Tech and e-commerce giant Amazon added two more celebrities into its Alexa digital assistant. Now you can have Alexa speak in the voices of Shaquille O’Neal or Melissa McCarthy, replacing Alexa’s default female voice.
Owners of Alexa devices can ask Shaq or McCarthy to tell them the weather, play songs, tell jokes, read poems or stories, and more (like asking Shaq to rap or soliciting a funny story from McCarthy).
The O’Neal and McCarthy voices for Alexa are available to customers in the U.S. for $4.99 each. For Amazon, the deals are designed to add another selling point to its family of Echo smart speakers and other Alexa-enabled devices as well as generating some incremental revenue.
“I just wanted to add my personality to the Alexa experience,” O’Neal told Variety. “I think the fans are gonna love it. They’re going to see a unique side of me.”
Training Alexa to speak in O’Neal’s voice took about 60 hours total over three months, according to Amazon. (Amazon built a recording studio in Shaq’s house for the project.) “It was like reading out of the dictionary,” said O’Neal. “It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.” Some days, the ex-NBA star spent up to eight hours recording words, phrases and sentences.
Shaq said he added his own flavor to the recordings, occasionally ad-libbing. “I had to Shaq-en up the phrases,” he said. “Some of the things they sent me were too corporate — it wasn’t the way I talk.”
McCarthy, in a statement provided by Amazon, commented: “That’s right folks, get ready for the vocal stylings of this nasal Midwestern gal! I am so excited to join the Alexa family. It’s been such a fun experience working on this project. I hope you all enjoy all my dad jokes! Fun fact — if you hear a slide whistle, it’s my personal one that I brought with me to the recording studio!”