Kara Edwards hits a few buttons on her computer keyboard, then ducks into the closet.
She dons headphones and suddenly transforms from a 31-year-old married woman into a teenager named “Arizona” who answers a fictional advice column in Highlights Magazine. She reads from a script into a microphone in the sing-song teen cadence, and her face emphasizes each emotion. Her eyes grow wide and she smiles while she speaks, then she pouts and crosses her arms, slouching.
Eventually, she'll send the track off to the magazine for posting on its Web site.
It's just one of several roles Edwards plays as a professional voice actor. She's also the voice of Razzles, from the PBS kids show “Raggs.” Anime fans know her as the voice of two “Dragonball Z” characters. The hit Cartoon Network show ran for 10 years and has branched off into successful video games, for which she also did the voices.
Edwards does most of her recording in a spare bedroom in the Pineville home she shares with husband Chris Suchan, a meteorologist for WBTV. But she sometimes flies to Dallas or Los Angeles to work on TV commercials or for corporate jobs.
‘Merciless' city kids
Edwards grew up on a cotton farm in Lubbock, Texas. When she moved to Dallas at age 10, the big-city kids were “merciless” in teasing her for her “country” accent.
“I sounded a lot like Boomhaur from ‘King of the Hill,' with everah-thang-runnin-tuhgetha in monotone,” she says, laughing. “I started correcting myself, to sound more Midwestern, and a bad thing turned into a good thing.”
That's how she discovered her talent for modulating her voice. But it wasn't until after high school that she discovered she could make a living with her voice.
“I was teaching tae kwon do and got into a really bad car accident when I was 18,” she says. Her neck, shoulder and back injuries ended that career, but pushed her toward teaching inline skating.
“A student asked if I'd ever considered radio, and I got hired as an intern at a station that happened to be right next to Radio Disney.”
Very quickly after that, Radio Disney hired her away to co-host a national show on its growing network. The gig lasted 6 years and her show was carried on more than 120 stations.
“I got to meet the people who do voices for Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and all of these amazing Disney voice actors,” she says.
As a side job, her co-host asked her to tag along to an open audition for a new Cartoon Network show. The next thing she knew she'd been cast as a main character on “Dragonball Z.” It ran for more than 10 years and spun off into video games, trading cards and action figures.
“The tae kwon do training helped me learn the difference between what taking a hit – ‘ugh!' – and giving one – ‘huh!' – sound like, and that helped me a lot for the anime roles.”
The show's popularity brought her a first taste of what it's like to have fans.
“We went to anime conventions and people actually stood in line for our autographs, and it was beyond surreal,” she says. “It's weird to see your autograph being sold on eBay. I'm just a girl from Texas.”
Things fell into place
She followed a boyfriend to Charlotte several years ago, hoping to get back into radio. The relationship fizzled, but she stayed in town and co-hosted shows on 104.7 FM and at 103.7 FM.
In April 2006, she married Suchan, and they moved to Pineville.
“Radio is hard because consultants say mean things,” she says. “When I was allowed to just be me, I was fine. But when they tried to coach me to be more country, or to fit into a persona I had a hard time. One day I stood up in a meeting and just said, ‘I'm sorry, but this isn't making me happy.'”
She decided to start working as a voice artist. It was rough in the beginning, trying to launch the business.
“Several times I thought I'd had enough pulling my hair out and told Chris I'd just go be a Wal-Mart people greeter,” she says. “But then things started to fall in place.”
So far, 2008 has been a whirlwind, with a steady stream of jobs and new client prospects.
“A lot of people think they can do this work because someone has told them they have a strong voice or they're funny,” she says. “But it's not about the voice. It's about the training and knowledge, and how well you network.”
She's trained with voice greats including Bob Bergen, the voice of Porky Pig, Marvin the Martian and Tweety Bird.
“He once had me doing an exercise where I was an old lady and I had to scream a lot, and I nearly blacked out,” she says. “It's fun to push yourself and see what you can do.”
The average job takes about an hour to record, but sessions can last up to eight hours. “You use your whole body, not just your voice, and a long job can make you exhausted for a few days,” she says.
She protects her voice by never screaming or yelling except during recording sessions.
“I can't cheer at football games and my husband's lucky because I can't yell at him,” she says with a wry grin.
She still tries to find time for volunteer work, including spots on Freedom Network radio for troops in the Middle East, and for a Web site that visually impaired people use to hear newspapers and magazines read aloud.
“Everything I've ever done has led me to where I am, and I'm happy,” she says.
Kids teasing her for sounding “country.” Following a whim as a radio intern. And now, learning to listen to the voices in her head.