Celebrity Sit-Down: Nancy O'Dell

In this Web-exclusive bonus, the co-host of 'Entertainment Tonight,' dishes about life on the red carpet, her pageant past and the challenges of being a working mom.

By David Hutchings
nancy o'dell image
Photograph: Jack Guy/Corbis Outline

Pageant past  I never did it as a little girl. My mom didn’t believe in that. I was 20 and at Clemson when I did it. I know they get a bad rap these days but, as I look back on it now, I know that as Miss South Carolina I got to spend the whole year going around doing public speaking and representing the United States in Japan. I received a lot of public speaking experience and it paid for the rest of my college.  I played the piano as my talent, the counter melody in a jazz upped version of Stars and Stripes forever, which completely sounds cheesy and corny, but it was kind of cool. I wore this crazy ridiculous white evening gown with very large shoulder pads. My hair was very big and curly. We didn’t have the products back then that we do now, so my hair was also frizzy.  

On the hard news beat I became an investigative reporter after college. I felt like I was a police woman for awhile, running around the woods with cops doing drug busts. It was an incredible training ground for doing the news very fast. I did almost nine years of local news before I did entertainment news and I had my second job in Miami. I did everything myself, from operating the prompter with my foot, operating the camera as I shot my own stuff. Then got a call from my agent that led to me being hired at Access Hollywood.  What’s ironic is that I had grown up watching Entertainment Tonight and as I watched Mary Hart in her evening gowns, I thought she was the most glamorous woman and I thought she had the coolest job, but I never thought that would be me. 

Unhostile takeover When Mary Hart [ET cohost for 29 years] told me how happy she was that I was going to replace her, I felt I had her blessing. She’s such a classy lady. I watched her all the time on TV and that’s what I always thought. I think the reason she’s had such a long career is that she is such a class act, such a nice person. As we were taping the last show we made a pact to have a nice long girls' dinner later on. The best piece of advice I ever got from her was to just be myself, be your sweet, classy self. My goal is to make her proud.

Red carpet pressure In the beginning it was nerve-wracking, but you do get used to it.  You have pressure to get everything in, and to make sure you get some good sound bites. It is a job that is always changing because you keep talking to different people, and hear new stories and interact with different people. 

What's really underneath the gown  I hate high heels. I’m almost 5 10 and when I’m in heels I’m 6' 2, so when I’m interviewing these actors, I almost look larger than life and freaky. But basically I don’t like heels because they hurt my feet and they just aren’t comfortable. I arrive in heels on the red carpet events, and wear them for the photos, but once I start interviewing and they shoot me from the waist up, I am not in high heels. I’m either in flip flops, or more likely underneath that gown and makeup, I’m barefoot.”

Celebrity surprise I was eight weeks pregnant when I interviewed Madonna, and I asked if we could take a photo so I could share it with my child after she was born. Her whole face lit up, and I saw the softer side of Madonna. She had just adopted her son David, and this turned into a bonding moment. I had been nervous about interviewing her, but she was warm and motherly and very open.

Working mom guilt Michelle Obama told me a profound statement once that I’ve always remembered. She told me that being a working mom on the campaign trail was just one big guilt trip. And that is something I so relate to. If I turn down a work assignment because I need to do something with my kids, I feel guilty that I am letting down my boss and my job. And if I turn down my kids for my job, that is the worst guilt trip ever. But then my husband, Keith, gave me the best piece of advice on this. He said 'If you need to something important with the kids, your boss will surely understand. And if you decide to do this something with the kids, you need to let that guilt go because if you don’t that worrying will ruin this great moment you are getting to have with your children. You’ve made your decision, it’s the right decision, and now you need to enjoy it.’

Personal challenge I’m a very over-protective mom, probably because I lost my mom to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) a few years ago [Check out Nancy's ALS charity Betty's Battle.] When you lose someone close to you, you become scared that it will happen again. I know that I have to let my kids be free to do their thing, so I need to get rid of this worrying thing.

Want MORE? Check out our celebrity sit-down with singer Mary J. Blige.

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First Published Thu, 2011-09-15 12:22

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