Xpress, the Coolest Section of the St. Petersburg Times, is the home for features, news and views of interest to young readers. Most of the work in Xpress, which appears on Mondays in Floridian, is produced by the Times' X-Team. The team of journalists ages 9-17 from around the Tampa Bay area is selected every year at the end of the school year to serve during the following school term. The current team of 12 was chosen out of 150 applicants. Watch for X-Team application forms in Xpress during the month of May.

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Are you ready, kids? SpongeBob Squarepants
[Times art/Nickelodeon]

SpongeBob: the excitable, absorbent star of Bikini Bottom

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 17, 2003

As all fans of cartoon sponges who live in a pineapple under the sea know, SpongeBob SquarePants and his pals Patrick, Squidward, Mr. Krabs, Sandy and Gary make their home in the town of Bikini Bottom.

Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob, talked about his life playing the odd fellow on the occasion of the release of a new episode Friday night on Nickelodeon. Kenny, 40, grew up not under the sea but in Syracuse, N.Y.

X-Team: How did you get your job as the voice of SpongeBob?

Tom: Well, SpongeBob wasn't my first character I did. Steve Hillenburg (the creator of SpongeBob) was an artist on Rocko's Modern Life. I also worked on Rocko's Modern Life, which was the first cartoon I ever did. Steve and I just clicked. When Steve had the idea for SpongeBob, he came to me and offered me the job. We never thought SpongeBob was going to become as big as it is when we first started.

X-Team: What was your favorite cartoon as a kid?

Tom: Looney Tunes, Rocky and Bullwinkle, some early black and white ones. I just loved cartoons. I would go to the library and read about the history of cartoons. I was crazy about them.

X-Team: What is your favorite SpongeBob adventure?

Tom: I like "Band Geeks," "Secret Box," "Exploding Pie," "Tying Shoes" … I like them all. Even if one isn't my favorite, there are still a few scenes I like.

X-Team: Who is your favorite character on the show, other than SpongeBob?

Tom: All the characters have great personalities, but I really like Squidward. I wouldn't want to hang out with him, though! Patrick is cool, too; he seems more fun.

X-Team: What's the best part of your job?

Tom: It's all good. There's no downside! Recordings are really fun, though, because we (the actors) get to all be together doing our lines and having fun.

X-Team: When you were in high school, did you ever think of having a career doing cartoon character voices?

Tom: Yes, I did, long before high school. I knew all the actors behind the voices of my favorite cartoons. I just didn't know how to get into the business.

X-Team: What are your hobbies?

Tom: Well, I have a 5-year-old son and a daughter on the way. I like to play with my son, go hiking and collect records. I recently went to Hawaii and went snorkeling. It's hard with work to do those things, though.

X-Team: Did you think SpongeBob was going to become the phenomenon it is today?

Tom: No, I had no idea! None of us who worked on the show did. The huge success of it all was a huge surprise!

X-Team: Is it hard doing multiple characters (such as SpongeBob and Patchy the Pirate)?

Tom: It's pretty easy to slip out of each character. They're so different.

X-Team: What would SpongeBob say about you?

Tom: (In SpongeBob voice) Oh, I like Tom, but he's a little hyper for me. We'd get along, though, because we're a lot alike.

-- Dana Orlando, 12, is in sixth grade at Seven Springs Middle School in New Port Richey.

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