Nick Cannon’s Teenage Dreams

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Nick Cannon (Patrick McMullan)

Nick Cannon (Patrick McMullan)

One day in 2009, Nick Cannon, the rapper and former child performer best known for portraying the likes of “Latanya” the diva-ish convenience store clerk on early-2000s Nickelodeon shows All That and The Nick Cannon Show, as well as for having married Mariah Carey once the acting and music work dried up, arrived at the Viacom offices in Times Square with plan to recapture the adolescent demo that had been his audience. “I walked into the office with a bunch of stacks of paper, and a portfolio, and said, ‘I think I can take the network to another level,’” he recalled, “and, as crazy as it sounds, they should put the network in my hands.’”

Mr. Cannon was soon hired as chairman of what would become TeenNick (a Nickelodeon spin-off that began life as The N, a nighttime programming block on now-defunct network Noggin).

“I made ’em make that decision,” he said of his hiring. “And they went with it. They were impressed with how prepared I was”—he trailed off for a moment—“and my vision.”

Mr. Cannon was sitting in his 40th-floor corner office, wearing an orange suit that matched the Nickelodeon logo—albeit in a somewhat dustier shade—pink striped socks and loafers. The room, which was cluttered with unopened gift baskets as well as an Everlast boxing dummy, doubles as a set for his TeenNick promo and teaser shoots: “It’s kind of good branding,” he said, “to pull the velvet rope, to be like, ‘Yo, come in, and be a part of our network.’” (An anteroom next door was cluttered with T-shirts reading “BITCH I’M FAMOUS,” back issues of The Hollywood Reporter, and boxes of FRS Healthy Energy, an energy drink Mr. Cannon promotes.)

The network is now home to the teen show Degrassi (a spinoff of the long-running Canadian series), H2O, about a trio of Aussie mermaids, and popular reruns of 1990s Nickelodeon programming including Mr. Cannon’s own series. “That’s the beauty of what the Nickelodeon brand has always represented,” he said. “Even when I was 17 years old I was a staff writer at a television show for Nickelodeon. From the youngest staff writer in television to the youngest chairman, it makes sense. Kind of.”

Keith Dawkins, senior vice president and general manager of TeenNick and general manager of Nicktoons, meets with Mr. Cannon twice a week. “I look to leverage him for the things he’s excited about, his insight and knowledge and access to our audience—creative ideas he’s passionate about,” Mr. Dawkins said. “He’s a thought partner in that way.”

Mr. Cannon also has a number of other gigs. Since 2009, he’s been the host of NBC’s American Idol–type talent competition America’s Got Talent, and he wakes before 6 a.m. each morning to host a four-hour drive-time radio show on 92.3 NOW, Rollin’ With Nick Cannon. (That is, when he’s in New York; Mr. Cannon is often on the West Coast for America’s Got Talent, in which case he broadcasts through the night.) Each week, he tapes a nationally syndicated radio show called Cannon’s Countdown. He has a recurring role as a talk-show host on the sitcom Up All Night, which has been picked up by NBC for a fall premiere, and he manages several bands (including School Gyrls, an all-female foursome that had their own TeenNick TV movie co-written and directed by Mr. Cannon). He is also a new father, with 4-month-old twins Moroccan and Monroe, a boy and girl, respectively, with wife Mariah Carey, to whom Mr. Cannon reportedly renewed his vows in the maternity ward under the auspices of the Rev. Al Sharpton.

“He doesn’t sleep,” said Sharon Osbourne, a judge on America’s Got Talent. “You see him taking 20-minute naps between takes.” She added that Mr. Cannon has also been eager to restart his music career. “We talk about it a lot. Nick wants to do everything.”