How Keke Palmer Made Her 'Password' Persona Wink at a Role ‘Dominated by Men’

keke palmer posing in a pink minidress
How Keke Palmer Crafted Her 'Password' PersonaNBC

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Keke Palmer likens her duties on NBC’s Password to another notch in a (particularly prolific) Barbie’s belt. That’s not simply because the hosting gig won Palmer her history-making Emmy, but because she prides herself on her shapeshifting skills, the careers changing with her clothes. “Every aspect of me is a different doll,” Palmer tells me when we meet over Zoom in February. “Whether it’s Keke Palmer on the carpet, Keke Palmer doing Password, or Keke Palmer doing her podcast—it’s a different zone.” In the case of Password, the suit simply fits. “It’s these suits and the skirts and the ties and the glasses and the hats and the brooches and the accessories that really bring it together,” she says.

Password, launched in 1961, is one of the most celebrated game shows ever created, considered one of the greats amongst genre stalwarts like Jeopardy! and Family Feud. The format pairs celebrity guests with contestants to guess a secret “password” using only one-word clues. NBC rebooted the show in 2022, replacing a long line of male hosts (Allen Ludden, Bert Convy, Regis Philbin, and so on) with Palmer.

The significance of that change was far from lost on her; her Password wardrobe intentionally winks at the stodgy old-school (and very male) look characterized by her predecessors. “This is a space that has normally been dominated by men, when you think about game show hosts,” she says. “So my style is an ode to that with a feminine twist, where I’m wearing these suits or these strong power looks, but also dresses with an old British fashion to it.”

With season 2 of the Password reboot premiering on March 12 on NBC, Palmer took behind the scenes of her closet curation—and explained why her host persona is a “satirical” take on a classic character.

Watch Password on Peacock

Palmer worked with her stylist, Seth Chernoff, to develop a look that was as vivacious as Palmer herself, but that also fit the tongue-in-cheek nature of her role. Together, they pulled racks of Sergio Hudson and Dolce & Gabbana to infuse the host’s academic style with neon color and eye-catching prints.

“I didn't necessarily know everybody else was going be into it, but I knew that Seth and I were into it,” Palmer says. “We were like, ‘We are about to have so much fun with these Password looks,’ and then we were happy that everybody else was as delighted as we were and that the show, [executive producer and recurrent guest] Jimmy [Fallon] and everybody else that put Password together, that they weren’t like, ‘Now wait a minute, guys, y’all are going too far.’ It seemed that everybody was into me kind of going into this space and having fun with it.”

keke palmer laughing at the password podium

From the moment she was cast, Palmer and Chernoff saw the hosting gig as a character, and the clothes as costume. They wanted both to toe the line between celebrating and poking fun at the Password aesthetic of yore. Palmer describes her outfits as “a bit on the nose, where it’s like, ‘We know what we’re doing,’” she says. “It’s a satirical element in many ways.”

keke palmer walking onstage in a purple blouse and skirt

One accessory her character will never go without? Outrageous oversized glasses. “It adds to the whole quirk, and there’s a kitschiness to it,” Palmer says. Her brand of choice is Zenni—“a different frame for every mood”—and the frames play a practical purpose alongside a styling one. “For me it was this element of no contacts every day, you know what I mean?” she jokes.

keke palmer at the podium in an orange blazer

The game show format itself feels like a callback to Palmer’s earlier career. “I would liken it to a matured version of the work I was able to do as a kid with Nickelodeon and Disney,” she says. “It’s this more adult version of family fun.”

She yearns for the freedom not to own one singular “brand,” but to make her multiplicity itself the “Keke Palmer brand.”

“I’ll do something edgy,” she says. “I’m fine with that. But then I think it’s so important to do things that are also wholesome and that the whole family can enjoy together. It’s that muscle of being able to be for the parents and make jokes that only they understand, and then make jokes that are for the kids, too. Any job that I do, I’m always exercising a different muscle of language and how to communicate to different audiences, and this is a different audience. This is the audience that watched me on Good Morning America...and so I’m glad that I get to reintroduce myself to them again.”

keke palmer walking onstage in a plaid blazer dress

“I’m every woman,” she continues. “I think that’s how I see myself. I’m your athletic girl. I’m your girl that is going to the ball. I’m your girl that’s going to the classroom. I’m the student, I’m the teacher, I’m the judge and the juror. I think my style is more so expressive of that, and that’s why I like to change it up, and give it a different vibe when I get the opportunity to do one of my different gigs.”

keke palmer posing in a lavender minidress with matching jacket

In February 2023, Palmer welcomed her first son, Leodis Andrellton Jackson, introducing the actress to the entirely new role of full-time mother. That job, too, comes with its own wardrobe. She calls it “Princess Diana energy.”

“I want to just be, ‘Let me put a blazer on real quick. Let me put a bell bottom with a jean on. Let me put some biker shorts on and sneakers and a hoodie,’” she says. “It’s like this professional swag that I think I’ve embraced in my career a lot of times, right? But in my personal life it’s [now] been a little bit more embraced.”

She continues, “I’ve become even more busy, but I also want to be this person for my son to just really live for, you know what I mean? I want him to just be like, ‘My mom has got it going on.’”

keke palmer in a neon green blazer and minidress

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