Ashleigh Crystal Hairston Discusses The Fairly OddParents: A New Wish And The Creativity Of Animation

Ashleigh Hairston Headshot. Image Credit to Gregory Wallace Photography.
Ashleigh Hairston Headshot. Image Credit to Gregory Wallace Photography. /

Ashleigh Crystal Hairston is a name to pay attention to as a rising star in the animation circuit. As a writer and voice actor, Ashleigh Crystal Hairston understands the growth of an animated series from all angles. Imagination is endless with animation, as storytellers are given the ability to create anything they want without being confined to human capabilities.

Having participated in numerous animated shows, Ashleigh Crystal Hairston is also one of the forefront names of one of Nickelodeon's latest projects, The Fairly OddParents: A New Wish. This sequel series finds Cosmo and Wanda returning to help a new leading protagonist, Hazel, find happiness. Ashleigh Crystal Hairston writes on the show and voices the main character.

Culturess: Why did you think it was time to continue The Fairly OddParents story?

Ashleigh Crystal Hairston: We were really excited to continue the legacy of The Fairly OddParents because it's such a beloved show. There are so many different iterations that we can create just with the structure of The Fairly OddParents. So with Cosmo and Wanda, keeping the same fairy godparents but them being able to have a new God-Kid, I feel like there are unlimited stories that we can tell. We wanted to keep the story going but we wanted to tell it in a new location and we wanted to showcase a new God-Kid so that we can see all the different kinds of wishes that she can make. Hazel Wells, who's our new God-Kid. She's very different from Timmy, and I think that's really something important for kids to see. What does wish-making look like for a kid who hasn't had it so easy or who isn't just your average kid? It's really exciting to keep the story going.

Culturess: You said that Hazel is different from Timmy. What makes her a different type of protagonist?

Ashleigh Crystal Hairston: Timmy's problems were more external where he was dealing with checked-out parents and an evil babysitter, everyone was so mean to him all the time, and Hazel's problems are a lot more internal. She's dealing with identity issues. She's moving into a new city, she's having to make new friends, she's without her older brother, who has always been her anchor, and she's really had to pull that courage from within herself, and she's questioning, 'Can she do it?' Can she make this new city and this new life her home? She's dealing with a lot more emotional changes that a lot of kids go through. But that's probably the biggest difference between her and Timmy.

Culturess: Did you watch the original Fairly OddParents to get familiar with the world?

Ashleigh Crystal Hairston: Oh, yeah. I was familiar with it already. I didn't grow up watching it. I was already well into high school by then. But, I was very familiar with the show, loved Cosmo and Wanda, loved the theme song, it's a classic theme song that I think everybody loves. When I got the job, I definitely went back down memory lane and re-watched a lot of the episodes. I think I watched maybe seasons one through five to brush up. I didn't make it all the way to ten because that's a lot. I actually did jump to the end and I was like, 'What is happening?'

Culturess: What makes The Fairly OddParents: A New Wish unique from your previous work?

Ashleigh Crystal Hairston: Well, this is the first time that I've ever been able to marry all of my gifts and talents into one job. So, on this show, I get to be Co-Executive Producer, Co-Story Editor, I got to write three episodes, and I got to voice the character of Hazel Wells. So that was really exciting for me just because I had never done that before, so I learned so much throughout the entire process about everything, from casting to music to records working with our Voice Director, Meredith Lane, to design. I had never worked on a CG show before. I only worked on 2D shows and this was my first time going into CG animation, and that was an entire learning experience because there's so much that you have to keep in mind when working in CG. I was really excited to do all of those things and learn all of those new things and really grow as a creator.

Culturess: You have worked on shows that have aired on different networks such as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Is there a difference in what your experience has been working with each of those stations?

Ashleigh Crystal Hairston: Oh yeah. I think with Nickelodeon the development process was so fast. We started development January of 2021 and our writer's room started in March of 2021. So that is a three-month long development period. Most shows can be in development for a year to two years, sometimes three years, sometimes longer. I think with Nickelodeon, they have such a vision for what they want and who their audience is, and obviously Fairly OddParents has gone on for so long that they know what that show is so we also had to jump in and be quick to jump in because the machine was going right away.

With Cartoon Network, it was a lot more slower pace, that's for sure. But I think with Nickelodeon, it's just different styles, different development styles, which was interesting. I also had a show at Netflix at one point in time that I had sold and I was in development there for two years. So totally different processes. For Cartoon Network, when I was working on Jessica's Big Little World, which was a pre-school show, which was their first fauré into pre-school for their Cartoonito plaform, they were super hands on, and they brought us consultants, and they had us meet with other pre-school creators to get wisdom and share ideas and they were just really awesome at holding our hands throughout the entire process. There were a lot of eyes on a lot of different areas in development but it was super helpful. Then, with Nickelodeon, it was like pushing you off and your taking the training wheels off, and you're going into writing for the first time alone and it was really challening but really fun and exhilerating.

Culturess: What draws you to animation?

Ashleigh Crystal Hairston: With animation you get to do anything. So my background is in TV and Film, and I came from the sketch world, so sketch and improv comedy, so my dream is to be a live-action TV creator, writer, actor, but of course, that's limited because we're humans. AI hasn't taken over quite fully, quite yet. We are humans and there's certain things humans can do. Whereas with Hazel and animation, we can do anything. We can wish up anything. We can draw anything. We can design anything. Whatever you want to do or your mind creates, you can have someone create it, and I love that about animation. It's just the possibilities are endless with imagination.

Culturess: When you look toward ushering in the next generation of writers what are you looking for?

Ashleigh Crystal Hairston: I'm hoping for a diverse range of authentic storytelling. I love that I get to, or that I got to on Fairly OddParents, fill out our writer's room with different writers, and for a lot of them it was their first time staff writing on a show, and the way that they grew from just from when they came in to when they left, it was just such a beautiful journey for all of us really, because it was my first time in the Story Editing position as well. Just hearing all of their stories and their experiences, and watching them be able to put them into our show and put them into our characters with Hazel and Antony, and the mom and the dad, Angela and Marcus, it was just so fun and I love that I got to give that opportunity to them because someone gave it to me before at Craig of the Creek when I first started staff writing, Matt Burnett and Ben Levin, they really showed me what empathetic storytelling looks like and that writer's room was so special because everyone was so kind, so patient, so encouraging, so respectful, and they were so great at allowing everyone's story to be heard and seen, and even board artists got to write, got to pitch episode ideas on Craig of the Creek.

Everyone, anyone, could pitch an idea, and because of that we got such a wealth of stories. It was a story about a little boy who plays down at the creek with his friends but we made all of these sub-friend groups down at the creek and that was beautiful because we all got to put in different stories and ideas into all of these characters and by the end of that series, there was just such a beautiful, diverse range of stories that we got to tell with Craig of the Creek. So I was able to take that with me to Fairly OddParents and run the writer's room in the same way, and hopefully I was able to do that, and hopefully I'll be able to continue to do that, and hopefully they, on their next shows, will continue to do that and it just creates a waterfall effect.

Culturess: When it comes to voice acting, how do you strive to create a character's personality when all the audience will hear is your voice?

Ashleigh Crystal Hairston: It comes naturally for me. Whenever I get an audition, I look at the sides, I look at the design, if there is a design for the character, and I'm an improviser like I said so I just kinda slip right into it, slip right into character based on what I'm seeing and what I'm reading and then I'll play with it based on the notes that they've given for us for an audition, ways that they describe the character, and then I just play around in the booth by myself, feel it out. Maybe if the character has a lisp or if the character has buck teeth or if the character has a different character design qualities, I look at, because that will inform how my body moves and how my body is shaped while I'm in the booth and the energy level. You should always be, in the booth, you should be sweating after an audition because you should be absolutely, one-hundred percent getting your entire body into this character because all of that plays out when you hear it. All of that really affects performance and I think improvising is so important because you're able to find those moments that are not written in the dialogue and that are not written in the script and that is what, in my opinion, brings a character to life.

Culturess: You've recently been named a "2024 Rising Star In Animation" by Animation Magazine. What does that mean to you?

Ashleigh Crystal Hairston: It's so exciting. It's so cool. I started in animation during the pandemic. So I was a freelance writer at the end of 2019. I got my first staff writing position in 2020, January of 2020. It's truly just the fastest deep dive into animation crash course, you know, I didn't see this all coming. I was in live-action. I wanted to do TV and Film. So for all of this to happen, in January 2020, I got my first staff writing position on Craig of the Creek, then in 2020, I sold my own pre-school animated show to Netflix. For that show I pitched to five places and got three offers. I ultimately landed at Netflix. Then also in 2020, I was freelance writing for a show called Wolf Boy and the Everything Factory on Apple TV+.

I wrote three episodes for that, then Craig of the Creek got ordered a season five plus a spinoff movie, plus a spinoff show, Jessica's Big Little World, we started writing the story for Craig Before The Creek, our feature film, and then I got moved to Jessica's Big Little World and I was Story Editor on that show for about seven or eight episodes, i think, or the first ten episodes, and then after that I went to Nickelodeon. I got the call from Nickelodeon about Co-Executive Producing and writing this show and potentially voice acting. So all of that happened within a span of four years, and so I mean Rising Star, I felt like it was more of a Rising Rocketship because I just blasted off into animation and so it feels really lovely to feel recognized and seen because it was a lot of work. There was one point where I was working on three different shows at one time, and it was during pandemic so I was trapped at my home in my studio apartment alone by myself so it definitely kept me busy. But it was also a really hard time, just for the world in general. So I was working through all of that, that was going on, and it was extremely challenging for my own mental health and well-being. So it feels nice to be seen in that way. I feel really proud of it.

Culturess: Regardless of whether it's for Fairly OddParents or for anything you do in the future, what type of stories would you love to tell?

Ashleigh Crystal Hairston: More adventure. I love adventure. I love horror too. I wanna try more mediums as well. I would wanna do a stop motion horror animated series and just more action. I wanna do feature films, I wanna voice act in feature films. There are so many. I wanna keep making shows. I put in one, I think in my Rising Star article, that I wanna be the Shonda Rhimes of animation, and I really do. I see myself continuing to make diverse shows because we need more of that.

If you like Ashleigh Crystal Hairston in The Fairly OddParents: A New Wish, check out Tiny Toons Looniversity on MAX, where she voices the iconic character Babs Bunny.

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