On September 11, 2000, BET premiered a live show called 106 & Park, named for the location of the studio at East 106th st and Park Avenue in Harlem. Ten years later, it’s still on the air. For so many people, it’s become a ritual to turn on BET at 6pm to see which videos are on the countdown and which artists are going to stop by and chat with the hosts.
On the day 106 premiered, I was 14. I remember so clearly turning on the TV and seeing Free and AJ for the first time, standing on the set with the couch and the television screens in the background. They welcomed everyone to the show and introduced the number ten video. I shut the TV off and said to myself that the show was wack. My 14 year old self was obsessed with TRL on MTV. I saw this show on BET as a copycat, urban, knockoff version that would never last. Obviously, I didn’t know anything.
This past week, two specials aired to celebrate 10 years. The hosts reunion that had all six hosts from the past ten years. Free and AJ, who hosted from 2000-2005, Julissa and Big Tigger who hosted from 2005-2006 and Terrance and Rosci who started in 2006 and are the current hosts. It was the first time all six of them were in the same room and they reminisced on their best memories. On Thursday, they had a big celebration for two hours, with appearances by artists who have a strong history with the show from Ja Rule, Ashanti, Nelly and Chris Brown. It was a great trip down memory lane.
Today, I can say that I have grown up with 106 and I genuinely loved it when it was in its prime. There was a time it was required watching if you wanted to be in the conversation at school the next day. There was a time I cared which video was number one and I’d actually go on the website everyday to vote my favorite videos on the countdown. 106 was a place where artists that were too “urban” for a TRL audience could come and perform for their core fans. There are artists that blew up because of 106. In the early days it was a place for black artists to visit to promote their work and now it doesn’t matter what race you are. If you want the urban audience to see your movie, read your book, or buy your album, you go on 106. There have been many changes over the past 10 years. There have been moments that have made me laugh, moments that made me cry, moments where it felt like the show was a part of my life. To celebrate 10 years, I’ll look back and remember my favorite moments from BET’s most successful show.
To this day, people say they want AJ and Free to come back. Celebrities who were on the celebration episode looked at them and said you guys are 106. You were there when it started. And because of that, they are considered the best. Were they the best hosts? No. Did they get on my nerves sometimes? Yeah. But they were like family. They had great chemistry with each other, and celebrities who came on the show seemed to love them. There were moments I yelled at the TV for them to shut up. They used to talk over each other, repeat each other and sometimes yell. But on that last day, when AJ cried on live TV with Free on the phone, announcing that they would be leaving, I cried with him. It was the end of an era. On the reunion show, they were both asked why they left and they were both very vague. It seems like there were issues behind the scenes that they don’t want to talk about.
Big Tigger and Julissa were brought in. I loved them as hosts. They were familiar faces on BET, they were funny and professional. Probably the best interviewers. Julissa became the first Latina to host the show. It only lasted a year until permanent hosts could be found, which gave us Terrance and Rosci.
I remember watching them on their first day and not believing how young they were. They’re the same age as me. It was like I was hosting the show. They’ve improved since then, but I can’t stand them. They don’t have great interview skills and sometimes have trouble reading the teleprompter. On the reunion special, rapper The Game insinuated a personal relationship between the two, which is a rumor that has been around for a while. A memorable moment is when Terrance was making fun of Rosci and she walked off the stage. It was an uncomfortable moment in the shows history that they did not talk about on the reunion show. They will never replace AJ and Free. When 106 is long canceled, AJ and Free are the hosts that will be remembered.
There are artists who owe their careers to 106 and Park. The ones that come to mind are Bow Wow, B2K, Ja Rule, Ashanti, Nelly, Pretty Ricky, Trey Songz, and Chris Brown, but there are others. These artists would not be who they are without this show. It was where they got to interact with their fans and perform in front of a large audience. There was a time when it mattered what the number one video was. I had to watch to see which artists were going to be on the couch and premiere the “new joint of the day.” Something pointed out in the celebration show was how 106 showcased the new dances. From the chicken noodle soup, to the Soulja Boy, to the Harlem shake and the Dougie, it was on 106 for the audience to learn. That’s so true. I remember watching Chris Brown do the chicken noodle soup on the show and screaming my head off. I wouldn’t be a Keyshia Cole fan, a Keri Hilson fan, an Ashanti fan or an Omarion fan if it wasn’t for 106.
Music was also represented on the show with Freestyle Friday. In the early days, Freestyle Friday could not be missed. It was a segment on the show that created actual careers for rappers like Posta Boy and Jin. I used to love when the rappers would put Free and AJ in their verses, it would make me laugh. But when AJ and Free left, it sort of fell off. There was the disastrous phase where they had rappers sing original songs with a dance. That didn’t last long. Now they’re trying to bring it back to its roots by having two MC’s battle each other, but it’s not the same for me. I remember the old days.
Here’s a few of my most memorable moments from 106 and Park.
- Aaliyah’s last appearance. She came on the show to give away a Cadillac to a fan. She announced that she was shooting the “Rock the Boat” video that weekend. Three days later she passed away. After her death, 106 was the show to watch for all the updates. I remember after it happened, Usher was on for some reason and started singing some slow song for her. I burst in to tears.
- Michael Jackson’s “You Rock My World” video premiered in 2001 and they showed it on BET every hour. Usher was on again and danced on the stage with Free and the audience to the song. I remember standing in my basement and dancing with them.
- NSYNC appearing on the show. Justin Timberlake said he had a “weakness for the sistas.” A few months later the “Girlfriend” video premiered and he had a black girl as his love interest. Free and AJ took credit for that.
- Destiny’s Child performed “Soldier” and Michelle fell right on her bum at the beginning of the performance.
- AJ giving Janet Jackson a lap dance.
- Madonna’s appearance only because it was so awkward.
- Rosci revealing she struggled with anorexia.
Do I think 106 and Park will last another ten years? No. Yes, it outlived TRL. It’s one of the only shows on TV that still plays music videos, but times are changing. Kids don’t have to turn on 106 to see the latest videos anymore, like I had to, they can just turn on a laptop. Now that I’m older, I realize that 106 is a teen show. When I was a teen, it didn’t feel like it. However, with it opening up to feature pop artists and actors of all races and genres, it has a wide appeal. To me, someone who has watched from day one, it’s lost its essence. Today Freestyle Friday is sponsored by Kia, Wildout Wednesday is sponsored by Coke. It doesn’t feel as organic as it used to. It doesn’t feel as real. Maybe because I’m not in the target audience anymore. I flip it on and don’t even know some of the songs on the countdown. I’m outgrowing it.
No matter how much longer 106 and Park lasts, I will always look back on it with fond memories. That show represents my teenage years and music when it was good, in my opinion. It’s a show that’s kept me company, made me laugh, made me want to be a VJ (is it weird I still think I’d be a better host than all six hosts?), and made me feel part of something. For this Canadian girl, 106 made me feel a part of American hip hop culture. I could write a ten page paper on 106 and Park and it’s impact on music, but I had to keep it short.
Feel free to comment with your favorite memories from the past ten years of 106 and Park.