SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — While you may not recognize him in line at the neighborhood grocery store, if you’re a fan of the Scripps National Spelling Bee you will recognize his voice.
Since 2003, Dr. Jacques Bailly has served as the voice of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
“I enjoy words. I enjoy encouraging the kids to study,” he told KPIX 5.
Spellers hang on his every syllable. And every year, some try to pry more clues than he’ll give.
“They want to buy a vowel, they ask me how it’s spelled. They ask me to sing it,” he smiled.
As a 14-year-old, Bailly won the national championship trophy in 1980. He understands the pressure.
So when the students first approach the microphone on stage, he tries to put them at ease.
“I try to established eye contact; maybe smile or get a smile,” he explained.
2015 contestant Meera Suresh of Santa Clara calls Bailly a cheerleader.
“He genuinely wants to help the spellers as best he can, making them feel comfortable,” Suresh said.
But the official voice himself says he doesn’t really get nervous, in part because he practices year round and draws from his work at the University of Vermont.
“I teach Greek and Latin and know French and German, so that helps me be prepared,” he said.
But he admitted some words are trickier than others.
“Apparently, you’re supposed to say ‘iron,’ according to the dictionary. And I always say ‘EYE-ron.’ They always make fun of me,” he chuckled.
And he’ll have a little fun, too.
He’s been in photographs and video wearing a bee costume, complete with wings, to promote the competition.
The competition has generated many memorable moments.
He described one of his favorites.
“When a young man named Kennyi Aouad got the word ‘sardoodledum,’ and he thought it was the funniest word. He couldn’t stop giggling,” he said.
And though he won’t divulge details, Bailly does acknowledge there is a secret committee that reviews the words for the ‘giggle factor.’
“Occasionally, there’s a word that we might not want to use because it sounds like some other words that we don’t want to say,” he explained.
But off stage, students try to get the last laugh.
They often ask him to spell really long words.
“They’re these hippo monstro sesquipedalian words that they found somewhere,” he shared.
The buzz is he enjoys BEE-ing the official pronouncer, with no plans to retire.
After all, he’s good at his job, he enjoys it, and as he said, “I get a front row seat at a great event.