Quddus Philippe is one of those incandescent people. He’s got a certain kind of inner light radiating from his eyes, his face and his mile-wide smile, which appears easily and often while he drinks tea on a Friday morning at La Brea Bakery.
His is a glow that most people know from his time as a host on MTV’s massive, decade-spanning music video countdown show Total Request Live, a gig Philippe held down for five years, appearing alongside pop megastars including Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Jay Z and Christina Aguilera.
But there was always something missing from show business for Philippe, now 35.
“Direct impact,” he says, “was what I craved more than anything.”
Nine years after leaving MTV, Philippe has redirected his inner spotlight to humanitarian efforts as the director of partnerships for Generosity.org, an organization that funds and builds water wells in 19 countries. Through the position, he aspires to be a bridge between Hollywood and humanitarian efforts and show that true fulfillment comes through making a positive difference in the world.
Raised in Ottawa, Philippe is the son of a Haitian father and a Canadian mother. He got his start modeling and then as a runner-up in the 2000 "MuchMusic VJ Search," which led to a job co-hosting the first season of a youth-culture show called Vox on TVOntario. That gig ultimately led him to MTV as a correspondent and host.
It was a prime time for pop culture, and the station was basking in the moment of glory that came just before the collapse of the music industry. Britney was a slave 4 U; Destiny’s Child was bootylicous; Backstreet Boys and *NSync were boy band brands, and every day a crowd of screaming teens gathered in Times Square to peep their icons through the TRL studio’s plate-glass windows.
A self-described “overzealous do-gooder,” Philippe looked for ways to use his on-air influence to help young artists get some shine. He supported Common and John Legend early on and once invited an unknown rapper from Chicago named Kanye West to appear at MTV2’s Memorial Day BBQ. Kanye returned the favor by thanking the host in the liner notes of The College Dropout.
Meanwhile, Philippe was attending charity galas, cutting ribbons and serving as the ambassador for organizations. But despite the efforts, he “felt kind of inauthentic showing up to charity events and not really knowing the extent of the work the organization did. It didn’t really feel like I was living my purpose full-on.”
Despite the apparent glamour, at times the job felt hollow. Philippe left the network in 2006, sensing a cultural shift within the company and seeing how the Internet was cutting into MTV’s influence.
He spent the next six years doing A&R for record labels, then in 2012 travelled to Haiti on a humanitarian aid trip with a group he met through Summit Series, an organization for young entrepreneurs. The country of Philippe’s paternal ancestors was still reeling from the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, and the mission was to distribute solar-powered lights.
In rural villages throughout the country, Philippe was not just humbled but inspired. He found people who were happy despite their challenging circumstances, and specifically recalls meeting a boy named John while walking down a dirt path in the forest. Despite losing his parents, working in the fields to survive and having no shoes, the boy had a vibe of optimism. Quddus admired the kid and says the trip opened his eyes to the power of connecting with people. It was the direct impact he had been craving.
When he returned home, he began hosting Duets, a singing competition show that ran on ABC for a single season. He donated some of the money he had made from the show to Generosity.org. In return, he got a framed photo of villagers at the well he had paid for and a plaque with his name on it. “I’ve felt way more joy from seeing a photo of a kid in Haiti, benefiting from the water that I know I had a part in supporting, than I’ve ever felt at some after-party for the VMAs,” he says.
It’s not just lip service. Philippe regularly leads personal development workshops in L.A. and casually mentions a 10-day silent meditation retreat he recently participated in. Chris Rock once said that if “Oprah and Ryan Seacrest had a love child, the kid would end up being like Quddus.”
With his role at Generosity.org, Philippe is now positioned to combine his celebrity status with this idealism. The organization’s primary focus is solving the water crisis in Haiti, and it's working with local governments and communities to position wells wisely. Each well costs $5,000, and the organization has built 648 of them thus far.
This Friday night, Nov. 6, the organization will host its seventh annual Night of Generosity fundraising gala at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Queen Latifah hosted last year’s event (free of charge, Philippe notes) and this year Jason Kennedy from E! will serve as emcee.
The ultimate message, Philippe says, is that while fame and celebrity seem appealing, generosity is actually the new cool.
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“I’ve had the fame, the money and the image that most people equate to happiness,” he says, “and that’s not where the happiness is. Happiness is in actually loving for and caring for people in a real way.
“There aren’t as many zeros in my bank account now,” he adds with a laugh, “but I feel spiritually wealthy.”