Amazon is discontinuing celebrity voices for Alexa — a feature you may or may not have known about. The three Alexa voices — Samuel L. Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Melissa McCarthy — are no longer available for purchase.
The Verge was the first to report the news.
Launched in 2019, the celebrity voices use Amazon’s neural text-to-speech model, which uses machine learning and is meant to sound more lifelike. Instead of relying on prerecorded responses, the model generates voices with fun personalities.
“After three years, we’re winding down celebrity voices,” an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Customers will be able to continue using these voices for a limited time and can contact our customer service team for a refund.”
Jackson was the first voice to be introduced and could tell users jokes and stories or answer questions. The biggest perk was choosing between the explicit or clean version, which was probably fun for fans who wanted to hear Jackson yell his iconic line from “Snakes on a Plane.”
The Amazon page for Jackson’s voice says, “Customers who previously purchased the experience may continue to use the skill until April 2023.” However, the Amazon spokesperson said that customers can use the voice through June 7.
Customers were notified in December that Amazon will soon stop supporting the voice of Jackson on Alexa devices, including voice-activated Echo devices, FireTV Cube and FireTV Omni.
Meanwhile, users who have already purchased McCarthy and Shaq voices have until September 30 before the feature is no longer supported on Alexa devices. This means customers still have four months to mess around with it. For instance, they can ask the device, “Hey, Melissa, tell me about ‘Bridesmaids’” or “Hey, Shaq, play rock, paper, scissors.”
We don’t know exactly why the company decided to shut down the celebrity voice feature. However, it’s safe to assume that there was limited adoption. After all, we doubt enough people were willing to spend $4.99 for just one celebrity voice. At launch, there was an introductory discount of $0.99.
The feature is also limited in regards to what the voices can respond to. While users can tell Shaq to set an alarm, the voice can’t help with shopping lists, reminders, or skills.
Additionally, Amazon likely shut down the feature in order to save costs. In November 2022, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon was looking at its devices division, which includes Alexa, as part of the company’s cost-cutting review. The publication noted that, in recent years, Amazon’s devices segment had an operating loss of over $5 billion a year.
Updated 5/30/23 at 3:15 p.m. ET with a statement from Amazon.