Eating chocolate kisses filled with mustard, scooping up water with a cleaning rag, or melting blocks of ice by rubbing your body – sounds exciting? When the remaining 50 candidates compete in such special “disciplines” for a prize money of 99,000 euros this Friday in the semi-finals of the Sat-1 show “99 – Eine:r schlage sie alle”, one participant on the sidelines of the game will become everything again give to get the pulse of the TV audience racing: Melissa Khalaj.
The Berliner by choice, born in 1989 in Dachau, Bavaria, into an Iranian family, is the newcomer to “99”. While host Florian Schmidt-Sommerfeld had to get used to Johanna Klum as co-moderator in the first season, Khalaj is now sitting with him in the commentary booth to accompany the Statlerandwaldorf-style gimmicks. With her talent for quick-witted counterattacks, she is exactly right there and it is not without reason that she is currently the busiest moderator in the Sat-1 prime time – albeit with a tiny flaw.
Melissa Khalaj only seems to come into play when someone at Sat 1 can’t or doesn’t want to anymore. Shouldn’t Johanna Klum moderate the game show sequel to “99”? Klum becomes Khalaj. Luke Mockridge can’t (or is he not allowed?) in front of the camera in his own music show production “All Together Now”? Khalaj can. Lena Gercke would rather take care of her fashion line than dissolved Wannabees on “The Voice of Germany”? Khalaj takes over, the twelfth season starts on August 19th.
You wouldn’t do justice to the 33-year-old if you just described her as a second choice. More appropriate is: the better choice. Because only a few moderators in the entertainment industry are better at choosing the right words, even in the most impossible situations, with sharpness but still charm like Khalaj.
Since 2014, she and Jochen Bendel have been following up the container events of “Promi Big Brother” with such light-footed seriousness that the joint late-night show has achieved cult status among trash TV fans. “Jochen” and she, says Melissa Khalaj, “found a good tone” to deal with all the arguments and verbal interruptions that are part of a reality show: “Not everyone likes how open we are Speak your mind, but we stand by it.”
To date, Khalaj had cultivated her love of opinion and ability to counter with the niche broadcaster Joiz. That was the new, because interactive social TV from Switzerland, which also wanted to revolutionize television in Berlin and for which the trained foreign language correspondent (English and Spanish) packed her suitcase in Bavaria in 2013 after a number of editorial internships.
To this day, Khalaj raves about the “pioneering spirit” and that “everyone was up for it” to fill the gap left by VIVA and MTV as a rehearsal stage for talent: “We were always live, anything could happen.” Clips fell out, Guests didn’t come, they had to keep an eye on the chat – “It’s really not possible to jump in at the deep end any more. Simply the best school!”
One of her first guests at Joiz was the then quite famous Joko Winterscheidt. The trick he played on her live (keyword vodka!) unexpectedly catapulted the up-and-coming presenter to the front row of television and from then on prepared her for all (im)possible interview situations. Appearances at “Circus Halli Galli” (ProSieben) followed, with “Crash Games” the first major show moderation. Khalaj’s future in front of the camera was sealed. She would have least expected it herself.
“When I was a little girl, I couldn’t imagine a Persian presenter on German television,” says Khalaj, “there was simply no such thing.” In the Berlin and media bubble, she encountered the kind of tolerance and acceptance that, in her experience, “is often not far away”. That’s why she gets involved off the show stage, be it for Afghan women or against racism. “If I can already be on mainstream TV, I would like to give my opinion and encourage a rethinking.” And who knows, she says, referring to the people who are fleeing war zones and want to start a new life here, maybe at some point moderators, musicians or doctors that we need. Diversity is what makes our country what it is.”
In the diverse program world of ProSiebenSat 1, there have been a large number of challenges for her since she managed to get into prime time in 2019 with the kids offshoot of “The Voice”. None of her predecessors hosted the show longer than she did. What could be more obvious than booking Khalaj for the adult version as well? Certain comparisons with Thore Schölermann’s previous co-moderator Lena Gercke countered the newcomer with healthy self-confidence: “It doesn’t affect me. Each presenter stands on her own. Every moderator has different strengths.”
Hers is undeniable: she can make a show hers that wasn’t actually meant for her. Melissa Khalaj proved this on the recently ended music show “All Together Now”, when she strummed the ukulele or spontaneously intoned “In the ghetto” with an Elvis double. There was barely a week between the offer and the start of production. The fact that she was “only” a replacement for Luke Mockridge, who was involved in MeToo, doesn’t bother her: “I see it more as a breakthrough moment. The old school was: We put a man on top of that. Maybe now it will be accepted that it can work just as well with a woman.”
But because experience shows her that “nothing just comes flying from heaven”, Melissa Khalaj becomes active herself. For the women’s channel sixx, she was involved in the conception of the TV show “BAFF – clever kontern” from the very beginning. The premiere was on Monday, and in this “quick wit boot camp” you learned how to stand up to the evil mother-in-law, for example. Also a first: Khalaj was the first choice of moderator this time.
Setting up a completely new program like “BAFF” is already “a different house number” than adopting an existing format: “For me as a moderator and idea generator there is even more space to create pressure.” But, and that’s where Melissa Khalaj has the good feelings when she says: “I’m very happy that people are now asking me directly and not just when someone else can’t or doesn’t want to anymore.”