2015 is coming to an end and how can I end the year without reflecting back on some of my favorite interviews?
I’m so extremely grateful for all the epic “once in a lifetime” opportunities I’ve experienced this year in my career. From covering the biggest nights in Hollywood like the Grammys and Oscars LIVE to millions of viewers all over the world to jetting off to exotic locations for a sit-down exclusive, I’ve had the wonderful pleasure of getting to know some of the most famous faces in showbiz and sharing their stories with YOU!
Entertainment news shows rarely go beyond than highlighting the highs and lows of a celebrity’s career, but to me, it has always been more about the journey. No matter how famous or less-than-recognizable the star may be, I always treat them like a human being and try my best to learn something about their story. My natural curiosity and candidly genuine approach has become my trademark and, believe me, my reputation has helped me gain exclusive access to some unbelievable people and places.
Every time I do an interview, I try my best to capture the exact moment moment – either in a celebrity’s mannerism or language – of when they let their guard down and show us who they really are. I know it’s a good interview when I can walk away with substance, knowledge, and proudly say, “I’ve definitely learned something from it.”
Out of the thousands of interviews I’ve conducted this year, I’ve made a list of the top 7 that reflects our society today and/or changed my life for the better.
7. Christina Aguilera
I interviewed Christina Aguilera for the first time this year backstage at “The Voice.” She’s always been on my bucket list due to the fact that we went to the same high school together – North Allegheny HS! Although I missed her growing up in Pittsburgh by quite a few years (no shade, girl ;), I’ve heard so many stories about her from fellow Pittsburghers of how stuck-up she was and how she felt like she was too good to hang out with anyone there when her career was blowing. When I had the chance to chat with her, I just had to share with her that I’m from her hometown! She gave me the biggest hug in the world and slyly asked, “How could you be from my high school? You’re so nice!”
Ouch! I also asked her about her reputation back in the days, and she said she was misunderstood as a teen growing up in the suburbs. Many of her fellow classmates outcasted her because, well, they simply didn’t understand why she wasn’t around to hang out at football games on Friday nights and why she was missing school more than 200 days a year. A combination of jealousy and lack of acceptance for anyone doing anything different in a small town made Christina’s social life living Hell in her high school days. Things got so bad that on the night of her senior prom, when “Genie In a Bottle” came on, everyone left the dance floor. Christina burst out the gymnasium in tears.
This interview has changed my life because it made me realize there are always two sides to fame. Poor Christina was simply trying to hold on to fleeting hours of normalcy before her life became insane, only to be scorned by mean girls who hated her for living beyond their social norm. The common public always wants to judge a celebrity for “getting too big for their bridges,” or changing when they’re exposed to a certain lifestyle when in reality, it’s the people around them who are changing and treating them differently.
And let’s be honest. Some people like Christina was just not made for that #basicLIFE.
6. Laverne Cox
Laverne Cox is one of the most influential celebrities of our generation. Not only is this “Orange Is the New Black Star” the first transvestite to grace the cover of TIME, she’s also vowed to dedicate her life to spreading culture awareness of LGBT community and, most importantly, self-acceptance.
When I asked her if she had a memorable fan encounter, she said, “I was in Missouri State University and during the meet ’n greet, this lovely young girl comes up to me. She’s wearing this amazing pink tutu. I was like, ‘I love you pink tutu!’ She was there with her mom and she was 9 years old, and she was transgender. Her mother said I’ve been a huge inspiration to her as a parent to love her daughter more, to protect her daughter and it was just amazing to meet this young girl who is thriving with parental support and being fully herself. That to me is the best thing – when we can be fully ourselves – in a world that often tells us we shouldn’t or can’t.”
I’ve been interviewing Zendaya since the beginning of her career, but our best interview to date was the one live on air from the 2015 Oscars red carpet. Zendaya wore a stunning custom Vivienne Westwood gown and completed her look with faux-dreads. Never one to shy away from switching up her style, I asked Zendaya about her decision to rock dreads at Hollywood’s biggest night and she told me she wanted to pay tribute to her father’s ancestry and her culture. Zendaya’s father Kazembe Ajamu, who happens to be her manager, has sacrificed selflessly to ensure Zendaya not only has a thriving career in Hollywood but also a well-balanced life. Zendaya said dreads are beautiful, and if I only I could warn the poor thing of the travesty that was about to go down on “Fashion Police” moments later!
Zendaya is confident, bold, and an educator. She’s one of the best role models of our generation in my book.
4. Becky G
Speaking of young role models, Becky G is another one. I really got to know the feisty Latina when I hosted Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Grad 4 Mas” event at Compton High School. As a reward for the kids at Compton High School to better their grades and attendance rate, Becky G was the surprise performer of the day!
Before all the glitz and glam of Hollywood, Becky told me that when she was 9, her family lost their home and all six of their lived in her grandparents’ garage. Her motivation for succeeding in entertainment really comes from her fiery passion of bettering her family’s lifestyle. Family will always be first to Becky, and she also says it’s important for her to keep up her Spanish because she wants to celebrate both cultures.
3. Eddie Redmayne
If you’re into film and keep up with all the accolades, you must have heard of Eddie Redmayne by now. The 33-year-old British star won his very first Oscar playing Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” and I caught up with him twice – before his big win on the red carpet arrival at the Oscars, and moments after at Oscars’ official after party – the governor’s ball.
It’s safe to say that after an actor wins an Oscar, his/her life will never be the same. Their life changes instantly and there is no preparation for the massive global spotlight they’re thrust into. When I introduced Eddie as an “Oscar winner,” Eddie was still freaking out at the very fact that he won! He also revealed to me in our interview that he was flying to Scotland the very next day to start production on “The Danish Girl”.
There’s no time to stop and celebrate in Hollywood, and no one understands that more than Eddie. Even when people around you want to hype you up, don’t buy the hype… that’s when you start slipping. It’s all about what you’re doing next – your next critically acclaimed film, your next big hit, your next big something.
I met Queen Oprah at the after party for Governor’s Ball, where she stopped by and chatted with me for a good 8 minutes on air! As any entertainment journalist / TV host would tell you, there has been a period in our life when we worshiped Oprah. Queen O built a massive empire on helping people live their best lives, and she paved ways for many minorities in media.
When I asked Oprah about crying at the Oscars when the song “Glory” from “Selma” won, she admitted that it was because this year’s Oscars lacked diversity, but instead of blaming the Academy, it’s really a reflection of our society and the current state of Hollywood. “This is a very honest conversation our society needs to have. Why are there not a lot of roles for ethnic minorities in Hollywood? How can our community be more proactive in creating more opportunities?”
And, of course, I couldn’t let Oprah get away without giving me some words of wisdom!
“Oprah, what words of wisdom would you share with someone who wants to be as successful as you are one day?”
“Do you! You already have everything you need. Just focus on doing you.”
1. Sam Smith
Sam Smith is basically the male Adele, and he’s had one helluva year. He was up for 6 Grammys this year (won 4), but the most refreshing thing about Sam isn’t only his musical talents.
During our interview at the Grammys, I asked him what he’s most proud of so far, and he said, “The thing that I’m proud of the most is I’ve come this far in my journey without having to change who I am. Oh, and also I’m very proud of no rehab, so far.”
There you go, guys… Live and learn! Cheers to a fabulous 2016!1