Interview by Lauren Neuschel
Congrats on your co-host position at WCIU for their new morning show, “The Jam.” You’ve had an impressive trajectory in your years since college. What is your advice for those just starting out in the working world?
I feel really lucky that I had two parents who were self-employed. My dad’s a dentist and my mom sells mortgages. I grew up in a household where we really talked about our days at the dinner table. Being around that all the time, it trickled down to me. I feel like I have always been incredibly ambitious. It’s always been a part of me; I can’t help it. I always did weird stuff to get jobs. I never wanted to just send my resume in. I didn’t have any connections out of college. I knew no one in entertainment, and all I wanted my whole life was to be in entertainment. So, for example, I would send people cookies. They wouldn’t answer my emails, so I’d send them a big basket of cookies. And then usually they’d email to say thank you and we’d finally connect. I’d research somebody and find their favorite coffee and stand outside their office every single day for two weeks until I found them. Weird stuff. I really believe if you want something, go and get it. It sounds cliché but nothing is off-limits. The best things in life are on the other side of fear.
When’s one time you put yourself out there? How did it pay off?
I was on my way to a red carpet and I was walking with a photographer. We were both lost. We see this guy outside of a gym and the photographer says, “Hello.” I start talking to him and he’s this athletic, cool, older guy and he’s holding a basketball. I start messing with him. Little did I know – the photographer tells me – he’s Steve Carlston, the General Manager of NBC4 in Southern California. I followed him to his car and said, “Steve, can I send you my reel?” I followed up and I emailed 12 times until he let me come in. I presented him a package to create an entertainment reporter role for NBC, which they had never had. He didn’t hire me, but he has really become a huge mentor in my life and career. Truly every job I’ve ever gotten I have worked so hard to get. It was never easy for me.
You make your career progression look so easy.
I think that’s a flaw of Instagram. I don’t always share enough on social media. There have been so many tears. The struggle is so real. I worked at Entertainment Tonight Online and I used to stay late when everyone left. They had this amazing database of 20 to 30 years of interviews. I love J.Lo so I would watch her old interviews. I heard her say that her first major job was “Selena.” She had to do, like, 12 auditions for it. Her manager called her and said, “You got the job, but damn, it’s never easy for you.” That was validating. The struggle almost makes you better in a way.
What are you doing to prep for morning television?
Well, I highlighted my hair yesterday [laughs]. Honestly, I’m doing a lot. My boyfriend and I do, what we call, “rat reports” together. One of my good friends from college is an attorney and when she was hired, all of the partners said, “Don’t just call out the dead rat on the floor; come up with a solution to clean it up.” It’s so morbid, but what a powerful thing to apply to our everyday lives. I think about the issues we’re facing all the time, but I really need to come up with solutions to these issues. I take topics like healthcare, Trump, journalism today – anything – and I break them down and really research them and then come up with my own solution. That way I feel like I have something of value to say. I’m waking up at 2:30 a.m. and these stories are going to come in quickly. Obviously I have to study, but I want to have formulated opinions ready. So rat reports and highlighted hair… I’m also getting to know my co-hosts, which is cool. We all come from very different backgrounds. Talk about a study of life to be able to have a rapport with these different people that were thrown together. It’s so cool. I feel lucky because we have genuine chemistry.
What do you and your co-hosts do to get comfortable on camera together?
There has been a lot of pizza. We go to lunch a lot. We’re practicing debates and something called “host chat” which is the first 20 minutes of the show where we talk about hot topics. We’ve been trying to get deep quickly. We’re all interviewers so it’s our job to ask these kinds of questions and try to dig beneath the surface.
How is the 2:30 a.m. wake-up call going to change your life?
I’m so scared for that. I will do anything for the job. I’ve always been that way. I’m scrappy. You know Scooby Doo? I’m Scrappy Doo. I will do anything to get the job and be the best I can be, the best version of myself. Two-thirty in the morning is rough, though. I’m scared. I am doing my own hair and makeup. I’ve never done that at 2:30 a.m. I’m thinking I should workout at midnight and do my day in reverse. I’ll let you know how it goes.
What is your approach to goal setting?
I don’t do a vision board or anything. I always go with my gut. I don’t necessarily know the 20-year move, but I always know what the next move feels like. I also trace careers backwards. If I want to be Barbara Walters, how did she do it? I break it down. Obviously journalism has changed [since she was my age] with digital media, but there are things that she did that I can try to emulate.
Why has journalism been your path?
I want to be the millennial Barbara Walters. Part of the reason that I wanted to be on TV or have a voice digitally is because I want to change the way women are viewed and spoken about. I think that TV is so powerful in pop culture. It has such a powerful voice. For me, to be on a platform, to be able to ask people questions that matter, to tell people’s stories, to help change people’s minds, that’s really the goal. I’ve always had to love what I do. I’ve quit great jobs before because they’re just not right for me. That’s not to say that you don’t have to pay your dues and do stuff that you don’t want to do, but holistically I want to wake up every day and be passionate about work.
You’ve wanted to be in entertainment since you were young. What is it actually like being in the throngs of it?
It’s incredibly inspiring. I have been obsessed with TV and pop culture since I can remember. I think it plays a huge role in politics and culture in general. When I moved to L.A. I was amazed by the people. They were passionate and most of them were insane. They had amazing stories and have had incredible experiences both good and bad. I really love my job because I study people’s lives. I learn from their failures and their triumphs and their wisdom. I pay really close attention. I’m truly listening. I feel like they teach me how to live better in some ways.
Journalists have been getting a lot of beef lately in the political realm. How has that impacted you and your role in it?
I don’t think it has impacted me professionally that much. I am about to do a morning show and obviously you always have to be factual and truthful when you report the news, but the morning show has a lot of lifestyle and fun elements, too. Where I feel it is as a citizen because I think freedom of the press is so important. It’s always been the checks and balances to the government. Half of my family was in the Holocaust and when I think of freedom of the press, I think about Hitler’s Germany and propaganda. The world is cyclical in many ways. News has also become really bombastic of late. The 24-hour news cycle, which is obviously profitable for companies and networks, is a weird way to deliver news. I think it makes people feel strange because they’re watching this news cycle for 24 hours and they get obsessed with one story instead of the real information. I think this backlash has caused journalists to take their jobs even more seriously and be even more invested in the truth and being right instead of first.
You have a large following on social media. How did you get to that place and what are your tricks?
When I didn’t understand social I’d just throw anything up there. I should probably delete the back end of my Instagram; there are some questionable photos. It’s so trite, but I really believe that authenticity is so key in social media. I try to walk the line between being authentic, adding value and also being fun. I try to add value. In life, I’m the friend people call or text for a referral to a doctor, a manicurist, a tailor. I try to parlay that into social media. If there’s a book I’m reading that teaches me a ton, I want to share it. If there’s a political conversation that people are having, I want to add my perspective. I want to talk about hair and clothes and makeup, but I also want to talk about healthcare and feminism; those are just my personality and my interests. I try and do that without boring everyone. The absolute coolest thing is when I get messages from girls that connect with me and my content, whether it’s a question about makeup, confidence or their dream job. That makes social media worthwhile for me.
You’re especially interested in the topic of feminism. Where does that stem from?
Robay is actually my middle name and it is my grandmothers’ names put together. Rodi and Barbara. My mom named me that and since I can remember she said, “You’re named after two really strong women.” And she’s a strong woman and always talks about girl power. So I always grew up with that. As I got older I had a ton of experiences where I became so aware that I was a woman. I was in situations that made me so aware of my gender. It bugged me so much. You should just be a journalist, not a female journalist. I am truly aware of it– the way that I speak to my bosses. It’s perceived differently than for a man.
How do you face those gender biases in your profession today?
Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. In general, women are treated differently and we’re taught to be likeable and elegant and pleasant. I want to be all of those things naturally, but I don’t want to have to censor what I say and how I say it to be that. I think a great thing that came from a president that I don’t believe in is that women have really come together. I truly feel a shift. I feel like our generation has really changed that. We really support each other. I feel it at work. I feel it with my friends. We have this thing where if someone gets a new job we always celebrate. Everyone always celebrates boyfriends and engagements and babies. All of those things are so important, but we should celebrate jobs.
I wouldn’t have taken this job in any other city. I don’t even think New York. I love my family so much. I truly feel like it is such a privilege to work in the place where I grew up. I really feel that moving away from home makes you take notice of all the things that you took for granted before. People are so authentic and kind-hearted here. I kind of felt like when I was in L.A. if I got hit by a car people would just say, “Bye.” Here there’s such a sense of community. I think sports is such a great magnifying glass on that. I’m not into sports, but I appreciate the culture that it brings. Chicago fans are crazy in the best way. I love the city but I believe in the people of the city. I really do. There’s a work ethic, an authenticity, a kindness– a real sense of community.
Who has been your favorite person to interview on the red carpet?
I am obsessed with Simon Cowell. I’ve interviewed Tom Hanks, Bradley Cooper and Taylor Swift, but I love Simon Cowell. I have a place in my heart for him. He doesn’t know this, and I haven’t talked to him since, but he helped me get my first gig. A company hired me for a red carpet for “The X Factor.” It was honestly one of my first red carpets– a fake-it-till-you-make-it moment. I interviewed him and he gave me an exclusive that got picked up by all of these national outlets. That company gave me a more formal job [after that]. He doesn’t know, but he really helped me get my job. It’s so surprising. You’d think he’d be buttoned up and mean because that’s his persona. But he is so charismatic and kind and so smart. I love Gina Rodriguez as well. She is the real deal. Celebrities can be a little affected sometimes. When you encounter those who aren’t it’s such a breath of fresh air. She has soul. I’ve interviewed her a few times.
Do celebrities remember their previous interactions with reporters?
When you start interviewing them a lot they remember. If you can form a personal connection and ask them a question that’s soulful for them, that’s key.
What do you do to make that connection with interviewees?
You can’t always, and that’s okay. I’ve kind of accepted that, but I always try. I also do a ton of research. When I first moved to L.A., these reporters on the carpet had long legs and blonde hair, and I was a little intimidated. Michelle Weiner is my other main mentor and she’s an incredible agent at CAA. She’s one of the most fantastic women I know. She said to me, “Be the best version of yourself.” So before every interview, I play that in my head. You can’t be anyone else. It’s such a waste of energy to compare yourself to others. Focus on improving the one thing you can control– you. That, to me, is being the hardest working person in the room, being the most researched. I really find that when you’re the most researched, not only are you able to listen more, but the interviewee can tell. They give you better responses. If you know something that people don’t ask them about, they really open up. Everyone is always asking the same thing.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
I would have a duo drink with Maya Angelou and Oprah. They were really good friends, so we could all have a drink together. Is that allowed? They’re like best friends; they come as a package.
Where would you be drinking?
Honestly, I love my bed. I couldn’t invite them to my bed, but I feel like it would be more relaxed.
Maybe you’d have a pajama party.
Yes! I don’t really go out. I only go to Soho House, this rooftop and my bed. Maybe instead we can go to Oprah’s house. That’s what it should be: Oprah’s kitchen. Eating and drinking tea. There’s something about that.
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