‘Dolly Parton’s America’ Co-Creator Shima Oliaee To Lead Girlhood Podcast ‘The Competition’

EXCLUSIVE: Shima Oliaee, the co-creator of hit podcasts including Dolly Parton’s America and Pink Card, is exploring the complicated nature of girlhood in America for her next audio series.

Oliaee has teamed up with Audacy’s Pineapple Street Studios and Wondery for The Competition.

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The series explores the Distinguished Young Women program.

Every summer for the past seven decades, 50 high school seniors—one from every state—descend on Mobile, Alabama to take part in one of the country’s most lucrative scholarship competitions for teen girls.

The series follows seven girls as they experience the highs and lows of competing for two weeks, away from home and under the most high-stress circumstances. Some girls enter for the money, some for prestige. All of them are used to being the best and the brightest, but only one will walk away with the top prize. The series asks, what can two weeks with 50 of the country’s most ambitious teens tell us about girlhood in America?

Oliaee has personal experience on the subject. She was Nevada’s contestant in 2001 and more than 20 years later she returns to Alabama as a judge.

The Competition takes listeners behind the scenes of the Distinguished Young Women (DYW) program. Oliaee’s producers were fully embedded with the girls on-the-ground on the other side, recording everything that went down, from the silliest to most vulnerable moments. After the competition she traveled across the country, interviewing the competitors over the following year—unpacking just what happened those two weeks in Mobile.

The series launches on Wondery+ and Amazon Music on April 15 before becoming available everywhere on April 29.

Oliaee, who founded Shirazad Productions, is coming off the back of Pink Card, a series that follows three generations of Iranian women who risk their lives for the simple right to watch a soccer game, for ESPN’s 30 for 30. Before that she co-created, produced and reported Dolly Parton’s America and she also created The Vanishing of Harry Pace and UnErased.

Before moving into audio, she worked for four seasons on comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Shima Oliaee’s time as a competitor in 2001
Shima Oliaee’s time as a competitor in 2001

“Girl world has become inescapable these past few years–there’s been so much said on girl culture, girls’ mental health, and even billion-dollar world tours inspired by girl feelings. But we’ve heard very little from girls themselves. This series is a chance to hear from a diverse group of American working- and middle-class teenagers who attempt to achieve the impossible through a scholarship competition the summer before they launch into adulthood. It also gave me a chance to reflect on my own journey as a once-participant and a first gen American–now, a ‘successful woman’–coming back as a judge. What was asked of me, of all of us, in our attempt to reach new heights? What can these hard working teen girls in The Competition tell us about being a woman in America? “And what does the ever elusive American dream look like through their eyes?,” said Oliaee.

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