Isaiah Scales, a member of the OHS class of 1999, returned to his former schools on Monday to encourage students to chase their dreams. Scales is a television producer whose work includes major programs like “American Idol.”

OTTUMWA — Isaiah Scales arrived in Los Angeles with two suitcases, no apartment, no job, and a PlayStation in his carry-on bag from the flight. He had an interview to work for Fox entertainment, but no guarantees.

But he had faith he could make the leap. After all, a kid from Ottumwa had done it. Tom Arnold was had made that same trip successfully. Scales needed the opportunity, so he took the chance.

He was back in Ottumwa on Monday, speaking at the high school and middle school during assemblies marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Scales urged the students to dream big, to follow their dreams, but to understand getting there would require hard work.

“It’s not about where you’re from,” he said. “It’s about where you’re going in life.”

Scales got the job. Later, he found himself working behind the scenes with Arnold on the latter’s sports talk show. His presentation to students included photos of him with other celebrities, too. Snoop Dogg, Steve Austin and others. His career includes work producing awards shows and competitions, too. “American Idol” is a particular favorite.

Before his speech, Scales admitted it felt a little strange to be back in the schools he attended. When he was a student, Evans was just seventh and eighth grades. There was also a sense of familiarity, something that helped work in his favor when he found himself struggling in California.

“There’s something special about Ottumwa and about Iowa in general. When people meet Iowans, there’s a special character that comes through,” he said.

The accomplishments are probably not what some of his teachers would have predicted, Scales said. He was, by his own admission, a mediocre student in math and science. But he could write. He knew how to make words work for him. That led him to his career.

“In my career I’ve had the chance to meet some of the biggest names in the industry,” he told students. “You have to put in all the work to get to that level. That level is not just handed to you.”

Scales now works for arguably the biggest name in entertainment worldwide. Disney bought Fox. It has Lucasfilm, too. Seven of the top five 2019 films at the domestic box office were from the company, including every one of the top five. And that doesn’t begin to include the television catalog Fox brought with it.

Scales is there because he took a chance. Because he got an opportunity and help along the way.

“Every single one of you has a gift, and I want you to find it,” he said. “I don’t care what you dream about doing. Your dream is just as important as anyone else in the world.”

People care, Scales told students. People will give you chances. But it’s up to the individual to take them, to make a leap of faith and work to make their dreams happen. When you make it, he said, it’s important to make sure you give back and help others achieve their goals.

With a little luck and a lot of work, Scales said, you’ll get there.

“Keep living the dream, just like Martin Luther King wanted you to,” he said.

Matt Milner can be reached at and followed on Twitter @mwmilner


Managing Editor

Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.

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