Story by Natalie Do
Photos by Jack Blizzard
Ramy Brook New York jumpsuit, Windsor Smith shoes
A women full of confidence, beauty, and success, Jeannie Mai once again proves to be a role model to look up to. Born to immigrant Chinese and Vietnamese parents and raised in the Bay Area, the co-host of “The Real” kick-started her career immediately after high school and gradually worked her way up.
Starting off as a makeup artist for MAC, she eventually found herself dressing the faces of celebrities such as Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera.
Mai’s beauty, fashion, and style expertise landed her many hosting roles on networks such as E! and Style Network. She also hosted the Miss Universe pageant for many years.
Beyond her success, what captured our attention was her motivation, words of wisdom, and inspiring story.
Here, Jeannie keeps it raw and “real” and shares everything from her inspiration to her tips and advice.
Audrey Magazine: What most inspires you?
Jeannie Mai: Two things: My faith — believing I was created uniquely and purposefully to do good works.
And my heritage — the fact that my mother and father had to escape to America, earn their citizenship, and work so hard to give me a future makes me thankful for every day that I have.
Audrey: How did your parents first react to your career choice and path, considering you grew up in an Asian household?
JM: Let’s keep it 100. My parents had the rude awakening that I wasn’t going to be their champion pianist when they learned that most of time they heard songs coming from my keyboard, [the music was coming] from the “demo” button I played to pretend I was practicing. Dad realized I wasn’t going to be a doctor since I fainted at the sight of my own blood. And I knew I wasn’t going to have anything to do with law when I saw how badly courtroom lighting ages everyone.
So as soon as I showed, not just told, my parents what I wanted to do in television, they sat back to see what would happen next. Look, Asian parents just want to know that in life, you are financially secure. I wanted to show them that I need to be happy. As soon as I kept my family in the loop with email updates of what steps I was taking to accomplish my goals and showed them pictures to show that I was actually fine and happy, they couldn’t help but to support me along the way.
Audrey: And now, what’s it like being able to have your mom be so popular as a guest on “The Real?”
JM: Today, seeing Mama Mai loved makes me so proud to have her as my mother. I don’t take that lightly for one bit. And yes, she has changed. She sends every one of us pictures of her fans and reminds us all who is the OG star.
Audrey: What do you credit for your success?
JM: Heartbreak, haters, and everything that scares me. Those were my biggest motivators I would never remove from my life.
Audrey: How does it feel to be surrounded by such powerful women, like yourself, on “The Real” and being able to share real life experiences and thoughts?
JM: It feels the way it should in life: empowering! I’m in love with all my sisters on “The Real.” Each of them teach me something that make it so much fun to be around them all. For myself, I can’t believe some of my crazy or embarrassing stories are appreciated by others out there. I am so thankful for our fans, for being “real,” and coming back to show their support through their comments to us. It means the world when women who watch and engage with us and it feels like a small tight knit group of friends.
AD: How did you learn to be so open about life on “The Real” in this age and day where everything you say can get dissected? How do you stand up against negative comments from the public and media, especially when sometimes things are misconstrued, and continue to stand up for what you believe in?
JM: I never really learned how to become more “open”, it just comes with the responsibility of being a TV personality. I take my role very seriously. I know I’m going to be welcomed into the homes and minds of other people. I have no choice but to be straight up and be honest with them. People are just like you and I — we can smell a fake a mile away and we long for honesty. A lot of things I say do get misconstrued, especially when I’m describing an upbringing or culture that isn’t common. But I grew up with enough of not fitting in to not care. I remember my aunties and mom would ask me to speak quietly, and cross my legs like a lady. This totally pissed me off. Am I less of a lady when I ran, skipped, and spoke my mind? As long as I’m not purposely being offensive to anyone and I’m just being honest, I can back up the truth behind my experiences.
Audrey: Do you have a favorite story from a fan or reader that you like to share?
JM: One time a fan wrote to me about how a bullying situation really made it rough for her to get through school. She sounded like myself writing this if I were back in middle school. Then she described how my own positivity taught her to look at the bright side of things so that the negative didn’t control her day. I didn’t even realize something I did as a defense mechanism turned into a valuable trait I still need today.
Audrey: Was there ever a moment on the show where you had a guest that made you star-struck in some way?
JM: Method Man from the Wu Tang Clan. It will never make sense to anyone but me, my subwoofers in my 94 purple Golf, and the streets of San Jose.
Audrey: What’s the trick to working the red carpet, both as an interviewer and a celebrity?
JM: As an interviewer, be thoughtful. Imagine these celebs get asked the same question, all day. And imagine the viewers watch the same answers all day. So I do my research to ask the celebs things I know they’d want to share that the viewer will find interesting.
As a celeb, never talk while you’re taking pictures. I actually learned that from Jennifer Aniston. She’s right: it never ever turns out good!
Audrey: Lastly, what’s the single life advice you follow or would like to give to young Asian American women who look up to you?
JM: Make a list about yourself: of all the things that rock and all the things that don’t. Be painfully honest. Do you talk too much? Do you have no butt? (Oh wait, that’s my list.) Are you super creative? Keep that list around and work on emotionally owning those traits — one by one.