She talks to PopGurls about what she learned about being a runway model, her extensive charity work and sitting down with the Democratic National Convention’s first ladies Michelle Obama and Jill Biden.
1. For the Celebrity Catwalk challenge — you had to go through rigorous schooling in the quest to become runway models. As a former Miss South Carolina, do you feel like you had a leg up on the other contestants?
As far as that helping me in the Catwalk Challenge — probably the only thing that helped from that is I had to be on a stage so often as Miss South Carolina. Oh and walking in the big gigantic heels and trying to be graceful at the same time.
I did do some modeling in the late 80s as a teenager, but that was when headbands across the forehead were in and it was popular to dance on stage! I think my biggest help for the Catwalk Challenge has come from my participation in other celebrity charity fashion shows since I have been in L.A. I have been in some charity shows in the past with Cindy Crawford and she gave me a few tips — that was my biggest help. I mean, it’s Cindy Crawford!
2. What surprised you the most about modeling? What was the hardest thing to learn?
That you are supposed to look almost mad, annoyed, expressionless! The hardest thing for me was not to smile — especially in a celebrity charity fashion show. For all the others I have done in the past, we are smiling away, waving at everyone — but for the challenge, we were supposed to do it like the real models and that meant no smiling and no waving! I kept wanting to break out into a big laugh.
3. Did you develop your own “signature walk”?
I think my signature walk is merely just walking without tripping or falling! No model horse gaits for me — you know, that walk you sometimes see the real models doing.
4. Speaking of fashion — you were a guest judge in the first season of Project Runway. What did you know about show at the time? What were your expectations?
When I was a judge on the first season of Project Runway, I knew nothing about the show. It had not been on air at all yet when I was guest judge, as they were taping way ahead before they put the shows on air. I have to admit I was a little scared about the design I could walk away with and I would have to wear one of them even if I didn’t like any.
5. Your choice of Wendy Pepper’s design gave her the in to the Bryant Park show. Were you aware of how controversial she was before you made your final decision?
I had no clue when I chose Wendy’s design that she would be so controversial and portrayed as the villain. Again, the show hadn’t aired a single episode when I taped it.
I knew nothing about any of the designers going in and certainly didn’t know how Wendy would appear on the show — she seemed very nice when I met her. But no matter what her personality appeared to be, I was told by the producers to choose the designer who best performed the task after I gave them the specifics needed on a dress for the Grammys. Those were very clear instructions I was given by the producers. There is no disputing Wendy listened best.
To be honest, I wasn’t in love with the design and we removed the feathers, but she was the one who performed the task best, given the specifications. If I had to chose the dress I actually liked the most without an event in mind, it was Austin’s — but it just was too formal for the Grammys. It would have been perfect had the assignment of been for the Oscars.
6. How was sitting down with Michelle Obama and Jill Biden different from other interviews that you have done?
Well, first of all, there was secret service present. For the celebrities, they have their publicists present.
I must admit it was nice that it was treated as a news interview with publicists not trying to gear you what to ask. At Access Hollywood, we follow NBC news guidelines, so we will never agree to what we can and cannot ask — but it was nice not to be put in that position. There was a little more pressure doing the interview because you know what you ask can and will be picked up by so many outlets and to some extent can have an effect on the election depending on the answers.
7. What do you hope that your viewers take away from the interview?
I hope that viewers saw a little more of the human side of the candidates and their families. At Access Hollywood, we ask the hard questions, but we also ask the more personal questions that, say, NBC Nightly News may not ask.
One question to Michelle Obama was her reaction to Bill Clinton saying he thought sexism played a role in Hilary not being the Democratic candidate and then another question was about her nickname “Pumpski” for Barack — two very different questions, but both were very interesting answers.
8. Do you think that Michelle Obama and Jill Biden must appear to be “folksy” and “approachable” more now that Sarah Palin has somewhat branding herself that way?
I don’t think so. I think it is most important for them to be themselves. I think when someone tries hard to appear a certain way, it comes through as disingenuous. Plus, Michelle needs to stay just as she is. I told many after my interview with her, she should be a politician as well. She knew how to handle each and every question, even the controversial ones, with poise and grace and still managed to say something very interesting.
9. In your recent interview with Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio – Russell “outed” when Leonardo lost his virginity. What was it like to be there, and to see the normally composed Leonardo blush?
Well, first of all, I adore Leo. He is so incredible classy and sweet. It was true fun between those two — Russell outing Leo on Leo losing his virginity.
I have read many of the articles written on that interview I did and I don’t think they were clear that the two were joking with each other. Yes, Leo blushed at the subject — but then again, who wouldn’t? It just made him more handsome and likeable than he already is.
10.You’re heavily involved with quite a few charities — how did you start working with March of Dimes and MDA?
I started working with the March of Dimes at least 10 years ago. They asked me if I would be a spokesperson for their “Blue Jeans for Babies” campaign, which teaches women of childbearing age how very important it is to be taking a multivitamin with folic acid. Folic acid is extremely important, even in the first few weeks after conception, to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. I was so happy to know this important information when my husband and I were trying to get pregnant. I made sure I was taking that prenatal vitamin religiously…I even kept a calendar marking down every day when I took it.
As far as MDA, what a wonderful and amazing organization they are! My mother, whom I was extremely close to, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in October 2007. When we received the diagnosis, we knew that it was a fatal disease and a rapidly progressing one. When we heard the doctor say ALS, I remember I had this sort of buzz in my head, like I couldn’t comprehend that that was what my precious mother had. I was in a panic — what would we do, what did that mean, how did we get help, who did we turn to? In walked one of the sweetest people I have ever met, our MDA rep, Andi Sass.
She started off with how sorry she was that we had just received this diagnosis, but promised us that MDA would be there with us every step of the way. And they were — guiding us who to turn to for questions, where to get medical equipment needed, what research was being done, what trials were taking place, and they were there for compassion and support as well. My family and I would have been lost without them. They were there literally every day for my family, so I have pledged to help MDA any way I can now and to be there for them every day.
My mom passed away this June and it has been one of the most difficult things my family has ever had to go through. I want to be there the day that MDA finds a cure for this devastating disease and I feel confident they will.
11.What has been some of the most memorable work that you’ve done with Best Buddies?
All of my work with Best Buddies has been memorable, but I wouldn’t call it work. My Aunt Ellen was a person with Down Syndrome and I wish Best Buddies had been around when she was alive, she would have loved it.
Best Buddies’ mission is to enhance the lives of people with intellectual disabilities through friendships and integration into society. So often, people with Down Syndrome and other intellectual disabilities lead isolated lives and oh, how we are missing out from that. They sometimes teach us the valuable lessons in life because they have no hidden agendas, they just want to be your friend, and they are some of the most loving people around. The love and friendships I have received through Best Buddies are some of my most favorite memories!
12.You’ve interviewed countless celebrities in your career — but if you had to list your Top 5 Celebs with the Biggest Heart, who would they be?
There are so many with big hearts that I can’t list just five, but some of the ones who come immediately to mind:
The late Paul Newman…oh how much he helped kids with his Newman’s Own!
George Clooney for Darfur
Leonardo DiCaprio for his environmental work
Jane Kaczmarek for forming the Clothes off Our Back Foundation, where celebs donate their clothes to help others
Garth Brooks and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for forming their own foundations [Teammates for Kids and Nancy O’Dell’s official site here