“The Kool-Aid man is all about joy and summer and the good feelings that come from having good times with your friends,” Powell says of the well-rounded mascot. “He’s affirmative, positive and loud. I think they were looking for a big kid, and that’s what the difference was.”
Powell did impressions from a young age and came into his own at Faith Lutheran High School in Las Vegas where the theater program welcomed experimentation with characters and wacky voices. During a presentation of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, in which Powell played Dr. Phil during a puppet show portion (don’t ask), he did his first sustained impression for an audience and “just fell in love with it,” he says.
At CUI, he was a theater major and imitated people around him to hone his craft. To capture the sound of Winnie the Pooh, Powell “reverse engineered” it by starting with an imitation of recently retired communications professor Martin Schramm, whose vocal pattern, Powell says, has “a very similar cadence to Sterling Holloway, who did Winnie the Pooh’s voice in the sixties.”
Love doesn’t even express how I felt about Concordia.
He also mimicked provost Peter Senkbeil’s voice “because he’s kind of like Jeff Goldblum, and I’ve told him that.” (Powell continues to do his Senkbeil impression for character auditions.)
But at the time he limited his impressions mainly to lunch tables in the caf.
“I knew I wanted to act but was afraid of it because it’s such a high chance of failure,” he says. “I tried to run away from it by running into church work, which was not my direct calling. I thought, that’s got to be what God wants.”
On the first Around-the-World trip, God changed his mind when a fellow student asked, while they were walking around Israel, “What is the weirdest thing you could see yourself doing with your theater degree?” What came out of Brock’s mouth surprised him: “I would like to be a voice actor and take over for a Disney character.”
It just came out,” Powell says. “I realized this is exactly what I want to do. Had I known that it was an incredibly difficult business to get in, I might not have done it because I went about it the completely wrong way but it seemed to work out.”
Powell says his CUI experience was foundational. “Love doesn’t even express how I felt about Concordia,” he says. “It was home, a source of confidence and imagination, the blue-sky thinking that Walt Disney talked about. I could come up with an idea and there wouldn’t be any objection. It would be faculty, staff and students saying, ‘Let’s make that happen.’ I felt really empowered.
That made all the difference. Many auditions I had at Concordia and the classes I took were more intense than sessions I’ve done for big companies. I now carry in a level of professionalism that Concordia prepared me with.”
Perhaps most importantly, Powell claims to have named CUI’s mascot, Marty the Eagle.
“I was a freshman doing a student blog while working in Admissions,” he says. “I said why don’t we name him Marty? Because we have Martin Luther and Martin Schramm. I always loved Professor Schramm. I don’t think I ever told him I named the Eagle after him.”
After graduating, Powell got a job at Disneyland doing a voice in the live show, Turtle Talk with Crush, then became a plaid-vested tour guide. He then took a risk and contacted Bill Farmer, the voice of Goofy, one of Powell’s favorite characters.
“I had always been good about seeking strong mentors and felt like if I was wasting my time, this guy would tell me,” Powell says.
The Farmers invited him over, and so began a continuing mentorship that Powell credits for where he is today.
I find it important to keep a good group of friends who are doing what I’m doing to cheer each other on.
“Bill taught me that anyone can do a funny voice but it’s got to come from a good heart,” Powell says. “It’s about being kind to everybody, no matter what—to the sound engineer and front desk person. These were things I knew growing up in a Lutheran school and Concordia, but Bill exemplified this. He embodied hard work, humility and hopefulness. He’s one of the most pleasant and optimistic people I’ve ever met. He’s become like family.”
They worked together for a couple of years and one day Farmer said, “You know you’re good, right?” Powell recalls, “So I stopped taking lessons, put together my demo, got my first agent and started to audition and work.”
The opportunity to voice Kool-Aid brand’s iconic spokes-jug arrived last year. The audition was unusual because it involved saying the same two words—“Oh, yeah!”— in dozens of different ways.
“I owe Lori Siekmann and Tony Vezner, theater profs at Concordia, because they taught me to express a width of emotions and perspectives with two words,” Powell says.
The hardest challenge was doing a bird call while saying, “Oh, yeah.”
“We combined a little water and something like a wookie roar and they loved it,” he says. “In voice-over they say you know it when you hear it.”
Powell got the job and celebrated that night with the Farmers. The second person he called was Tony Vezner. Powell’s voice can now be heard in half a dozen Kool-Aid commercials, including a cross-promotion with Progressive’s spokeswoman, Flo.
“You never know how long you have a certain character but I am grateful and hope they continue to use me to bring life to this big, jovial jug,” Powell says.
Powell works nearly full time doing voices for audio books, video games, toys and commercials. His other voice work recently premiered on Disney XD with Weird Al Yankovic, another hero. He has a close group of friends in the voice-acting community, including the current voice of the Lucky Charms Leprechaun.
“I find it important to keep a good group of friends who are doing what I’m doing to cheer each other on,” he says. “If you’re having an off week your friend is probably having an up week.”
Powell also relies on the Bible. His favorite verse: Jeremiah 29:13, which says, “You will seek me and you will find me when you seek me with your whole heart.”
“I’ve always liked that one, and I’ve found it to be true,” he says. “There is somehow a purpose in everything that happens, and the bad stuff turns to good stuff. When I was a kid my grandfather used to ask me, ‘Faith or fear?’ You get a choice. As an actor and a person, you’ve got to choose faith.”
His time at Concordia solidified that lesson.
“Concordia had such a wonderful effect on me,” Powell says. “I felt comfortable as a person first, which allows me to achieve what I need to as an actor. That’s the biggest thing. It provided a really strong starting place.”