The most frequently heard voice in our nation’s capital isn’t the enunciated clip of Barack Obama or the smoker’s rasp of House Speaker John Boehner. It’s the sultry intonations of Randi Miller, the voice of DC Metro, who also happens to be an auto lease retention manager from Woodbridge, Va.
Randi’s voice is played 33,017 times a day in 86 Metro subway stations spanning DC, Maryland and Virginia. It’s Randi’s voice you hear just before the Metro doors snap shut on your bag with a thud – “Doors closing.”
Randi Miller’s voice was not the first to reverberate throughout Washington’s subway system though. Back in 1996, DC resident Sandy Carroll made a recording in her apartment as a favor to a friend, a recording that was to be the gentle voice of Metro for a decade.
In 2006, Metro decided to change its tone by announcing the “Doors Closing Voice 2006” contest to find a new voice for the Metrorail trains. The voice of Sandy had seemingly faded into the background, and Metro needed a more authoritative voice to nudge its passengers along. Anyone over the age of 21 was eligible to compete.
Metro asked each contestant to record two messages in three tones of voice: polite, serious and authoritative. Several scripts were specifically written to deter notorious door-blockers: “One arm. One leg. One briefcase. One purse … can delay everyone.” Another script began with “Jeepers, Batman! Did you see that person just shove their briefcase in the doors?”
The “Doors Closing” contest attracted 1,259 contestants from across the country, some from as far away as Seattle. Metro reviewed the CD submissions and narrowed the field. Of the 10 finalists, all lived in the metropolitan area and half rode Metro regularly. The contestants’ reward for making it to the Top 10: a DC edition of Monopoly.
The stage was now set for a studio showdown. Each finalist recorded new messages in a professional studio near Dupont Circle: a 10-minute recording session under the guidance of a creative director from Arlington’s LM&O Advertising.
Three judges – the head of marketing for Metro, the advertising creative director and a former local anchorwoman – listened to the recordings to select the new voice. On Feb. 2, 2006, Metro announced its winner.
Chosen for the honor of being the new voice of Metrorail trains – and it is only an honor – Randi Miller, like Sandy Carroll before her, didn’t receive a dime for her efforts. Her recording was simply loaded onto a chip and placed in Metro’s more than 950 train cars.
Although Randi’s a lifelong singer who’s delivered singing telegrams, her only previous broadcast experience had been over the intercom at the Alexandria car dealership where she works. But after landing the Metro gig, her vocal career took off. Now her voice can be heard at kiosks in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History, aquariums across the country and even radio commercials. She’s also used her voice to raise more than $250,000 for charities including Central Hospice, the Duffy Project and the Thomas G. Larbrecque Foundation.
Although she’s an infrequent subway rider, Randi still finds it weird to hear her voice on the trains. “When it first started running on the trains, I couldn’t wait to hear it. I wanted to see how it sounded,” she said. “And it was so annoying to me when I heard it. Maybe because it’s me. Maybe because … maybe just because it’s me.”