Updated: Oct. 30, 2014 at 10:24 p.m.
Over 800,000 people ride the Metro every day.
And for D.C. native Randi Miller, the voice actress responsible for those all-too-familiar “door closing” audio clips, that means 800,000 people know her voice, but don’t know her face.
I traveled to the Twinbrook station in Rockville, Md. – only a few stops before the end of the Red Line at Shady Grove – to meet with Miller and take a ride on the Metro, where her voice has warned riders to “step back” since March 2006.
When we entered the station, I routinely swiped my SmarTrip and kept walking, expecting her to follow closely behind. But when I turned around, she was stuck behind the barrier, fumbling with her SmarTrip.
“You just have to tap it,” I said.
Miller made it through, laughing and admitting that she hadn’t ridden the train in about seven years.
“I can’t stand to listen to myself on the train because I can’t not say it with me, and it’s just embarrassing to sit there and go, ‘Step back, doors opening. When boarding, please move to the center of the car,’” Miller said.
As we rode along the Red Line in a somewhat empty car – it was midday on a Friday – Miller paused mid-conversation to add her live voice to the muffled eight-year-old recording in the train.
The few passengers in our car had no idea they were riding with the woman who always told them to get out of the way.
“When people don’t get out the way, I sound very mean and bitchy, and I don’t like that because I’m not that way. But you have to be bitchy because the doors don’t stop,” Miller said.
But Miller wasn’t always the voice – since the 1990s, the Metro had used Sandy Carroll’s voice, which Miller remembers mimicking and making fun of as a kid riding the train.
Metrorail decided it was time for a change and hosted the “Doors Closing Voice 2006” competition to find a new announcer.
Before Miller won the contest, she was working at a Lexus dealership in Alexandria. There, her general manager and some of the sales people insisted that she enter.
And finally, the day before the contest closed, she did.
Recording a script of different announcements on a CD, Miller joined 1,259 entrants, including her father, who were vying for the role. After officials narrowed the list down to 10 finalists, Miller was picked.
The job was not paid, but for winning, she received a $10 fare card to go to press events, along with a Metro baseball cap and a D.C.-themed Monopoly board game.
Though serving as the voice of the third-busiest public transportation system in the country wasn’t Miller’s dream job – she had wanted to be a singer – it gave her the visibility she needed to launch a career in voice acting.
“Every time we go out to dinner, [my mother] never loses an opportunity or misses an opportunity to tell everybody, ‘You’re waiting on a celebrity. Do you ever ride the Metro?’ and then I have to do the whole performance,” Miller said. “And people get a huge kick out of it, it’s fun. And I’ve gotten a lot of voice work as a result.”
Since becoming the voice of Metro, Miller has gone on to record announcements for the SmartBus in California and narrate educational videos for the National Cancer Institute and the Central Intelligence Agency.
She also, coincidentally, voiced a commercial for the Lexus dealership where she worked when she entered the contest.
“As it turns out, I’m really good at being a voice-over person and I’m never happier than when I’m in the studio, and I never thought I would ever say that,” Miller said.
And while the opening of the Silver Line has sparked some conversations about what new projects Metro will do next, Miller said that, to her knowledge, there isn’t going to be a change in the voice any time soon.
“There’s been actually a lot of discussion about having me do station announcements, stop announcements, because the drivers are so difficult to understand,” Miller said.
We hit the end of the Red Line at Shady Grove and waited for the train to turn around and make its way back to Twinbrook, guided by a particularly enthusiastic driver.
“This one, she’s good,” Miller said.
This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that for the first 30 years of operation after the system opened in 1976, the Metro used Sandy Carroll’s voice. The Metro used her voice in the 1990s and early 2000s. We regret this error.