Pre-broadcast days, the multi-faceted television host traveled the beauty pageant circuit, winning Miss South Carolina and representing her State at the Miss America competition. From there, O’Dell began her long-running broadcast journey, first as a reporter and anchor in Myrtle Beach; then as news anchor and crime reporter in Charleston; and later as an investigative reporter in Miami, before joining Access Hollywood, where she resided for 13 years. Currently, she co-hosts the most watched entertainment news program in the world, Entertainment Tonight (ET). Having interviewed some of Hollywood’s biggest hitters, including Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, and Madonna, the Emmy Award-winner can safely be coined the country’s most distinguished journalist.
In addition to O’Dell’s role on ET, she’s a best-selling author, producer, entrepreneur, National Vice President of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the ALS National Ambassador, but the title she seems to treasure most is that of Mom. She presently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Keith, two stepsons, Tyler, 18, and Carson, 15, and daughter Ashby, 7. We were fortunate enough to speak with the always poised and highly accomplished, Ms. Nancy O’Dell.
You’ve been an entertainment journalist for over 15 years and have interviewed some of the biggest names in the world. What’s one of your more memorable interviews? One of them was interviewing Michelle Obama and President Obama together on the campaign trail running for reelection. That was a memorable one because we’re not known for doing political interviews, and they were wanting to reach a unique audience. With Entertainment Tonight there’s a lot of female and mom viewers, so it’s a different audience for them than somebody who may be watching a political show. It was a fun, interesting interview.
Did anything in particular about Michelle Obama, who happens to be a very busy mom, stand out? Well, speaking of being a mom and how you can relate to the First Lady, one of the first things that stuck out in my mind when I was interviewing Michelle Obama was that I asked her how she managed the juggle on the campaign trail, wanting to be there for her husband with having two young daughters at home, and she said honestly what I do is accept the fact that it’s one big guilt trip. You’re trying to do everything as best as you can, but sometimes you have to let go. She said she obviously wants to be there to support her husband because he’s a great President, but she also wants to be there for every moment in her daughters’ lives. She said ‘those are two very huge things for me’, so she accepts the fact that sometimes you live in the guilt and sometimes you leave it…It’s so hard to juggle both… and I think that’s why that interview stood out because I could so relate to what she was feeling.
It’s good to see that even the First Lady goes through similar challenges as regular moms. Yes, exactly. And, sometimes you just have to release and realize that you do the best that you can. One thing I’ll never do is miss an event of my kids. My mom and dad were there for every event that I ever did. That’s something that stands out in my mind as a child. There’s ways to work around it. I tell my boss, look if you need me to come in at 5am in the morning so that I can be freed up by 11, to go to a singing event that my daughter’s doing at her school, then I’ll do that. A lot of times it’s give and take.
That’s very true. Are there any celebrities or public figures that you’d like to interview but haven’t? The one that I always wanted to interview, because I don’t think anyone really knew him that well, and he seemed to me like such a sweet person… of course you hear the stuff in the news about him, but Michael Jackson. I was supposed to be on the set of his rehearsal for his London concert two days after he passed away, so that was always one that I wanted to interview.
Have any celebrities ever made you nervous? Richard Gere…I know him so well now, so he doesn’t make me nervous anymore. But, I had a childhood crush on him because when I was little I snuck into the movie, American Gigolo, and saw his derrier and from then on he made me nervous. (Laughs)
What is your proudest TV moment? Working with Oprah Winfrey on the OWN network was definitely one of them. And the MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) Telethon, which I do every year in honor of my mom who passed away from ALS. They have a whole division where they do research and help families, and people who are diagnosed with ALS. So, the first year that I did it was just a few months after my mom passed away. I went on the telethon to tell the story about my mom and how she was diagnosed, and her passing away. And, I thought I was never going to be able to get through it, and I remember praying right before I went on for strength to get through it…I kept thinking ‘I’m never going to be able to get my words out’ because every time I talked about her I started crying. But, I got through it knowing that I was making a difference, and it was in her honor. That was really one of the proudest moments.
You’re also a producer. Do you prefer being in front of the camera or behind the scenes? Well, it’s nice not to have to get in hair and makeup! (Laughs) I enjoy both of them. I love doing the interviews. I love to learn, and you get to know somebody, and you do the research about them and ask them questions, so I love that part. The part that I love about being a producer is that you get to tell the story. You’re the one who’s in charge of the creative aspect so that’s really fun, and you feel more in control of the finality of it.., which is nice because you’re very passionate about your project. I produced Celebrities at Home for HGTV as well as hosted it, so I got to do both.
And, you’re an avid scrapbooker and partnered with Creative Memories. Why are you so passionate about scrapbooking? I call myself a fourth generation scrapbooker, and that can be anything from digital scrapbooks to the old-fashioned kind, to the kind where you simply put the photos into a photo sleeve. I’ve always been a big believer in saving memories, especially if you have children. It forms such a feeling of bonding and a group and when they look at a picture it reinforces that. My dad gave me all these scrapbooks that my mom had made, after she passed away, that she had done our entire lives and even as an adult it gave me such a sense of belonging, because she would just scrapbook anything and everything we ever did. That’s so important for your kids. So, they can see how proud you are of them, and their work, and everything that they’ve done. And, who doesn’t like to go back and look at memories? One of the things we did with Creative Memories was create a line that was super simple for busy moms. You can do something in ten minutes.
And, speaking of memories, you experienced life-changing events during your pregnancy that prompted you to write a parenting book, Full of Life. Why did you think it was necessary to write this book? There were so many things that happened during my pregnancy, and I was like why didn’t any of my friends tell me this was going to happen? Even my husband. Obviously he had gone through pregnancies with the boys’ birth mother, and I was like ‘why didn’t you tell me these things would happen?’ Like, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and have these horrible cramps and he’d be like, “oh yeah, that happened,” and then he’d go back to sleep… (Laughs) Most of the things weren’t life threatening or dangerous, which is why most people don’t think to tell you, but you want to know. So I thought there was a need for a book.
You actually have 3 best-selling books. Do you plan to write any more? I do. I love to write. That’s part of what I do as a journalist. My husband and I have talked about doing a fitness book because we like to work out together. I always say when you’re busy and your life is busy find ways to do two things at one time. So, with my husband we’re spending time together and we’re also getting a workout in. Even with your kids, when you go out and play tag you’re getting a workout in and you’re also getting to spend quality time with them.
You also have a popular children’s App, Little Ashby: Star Reporter, named after your daughter. Can you tell us a little bit about that? We’re actually going to do another book with that. I turned the first App into a book, Santa’s Big Premiere, which is out there for the holidays. We have another one, Little Ashby: Star Reporter is going to go on another adventure. I started her out as an App. I saw my daughter and how much she was learning from technology and one of the things I love about my job as a reporter is that I’m constantly learning, no matter what it is, whether it’s a different subject or different location… So, I thought what a great thing for kids to experience. Obviously they can’t travel all over the world physically, but they can virtually, so that’s why I wanted to create the App. And, it’s educational because she goes on an adventure and learns things along the way…but all in a fun way.
You always look incredible, even right after having Ashby. What do you do to stay fit? I get up super early because I want to be able to play with my daughter and visit with her before she goes off to school. My big thing is multitasking so I have to keep up with all the television shows and movies for awards season. I get them all on DVD or on Netflix and I’m on my treadmill at the highest incline possible, and I watch whatever I need to watch during that time and get my exercise in. After I do that I’ll work out with weights, or do crunches or whatever muscle I want to work that day, and that’s how I do it. And, the other times I get cardio in with my kids by going outside and playing with them.
What about a diet regimen? I actually try to take my food to work because when you get really hungry you tend to eat what’s available so I make sure I control that. I take baked chicken, and an apple and salad, pretty much every day, and cucumbers to snack on. In that way I control what I have readily available.
Are you working on any other projects that we can look forward to? I am… Hopefully the workout book with my husband. We have a show that we’re producing that we just sold for a cable channel. I’m very much into home decor and design, and we have another show that we’re producing and pitching for that. If I weren’t a journalist people always ask what would I want to be and I say I’d like to be an interior designer. I love it. I even did my own house. Your home is where you keep the most memories. Memories are so great.
Last year, Nancy was presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from her alma mater, Clemson University. She spoke to the graduates and encouraged them to never give up in pursuing their dreams, saying “I decided that I would rather fail doing something I enjoyed than be successful doing something that would just be a grind,” and later, “my wish for all of you is that you will do the same. Be who you are because you’ll always be right.”
We are so grateful this hard-working career mother decided to pursue her dreams, because in doing so she has touched many lives and inspired others to go after their God-given passions. It’s no wonder Nancy O’Dell is one of the most respected journalists of our time.