Jeannie Mai | ” Empowering women. I want young women here to do whatever it is that they dream to do.”
- What takes up most of your time right now: Sleeping. If I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t sleep because I don’t like to. There are only so many hours in the day that you can inspire someone. I literally work until my eyes start falling heavy. I love my job. I’ve never felt like I’ve worked. That’s what takes up most of my time: sleeping and pooping.
- Guilty pleasure: I love my Crocs. I’m proud about it. Until you’ve tried a good pair on, you won’t understand how they really feel—it’s like rubber guys massaging your feet. I wear heels 90% of the time so they really do work.
- Relationship status: Married 3.5 years! I married a round eye. He’s host of Hollywood Hunter.
- Pet peeve: Being discouraged. Whether you’re allowing yourself to be discouraged or others are discouraging.
- What kind of car do you drive: Ford Hybrid Escape. It’s the best car ever. It makes me feel cute and chic, and it’s great for cargo.
- Can you speak/read/write Chinese and/or Vietnamese: I can speak, read, and not write so well in Viet. I can swear in Chinese, but vowed not to do it after age 26. I can eat Chinese!
- What is the “it” style of the season: Bright colors are coming in in the hugest way, more than any year before. Instead of matching colors in the past, women are encouraged to go crazy mixes of colors. Wear pink with a blue dress. Yellow eye shadow. Flower prints—mix and match. Think Hello Kitty colors plus Mrs. Roper patterns.
- Best place to get sweet potato fries: We’re going in categories. For the sweetened potato fry mimicking the taste of a churro: Umami Fries with cinnamon on it. For the spicy chipotle flavored fry, go to Alibi. If you want to be a fry whore and cheat on your fries, go to The Counter. It’s 50/50 of sweet potato fries and onion strings. If you want to do the hardy fat kid fry, that’s at Golden State on Fairfax.
- Most gorgeous celebrity without make up on: Aishwarya Rai. I did her make up in 2003. It’s almost like God was bored when he made her, so He put her make up on first and then made her face around it. She has beautiful lashes—it’s like a bed of small haired children. Her skin is porcelain, her eyes are blue, and she has rose bud lips.
- If you could fulfill your own character fantasy, what would it be? In a complete dream world, I would be a modern day genie. I love when people wish and dream things. But when you become adults, things happen in life, you get discouraged, and you don’t make it happen. Every dream you have can come true. I would love to grant those wishes. But I’d make you work for it.
- Fun fact: If not as much as fashion, maybe even more, I’m obsessed with food. I have a goal to have a food show.
- Funner fact: I am a very very very bad good girl. I have a really dirty mind and really inappropriate reactions. But I’m so in love with God and I so love the woman he’s built me to be that I love him too much to do something horrible. I stay away from drugs. I do drink—I love having a good glass of wine. Sometimes people really annoy me, but I always choose the higher road with every single person. I spit a good game but it’s all talk.
OA: Give us a little taste of a day in the life of Jeannie on set. What goes into shooting an episode? How much is scripted and how much is improv?
JM: I start at 6am, get my hair and make up did and my outfit on. The most important part of day is starting with my Pretty Posse. They are my lovely crew: hair, make up, wardrobe, and Jed, my assistant. Jed and I go back and forth about work emails and appointments. In that time, we’re beginning to understand what’s taking place for guests. Oh, before that, every Wednesday, my husband and I pray for the guests I have for the week. We ask that: 1) she received the most amazing experience that will change her life, 2) this marks new beginnings of way she sees herself, and 3) she feels she was created with purpose. Moving along with the day, there’s a 10-14 hour shoot of the show. It shoots in 4 days. I would say 88% of the show is off the cuff and the other 12% is scripted: where she’s from, what’s her story, what she is (in her own words). I feel so blessed to be Jeannie.
OA: Let’s talk about How Do I Look. Needless to say, the show is fun, interesting, and downright useful. Taking it further, what positive messages are you sending through fashion?
JM: Through fashion, I’m declaring and celebrating with women that it’s the number one quickest effective way to teach people to respect you. If you don’t respect yourself, it’ll show, and people won’t respect you. The moment people see you, that’s what sets the tone. Fashion is fun; it’s not daunting. It doesn’t have to do with how much money you have. The less serious you take it, the more style you have. If I’m having a bad day, I wear bright colors, and it changes the mood. If it’s a serious day, I put on flasses (fake glasses). There are these meetings with my executive producer, and he can be very intimidating because he’s thinking 10 steps ahead of me. I put on my flasses and I feel smarter. And you can do that with everything. I put on a pair of cute heels, and I will strut into any situation with confidence.
OA: On top of all the good that you do here, you are also rigorously involved in international non-profit work. Everyone is of course supportive of good causes, but only few have the initiative to actually take action. What was your motivation?
JM: My first trip was to Maputo, Africa in 2005. I found God in 2004. I really got to know him, and he made me like myself so much more than I did. I found purpose. When you like yourself a lot and you feel confident about who you are, you want to give that to other people. The other way to get people to do that is to be with them; connect with them. In that year, I learned someone close to me got AIDS. It was scary, and I found out through another friend about the huge epidemic of children who are abandoned because their parents have AIDS and are going to die. And having this God backpack, I had to set out and see them. I think the emotion is just love. When you love yourself, you love others. And then I started to think, if I can do this, there are so many more needs in the world. What am I most connected to? Women. Human trafficking is something I decided to take at a strong platform. Empowering women. I want young women here to do whatever it is that they dream to do.
OA: You mentioned that you put on your fashion goggles just about anywhere you go to translate anything cool into something wearable. Give us a look into your thought process.
JM: A lot of my inspiration for fashion is through food. Food has to look good enough to eat. Say I gave you the best lasagna but I plopped it onto a paper plate that soaked up all the oil and it was all smothered. I offer you to eat it, but it wouldn’t taste as good. If it looked good, you would savor it. It’s the same with fashion. If you sport a Louis Vuitton and you have bad posture, bad make up, and bad hair, it just doesn’t go together. The last plate of food I got inspired off of was at Fat Fish. They make this ahi tuna tower. They combine fresh ahi tuna, bright mandarin oranges, tan chips, slices of chai as greens, and florescent orange caviar. The tan chips brought the florescent colors down a bit. So even though the florescent orange and the ahi red are in the same family, they didn’t clash. I then did that with an outfit: bright red top, tan pants (which calmed it down), popped on orange lips, green liner under my eye, and the outfit was amazing. I got so many compliments.
OA: You grew up in a family of 16 members living under the same roof. What in the world was that like, and how has it helped shape who you are?
JM: I grew up in a household of 16 members but they weren’t my brothers and sisters. As soon as my parents escaped here from Vietnam, they would fly family members over when they had enough money. When I turned 9, they flew over my grandparents, 3 aunts, 3 uncles, their 2 children, and they had 3 more children after that. So this household was the most amazing, blessed experience I’ve ever encountered. I learned how to share, to be giving, to always create an atmosphere to include everyone. If a conversation is going on over here, I’d throw it over to the other side. I learned my hosting skills through my family. You want to make sure everyone has a voice. Being one mic for a room of 16 people—hardcore.
OA: Your father is Vietnamese and your mother is Chinese. Is there one particular side you identify more with, and what does it mean to be a Vietnamese Chinese American?
JM: I identify more with being Vietnamese because I can speak it better. But fashion wise, I really love the Chinese culture. Chinese Mandarin collars are my favorite cut on any type of jacket. There’s a sense of prestige attached to it. It’s a beautiful look. I love the colors that Chinese women are bold enough to wear. I sit on Singapore Airlines and die over the flight attendants. So fashion wise, Chinese. But food, people, and community, Vietnamese.
OA: Given that your mom was a local celebrity, how supportive was your family of your decision to pursue this highly cut throat, risky industry?
JM: I don’t know if it’s just my family because I don’t want to stereotype Asians, but my family was super hypocritical. My mom had me at 19 but she didn’t want me to date until I was 21! When I wanted to become a TV host, they weren’t for it. I wanted to first become a make up artist. They didn’t support that. Then hosting–they didn’t support that either. But I noticed what my parents did actually helped me. They don’t really celebrate things I do. It’s just “good, good” if my show was nominated for an Emmy. They keep me down. I like that. I always look for their approval in an encouraging way. It made me remain humble.
OA: There seems to have been a bit of a struggle, as you mentioned, “my younger years trying to figure out how to get good at things I wasn’t good at, and ignored the gifts I naturally had.” How did you overcome this, and what was the epiphany to just go for your passion?
JM: When I was growing up, my mom and dad obviously planted the idea of being a doctor and lawyer in my head. It makes more money and it’s a credible thing. I kept trying to do that: do well in math, go to school, pick those majors. But I was horrible at those things. I’m not good at sitting and studying. I’m good at learning with people. I had a really hard time at school. I was forcing myself to do better at things I’m not good at, instead of focusing on the things I was good at: communications, pep rallies, talent shows. I was always invited to host, perform, and encourage. That’s why I skipped college because at that moment I heard a voice. I need to focus on the things I’m good at. It was 1997 and I was 18. I went to De Anza College for one year. Then I dropped out of school to do what I excel in. I made a long list of everything I love to do: encouraging, making women feel fantastic, and connecting people. I set a goal to make it happen. I started to build a career where everything I did had to have these things involved in it. Today, I worked really hard to get to where I am.
OA: Is it true that you made a hosting reel, moved to LA, walked into William Morris, and they signed you? That sounds like something straight out of a fairytale!
JM: In a nutshell, I had $268 and moved to LA after doing Stir. I knew that was the best it was going to get in San Francisco. So I drove to LA in my 1992 Toyota Infinity. I went to a phone book and looked up agencies. I had a headshot that was really crappy and a VHS reel. The biggest agency in the phonebook was William Morris. I pulled over on the side of street (and got a huge ticket by the way), walked in, and asked to see an agent that could help me with hosting. The woman at the front desk laughed at me and told me to leave. She said you can only see an agent if you had an appointment. I told her I had nothing to do all day, so I can sit here, and if someone cancels, I’ll go in. She tells me no one cancels–this is the top agency. I sat there anyway. Two hours go by, and I see Heidi Klum, Robin Williams, and Mark Dacascos. The front desk woman told me again that no one would see me. Then Wanda Sykes walks in. She sits down, sees my headshot on the table, laughs at me, and asks me what the hell that is. We get into a conversation. She gets called in to her appointment. Thirty seconds later, the phone rings, and they wanted to see me. The rest is history.
OA: You’ve come a long way since co-hosting your first TV show, the Emmy-nominated Stir, in 2004-2005. How have you grown through this journey?
JM: I’m still growing. I feel like a little girl caught in my huge bubble of dreams. I’m still learning every single day how to be a better manager to the people who work for me, a better team member of the Pretty Posse, and a better host on camera. I want to make people on camera feel comfortable. I’m still learning how to be a better wife. I have to work on it because it doesn’t always fall as priority. As long as I’m still learning how to grow, then I’ll feel like I’m growing.
OA: Through your tireless persistence and hard work, you’ve achieved an unbelievable amount of success at such a young age. What is your next big goal?
JM: There are levels. Smaller goal: land a food show. Second goal: create a huge women’s movement that would be a conference traveling every single state and internationally. It would teach women how to use fashion and build their dreams. On a huge level: I want to connect with my idols Oprah and Ellen to do something on that level. I love the way Ellen makes every person feel accepted. I love how Oprah can bless others and be business-minded. If I could get to that level.
OA: Words of wisdom for young, aspiring individuals who want to follow in your footsteps:
JM: Stick to what you’re good at. Strengthen your strengths. Find people who are better at the other things and create a great team.
How to stalk Jeannie Mai:
How Do I Look Website: mystyle.com/mystyle/shows/howdoilook/index.jsp
Jed Shireman and The Pretty Posse:
Wardrobe: Bory Tan
Asst: Christina Pombo
Hair: Norma Blaque
Makeup: Uzmee Krakovszki
Designer: Emiliano Moreno
Photography by Melly Lee
Edited by Julie Zhan
How Do I Look: Saturday 8 & 11 on Style Network
Jeannie’s Prayer Box in Runyon Canyon: Hikers are asked to leave a personal prayer and take another that has been left in the box. Using the term “pray it forward,” the box encourages visitors to open their eyes to the prayers of others and share their own as an expression of faith, hope and love.
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