“The drive to be great has always been something that has driven me in everything that I do… If you are not trying to be the best, then you are not giving it your all.” Although he never dreamed of taking the stage as a child, Alfonso Ribeiro had a huge personality and his parents knew it as they signed him up for acting classes at an early age in the hopes that he would channel his creative energy into something greater. Doing exactly that, the Bronx native stuck close to home and made his Broadway debut at eight years old in the 1983 production of The Tap Dance Kid, which sent critics wild as the youngster even earned an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination for his performance. Luckily, that was only the beginning of Ribeiro’s impressive career!
“It wasn’t like, ‘Oh my, I saw this person on TV and I want to be there.’ It wasn’t really like that for me,” Ribeiro recalled of his early career. “It was simply that my parents put me in. It wasn’t like I said I wanted to be an actor. They noticed around the house and in school I always had a lot of personality. I was always acting and mimicking things. They thought that there was something there for me… The first audition that I went on, I got. It made it clear that it was something that I was going to be good at since I was literally working from day one. There really wasn’t one thing that motivated me to get started. My parents saw it in me and supported that.”
Dancing alongside the King of Pop in a 1984 Pepsi commercial, Ribeiro didn’t have to wait long to find mainstream success as he joined the cast of the popular series, Silver Spoons, as Alfonso Spears. Spending three years on the show and appearing in over 70 episodes, Ribeiro honed his talents with appearances in Magnum, P.I., Bill Nye, the Science Guy and A Different World before he landed the role that would define his entire career—as Carlton Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Cast as Will Smith’s on-screen, nerdy cousin, Ribeiro embraced every aspect of the part from Carlton’s fashion sense to his whacky taste in music, especially when it came to his love of Tom Jones’ hits like “It’s Not Unusual” that gave birth to his iconic “Carlton Dance” seen throughout the show’s six-season run.
With The Fresh Prince wrapping in 1996 as Will Smith skyrocketed to international fame, Ribeiro was pigeonholed as an actor and struggled to find work thanks to casting directors who doubted audiences could ever move beyond seeing him as Carlton long enough to take him seriously as an actor. Hosting the short-lived game show Your Big Break in 2000, he took the complete lack of offers as a sign to focus on life outside of the spotlight and settled down with his new wife, Robin Stapler, in 2002. After welcoming their daughter Sienna into the world, Ribeiro was still itching to find his place in Hollywood and made a brief return in 2006 when he won Celebrity Duets with Gladys Knight and Chaka Kahn. Two years later, he accepted an offer to host GSN Live and then made the move to Catch 21, which he hosted from 2008 to 2011.
Eventually divorcing and finding love a second time, Ribeiro remarried in 2012 and expanded his family with the birth of two sons just as his career flourished as a television host and director with credits for working behind the scenes on Meet the Browns and on the second season of Are We There Yet? Along the way, he made cameos in Things We Do for Love and Shake It Up before hitting the dancefloor with professional dancer Witney Carson on Dancing with the Stars. Wowing judges with his impeccable talent and delighting fans with a modern rendition of “The Carlton Dance,” Ribeiro took home the coveted mirror ball trophy with an even bigger offer on the horizon.
Thanks to his rekindled stardom and the fact that fans still embraced him after over two decades, Ribeiro was the perfect choice to replace Tom Bergeron on America’s Funniest Home Videos in 2015, especially since it meant Ribeiro could spend more time with his family. “It’s a great way to work, it’s the best job on TV, I keep saying,” Ribeiro gushed. “I love family entertainment and this is the No. 1 family show on TV, it’s been that way for decades now. It’s just a pleasure to work with everybody… I’m loving every minute of it.”
Still hosting the show today in addition to taking over for Marc Summers to host Unwrapped 2.0 on the Cooking Channel, Ribeiro made guest appearances on Whose Line Is It Anyway? and on The $100,000 Pyramid in 2016 while continuing to hone his talents as a director on the Disney Channel’s popular series, KC Undercover. And, while he’s still recognized as Carlton, the 46-year-old says he’s finally come to terms with the character now that he’s back in Hollywood’s good graces.
“I’m appreciative of the jobs that I have, and the love that I’m getting,” Ribeiro said of how far he’s come in his career. “I feel like now, it’s me saying, ‘Thank you, here let me give it to you; let me give you the dance.’ Where for many years, I was like, ‘I don’t want to do the damn dance anymore. I’m over this, let me do something new,’ because as an artist, you want to create, you want to be creative, you want to be doing the things you love to do. And people reminding you of the past while not giving you a present or a future, is a painful experience. So, it was always difficult for me to fully enjoy it, because I didn’t have a present or a future with that attached. So, my perspective definitely has changed.” With his new perspective and his refusal to let Carlton define the second chapter of his career, we can’t wait to see what the future holds for Ribeiro as he explores his interests in directing, dancing, acting and more!