The diversely talented VJ Hume

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June Allison Corrigan

Actress, musician and radio host VJ Hume won the Sidney Harmon Award in the Desert Stars Awards in October.

In October, Valerie-Jean (VJ) Hume was honored to receive the Sidney Harmon Award during Desert Theatre League’s annual Desert Stars Awards ceremony. The accolade recognizes not only her body of work but also lauds her for the advancement of theatrical excellence, both on and off the stage.

“It’s lovely to be recognized by my peers,” says Hume. “And it’s a great healing as well, because in all honesty, when you’re up there receiving an award, people don’t know about all the rejections and the heartbreaks and the setbacks and the things that didn’t work out and the changes that you had to make. All the times your part turned out to be just one line.”

Canadian-born Hume may have occasionally uttered only one line in a movie or TV show, but the overall arc of her career indicates she’s far from a one-note performance. Her versatility and diverse skill set are actually part of the secret to her long-running success in the cutthroat entertainment business.

Seeking the footlights

A theatre major at the University of Saskatchewan, Hume headed to Toronto upon graduation. “I expected to shoot to stardom instantly like everybody does,” she says now with a laugh. “But of course at every audition I went to, there were already 200 girls all prettier than I was with more experience and sophistication.”

Her solution? As a fledgling actress, Hume neatly skirted the starving artist routine by expanding her repertoire to include such endeavors as modeling, radio and music to help pay the bills.

Some of the avenues she explored as she struggled to make her way included setting up and teaching a successful modeling course at a community college and hosting a teen radio program.

Later, Hume took to the road as a traveling musician, first with a band and then out on her own. Her instrument of choice was the autoharp, and it accompanied her as she sang her way across Canada. Eventually, her musical talents enabled her to land a gig on a cruise ship — a move that ultimately launched 11 years of adventures on the high seas.

Hume says she walked away from theater for awhile because the music industry was so much better to her. During her transition to full-time musician, she read a lot of biographies and autobiographies — everyone from Frank Sinatra to Bette Midler.

“I wanted to know... who succeeds? What makes the difference? And after reading all these books the only conclusion that I could come to was the people who succeeded were the ones who stuck with it,” she says.

Dogged determination

So Hume added perseverance to her tool box and kept going. When she finally stepped off the cruise ships, she worked the lounge scene in Florida for a time and thought she might do the same following a move to Los Angeles in 1986. Unfortunately, lounges were on the wane by that time in the City of Angels. It was a different story here in the desert however, and that it is how she came to land an engagement at the Rivera Hotel in Palm Springs.

The Coachella Valley could have been just another stop on Hume’s well-traveled road but interestingly enough, she knew within hours of arriving that she’d found her true home. She set down roots, and it wasn’t long before she starting flexing her acting muscle again, finding roles in regional theater and trekking to L.A. to audition for and frequently land spots in commercials, TV shows and movies. Between 1988 and 2006, she also hosted a popular local radio program called “VJ’s Corner” that featured “eyeball to eyeball” interviews with people from all walks of life.

“What I found out eventually is you don’t have to just do one thing. You can do a whole number of things,” Hume says. “Unfortunately, I was never hugely talented in one area that was going to make me a star in any one arena. I was talented in a number of different areas. Just not mega-talented in any one of them. So the best thing for me was to pursue all these things.”

It’s a formula that continues to work for Hume and the real explanation as to how she’s been able to carve out a long-lasting entertainment career. Whereas many others give up because they get so discouraged, this versatile performer has managed to keep going. There have been many times when Hume was working five different jobs at the same time – and thoroughly enjoying it.

Not for the faint of heart

Hume admits it takes courage. “You have to be willing to try something that often doesn’t have a blueprint.” Mentors? “This new emphasis on mentors is wonderful, but nobody ever mentored me,” she says. All she had were those biographies she read voraciously, plus one other book that crystallized her outlook.

In her 30s, Hume read the job-hunting, career-changing bible What Color is Your Parachute? and the quizzes contained within helped narrow her focus. Listing the activities she knew she absolutely could not give up — music, theater, modeling, voice-overs among them — it suddenly dawned on her that she could be all those things if she just called herself an entertainer, rather than any one thing.

“It changed my life because up until then I’d always felt sort of scattered,” she says. “There are people who will say you’ve got to learn to do one thing and do it well but I think that’s the worst advice you can give anybody. You have to do everything. People have to explore everything that’s in them and not sell themselves short.”

And so VJ Hume moves forward with that firmly cemented philosophy. She recently accepted four roles with Desert Rose Playhouse for their Christmas production. She’s always looking for new venues to perform the play she wrote entitled LUSH! She can found playing the autoharp and singing in different languages at various engagements around the valley.

“I’m kind of fearless at this point. I don’t know if I’ll ever have to invent another wheel. But I can certainly keep all the other wheels rolling that I’ve invented for myself before.”