Emmy award-winning entertainment journalist Nancy O’Dell is the co-host of “Entertainment Tonight” and former co-anchor of “Access Hollywood.” She has interviewed numerous high-profile personalities and celebrities from the Obamas to Oprah—and now it’s Your Teen’s turn to interview her. We chatted with her about her career and life as a mom of a 12-year-old.
Q: Tell me a little bit about what you do and the journey that took you to “Entertainment Tonight.”
O’Dell: I majored in marketing, so I started out in TV sales at the Florence-Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, television station. Because it was a small TV market, I also did some reporting for the news on the weekend. I thought it was an interesting job because the stories were ever-changing. It was something different every weekend. From there I got a call from a TV station in Charleston, South Carolina. I really wanted to live in Charleston because it was this beautiful, fun city, and I was young. I was the crime reporter there, and that beat was completely fascinating to me. The police let me go on ride-alongs, and the story, again, was so different every day. That’s what I loved about being a reporter—no two days were the same. It’s what I still love today.
Q: What kind of advice would you offer to a young person who wants to do what you do?
O’Dell: My advice is to go out and get the experience doing the interviews. Experience is so important because there is definitely a skill to doing a good interview. It’s frustrating to viewers if they are watching an interview, and the reporter is not asking the questions they want to hear the answers to.
I’ll give you the best example of somebody who has experience and where you see that experience pay off—Gayle King’s interview with R. Kelly. Gayle came from a local news background. That’s where she and Oprah became best friends, because they worked in local news together way back when. Her experience was why the interview was so great—she handled it with such poise and grace. And she asked everything you wanted to her to ask as a viewer.
Q: I know you were in the pageant world, and so much has changed since then. Would you encourage your daughter to do that today, or do you have a different perspective on it?
O’Dell: That’s a tough question to answer. I like the focus on the interview skills, the talent, and the fact that you get a scholarship from it, but I wouldn’t encourage her to parade around in a swimsuit. I think that part of it is a little antiquated. I love the fact that I got a whole year of college paid for being part of Miss America, representing South Carolina, and I went around for an entire year speaking as a representative of South Carolina. I went on an international trade relations program to Japan, so that was an experience I’ll never forget. That public speaking helped me out so much with my job today, so I could never trade that.
Q: Is your daughter interested in doing pageants?
O’Dell: No, because it’s not so much a thing in California, and not so much a popular thing to do in this day and time. If I said the word “pageant” to her, I don’t even know if she would know what that is. Back in my time, in the late 80s and the 90s and in the South, pageants were very popular.
Reality competitions are more popular now as a place for people to showcase their talents, like “The Voice,” and “American Idol.” My daughter would love to do a cooking competition; she’s big into cooking. She loves the kid celebrity chef shows. We do a fun thing when making dinner sometimes. She wants me to give her a bunch of different ingredients and then she creates a dish or meal from them. We go to the grocery store, and we’ll just pick random ingredients. She does a good job; her creations are really delicious!
Q: Does she clean up?
O’Dell: She actually does. She’ll want a nice allowance after she does it, but she does clean up afterwards.
Q: I think I read somewhere that you’re very into scrapbooking with your daughter.
O’Dell: I am. I’m huge into taking pictures and documenting the memories and stuff. She loves that, too. We’ll go back and look at her baby pictures and things that she did. My mom passed away when my daughter was a year old, so it’s a great way to remember my mom, who was an incredible mother. It’s a great bonding moment with my daughter to talk about and remember the things we have done.
Q: What do you see changing as she’s entering early adolescence, or what are the things you’re worried about?
O’Dell: She has started talking about some of the cliques. I’ve heard other moms say the friend drama starts about this age. Her teachers told me that she doesn’t really get into all the drama, and that’s one thing that I’ve been so happy about. She gets along with everybody, so I love that about her. But sometimes she gets her feelings hurt if she’s not always included, so I’m trying to give her a good sense of herself. I think that’s one place where family is important. If she knows that she’s got this family who loves her tremendously, that we’re always there for her, that’s the most important thing—just a good, strong sense of self.
Q: How would you describe your parenting style?
O’Dell: I’m a very involved mom. I help her with her homework, and I attend almost all her events. My daughter is very athletic and does every sport in the world—volleyball, basketball, soccer, softball, track, tennis. She plays in sports at school and in the community, so she has a very busy sports schedule. My mom and dad showed up at every sports event I ever did, and I know how good that made me feel, so I make it a point to show up at her events. We finish taping at about 3 p.m. or a little after, and her games are after school, so usually I can make them and that makes me very happy. It’s so much fun to watch her excel in sports; it’s such a highlight of my day.
We have great conversations, and we play a lot. She and I play a ton of sports together. She’ll be doing homework. I’ll say work hard, do your homework for an hour, and then we’ll take a 10-minute break and go compete in a basketball game of horse. Then she’ll come back in, work for another hour, and we’ll go out and take another 10-minute break and play volleyball. I strongly recommend it to everyone because it gives kids a goal and it gets some energy out so they aren’t distracted when doing their work.
Q: What do you want your daughter to know, based on your own experiences in this difficult industry?
O’Dell: My biggest thing is for her to have a strong sense of self. I want her to know that she can be strong, and that she can do anything that she wants to do. I love the #MeToo movement and that women feel like they can speak up for themselves. I love the fact that in this time, women feel strong and they don’t feel like they “age out” and companies seem to respect experience. I want my daughter to have a career for as long as she wants to. I want her to know that she can stick up for herself. I want her to believe in herself as much as I believe in her, which is a ton!