Baltimore native Mario Armstrong’s bio reads a bit like the results of a career aptitude test — “TV host, media personality, motivational speaker, public servant and social entrepreneur.” But while his resume could suggest a bit of a short attention span, it’s actually quite the opposite: Charismatic, energetic Armstrong lives for engagement.
It’s fitting, as his new “Never Settle” show recently won an Emmy Award for “Interactivity.” The program, which is best described as a sort of internet-audience- driven talk show, consists almost entirely of Armstrong and his guests polling their online audiences and responding live to their comments and questions.
“I would describe what I do as the ability to take life experiences both good and bad and identify ways people can use my personal lessons and technology expertise to identify better outcomes for themselves,” Armstrong says. “I take an entrepreneurially minded approach to creating the best life for others.”
He readily admits that his lessons are born from both success and failure. There’s no denying his successes: He moved from a short half-hour spot on Annapolis’ 1190 AM to Morgan State University’s WEAA to WYPR to NPR, eventually hitting “Rachael Ray” and “The Today Show.” But in the first episode of the second season of “Never Settle,” filmed now on a splashy new set, a screenshot of his dismal bank account balances flashes on screen, proof of the show’s humble beginnings. Armstrong and his wife, Nicole, had maxed out 10 credit cards in the process of filming their pilot, only to be met with universal rejection from networks and other distributors — but Armstrong knew his interactive model had legs.
“We decided we had to believe in ourselves and just do it,” he says. “We wanted to deliver information that was going to help people in a meaningful, impactful way. It’s choose-your-own-adventure. They can chime in and get their voice heard. They can ask questions live, they can vote live. If we’re asking people for their time to watch a show, it needs to help them move forward.”
Seeing that “scrappy-as-hell” first season win an Emmy, he says, was “very validating, very gratifying, very surreal.” Now, the team is heading into its third season with an ever-increasing following and a shiny new trophy — reminding Armstrong of another (quite literally) sparkling moment in his career.
Having been financially excluded from sneaker culture as a child, adulthood and success brought with it a self-proclaimed shoe addiction. He recalls buying a pair of silver Adidas and making a promise to himself that he wouldn’t wear them until the first episode of the “Never Settle” show came to fruition.
“I looked at them on the shelf every day as a physical reminder of my goals,” he says. “It was so awesome during that first episode, wearing those silver shoes. Someone online asked about them, and I just started crying. I just want people to realize that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams or passions or a better quality of life. Don’t give up on yourself. Never settle.”