic. The show is refreshing, especially in the day where everyone has to be politically correct. I wish him well. When people like that do well, it makes people think about me and the opportunities that can be.
On TV: "Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition" airs on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Food Network.
The other celebrity contestants
You know him from: Playing Steve Urkel on "Family Matters."
You know him from: Playing Clark Kent/Superman on "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman."
You know her from: "Saturday Night Live," where she impersonated the likes of Gladys Knight and Anita Hill, and from her recurring character Queen Shenequa.
Jenni 'JWoww' Farley
You know her from: The reality series "Jersey Shore" and the spinoff "Snooki & JWoww" with her pal Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi.
You know him from: His appearance as a contestant on "The Bachelorette" and then getting signed for the 19th season of "The Bachelor." He's also competed on "Dancing With the Stars."
You know her from: She was one of Hugh Hefner's girlfriends before moving on to numerous reality series, including "The Girls Next Door," "Dancing With the Stars" and "Kendra on Top."
You know him from: Playing Greg Brady on "The Brady Bunch." He can currently be seen on the stage at "70s Music Celebration Starring Barry Williams" in Branson, Missouri.