Interview by Marley Sherwood
How did the Ryan Seacrest Foundation come to be?
It really got started with [my brother] Ryan, he would visit children’s hospitals with his various jobs. Living in L.A., we would frequent the Children’s Hospital of Orange County. He would host a live broadcast there for his morning radio show, meet the patients and bring celebrity friends for his broadcasts. He got a lot of feedback from patients and their families about how they wish they had more of this and how it brightened their day. In one of our visits there was this little girl who had not gotten out of bed in 73 days and she did to meet Ryan and Selena Gomez. We were just brought to tears. I am brought to tears again as we talk about it … We got to thinking about how we could do this more often. Ryan was not able to come broadcast every day from the hospital or bring celebrity friends every day, but how could we make more of an impact and have a place these kids wanted to hang out? A place that would allow them to escape what they are going through. This idea evolved into us creating a studio; Seacrest Studios.
We’re here at the studio at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. Where was the very first studio?
We decided to build the first one in our hometown of Atlanta. We totally did not know what we were doing. We built a studio with radio components, as well as TV, and made sure the kids would be the stars. Along the way we would see which celebrities were in town on tour or for press and we would arrange for them to come by and meet the kids. We started in Atlanta, Philadelphia was next and it kept spiraling from there. Selena Gomez helped us open the Philadelphia location and insisted we open one in her hometown of Dallas, Texas. Next thing you know we built one in Dallas! We built one in Orange County since that is where this idea came from. We have 10 Seacrest Studios across the country now, it’s amazing. And you have been a part of it and seen it in action with CMT Radio. It really is a place for the kids to come and escape and have fun. We have so many unique opportunities. The other day the weatherman came and taught the kids how to use a green screen. The special thing is, whatever is happening in the studio it broadcasts to all of the patients’ rooms. If they can’t come down they can still interact. They can still call in, FaceTime in, win prizes, stuff like that.
What is your role with the foundation?
I wear so many hats! This all started when Ryan had the idea and I was working in TV and production in Los Angeles. We created the idea and built the first one in Atlanta and he asked, “Would you leave your job and run this?” I had to really think about it. Did I want to work with family, my brother? I had to figure out what we would be doing. I loved my job but to be able to work with my family, why would I not want to do work involving helping children? I decided to leave my job and build this foundation. From helping build all the studios, creating the partnerships to hiring a team, I really try to wear every hat I have to. We had this idea and it evolved into being 10 studios in gosh, eight years? Nashville is our tenth and now we are taking a bit of a breather to make sure what we have built across the country is staying as great as it can be. Keeping up with technology and how much it changes, we don’t want to be outdated.
The success of the studios really has a lot to say about your brother’s work ethic and success. In my opinion, he is really one of the few people on national television and radio who can relate to his entire audience. What do you think makes your brother so successful?
I think good parenting. My dad taught us that you are learning more when you are listening, rather than when you are talking. He really took that to heart. His work ethic as well. He would always say, “I wasn’t necessarily the smartest, but I would get there early and stay late.” That was true for him even with high school football. It was always about strong work ethic, listening and being gracious to people. It doesn’t matter if you are getting coffee or at the top of the ladder… be kind to the entire staff. To this day, even with “American Idol,” he will throw huge lunches on set for the staff, because they are the ones who make everything look good. I do think a lot about that and trying to stay grounded in that crazy Hollywood world. The foundation for him was not something he wanted to start to just cut a check to. He wanted something tangible that he could actually do that would give back. He knew he was good at radio and TV and the relationships he had built from there is how this all came together.
What advice do you have for working with family?
It is truly a balancing act. Working with my brother and parents was the one thing I was most nervous about… because I love my family! One thing I made a point of is that if I call home at 7 o’clock, I’m in daughter mode and I’m not in work mode. If I truly have a work question we preface, “Hey, I have one work question,” and then I shift back to daughter mode. This is especially true with Ryan. If we need to talk work we will specifically set aside time for that. When we get together on the weekends and are having pizza and having a good time, that is not the time to interject with work. We make sure to know the difference and not blur the lines. I don’t want Ryan to think every time we hang out that I am going to ask him for 10 things. It is refreshing and helps us maintain balance, otherwise it would be too much.
What has been one of your most memorable experiences while working for the foundation? One of those moments that make you say, “This is why we do this. This makes it all worth it.”
There was a moment when we first got started. There were two girls who became dear friends from coming down to the studios. They started hanging out, making videos together. One girl was waiting for a heart and one girl had another illness. Sadly, the one little girl passed away, and shortly after the other girl received a heart from a donor. I am tearing up right now, I’m sorry … It was so moving; the one best friend passes away and soon after her friend received a heart. Everyone thought it was a sign. Her recovery was faster than imaginable. They attested a lot of it to spending time in Seacrest Studios, without that she may not have had the will and the success on her road to recovery. The little girl did a fundraiser at school in honor of her friend who passed away to support our studio. To see the friendship created and what it meant to their survival was such a nice story.
These kids are dealt the most unfortunate circumstances and to have Seacrest Studios as an escape is so amazing.
There are so many stories. There was even a kid who had not walked in several days who came down to play bingo and got up out of his wheelchair to put the number on the board and didn’t even think about the fact that he was walking! He was just so excited to play bingo. All of the nurses started crying. They couldn’t get him to walk in his therapy classes and he got up and walked he was so into the game!
What goals do you still want to achieve with the foundation and studios?
One thing we have always said is that we would love to be in every hospital, but at the same time we want to maintain the quality. One day I hope our concept goes international and helps children around the world. Also, if there is some way our content could be shared. If we cannot have a studio in every hospital, can our content be shared? As technology changes we think about how we can improve and create some kind of a 2.0 version of what we do. One thing we have been doing to continue to evolve the studio is networking the studios together. For example, we just had Dolly Parton here and we fed her to the other studios so she was able to speak with kids in D.C. and Cincinnati to name a few. Our goal would be to continue to evolve as best we can to make sure we are doing our best for the children.
Your brother is probably the busiest man in America, how often does he get to the studios?
He visits the studios every chance he can. Having several daily jobs we also have him create wherever he is. Let’s say he’s at an iHeart festival… we get him to cut a lot of content with the stars so we can send it back to the studios. We’ll have Ryan live and he can say, “Hey Seacrest Studios, it’s Ryan and we are backstage. I’m with Taylor Swift…” sort of thing. That way Ryan can be brought into the studio and share experiences.
You recently relocated to Nashville. Why did you choose this studio and city to be your home base?
I was coming to Nashville a lot to build the Nashville studio, launch the opening and more. My husband and I recently got married and we had been thinking about leaving L.A. and making a change to start a family… I am pregnant now! We talked about different areas to live and the people were so nice here. My parents are in Atlanta and his are in Arkansas so it was perfect. There is such a sense of community and we can get around without traffic. We fell in love with the city. From the entertainment side of things I was doing in L.A., it was an easy transfer to Nashville. We have been here about a year. The headquarters for the Ryan Seacrest Foundation is now here. Ryan will be coming here a lot more since he will be uncle Ryan very soon!
Is he so excited?
I think he is more excited than me! Our parents are both only children, so we have no aunts, uncles or cousins. It is so crazy. You come from a huge family, right? Everything that happens in our family is just with us! We not only work together, but we also have no other family members, ha! And then I go and marry an only child, so it’s like can it get any leaner? But it’s all good!
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Princess Diana. I find it intriguing, when you watch the royal family now and how they are changing their lifestyle constantly… making themselves modern, yet still so private. I always think about that because I have a family member in the business. The lack of privacy is interesting and sometimes it can be a lot when people come up to you. I can only imagine the pressure the royal family has to maintain a certain image. The struggles Diana went through and how she wanted to make changes… I think she would be so proud of her children today and the way they have changed the monarchy in certain ways, in great ways. I think it would be really fascinating to talk with her about what she really thought about it all and what she was going through.
Photography by Ryan Nolan
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