You can tell right off the bat that Jeannie Mai is one confident woman. Though on the phone in a restroom, her voice sounds strong and opinionated. It is that same voice that has guided countless women and celebrities with their style, first as a makeup artist for M.A.C and then as a host on a variety of shows for E! and the Style Network. But beyond the voice, it’s her story — the real Jeannie Mai — that captivates this interviewer.
Born to Vietnamese and Chinese parents and raised in the Bay Area, Mai is more than proud of her NorCal roots. “The Bay Area is so vast when it comes to culture, race diversity and community,” says Mai. “The things I remember from growing up were amazing neighborhoods of different foods, the ‘hyphy’ movement of hip-hop, freestyle artists and rappers, the baddest breakdance scene ever, a digital takeover from Silicon Valley, and the most beautiful landscapes from Tahoe to Napa. I was rich without a paycheck.”
After graduating from Milpitas High School in 1997, Mai was off to work immediately, hungry for experience. “I just kind of started my career right after high school,” says Mai. “I couldn’t be held between walls, and I wanted to travel the world and be with influential people so that I could spread the message of style and personal image.”
She started her career with M.A.C Cosmetics as a trainer for three years. It was there that she found her way into celebrity styling for the likes of Alicia Keys. “I caught the eyes of a couple celebrities who started to pick me up as their makeup artist first,” says Mai. “I started traveling with these artists, and it turned out that these artists didn’t have a stylist. I found myself getting them ready face to toe!”
It was only a matter of time before Mai’s driven personality landed her in front of the camera. In addition to co-hosting the Emmy-nominated Asian American magazine-style show Stir, Mai has hosted shows like How Do I Look and Style Pop on the Style Network and various fashion segments on E!. But Mai’s newest gig has her taking a slightly different turn, as one of the co-hosts of the nationally syndicated daytime talk show The Real.
“I’m not talking about fashion or other women’s makeovers,” says Mai. “I’m getting to talk about what I’m going through.”
The Real, which airs on FOX and BET, aims to be just that — a talk show where real women share their experiences and what they’re thinking. But how is that different from other women-oriented talk shows like The View?
“There are five things that differentiate us from other shows: Loni Love, Tamera Mowry-Housley, Tamar Braxton, Adrienne Bailon and Jeannie Mai,” says Mai, speaking of the show’s hosts. “Each of those five reasons alone is every reason to watch our show. We don’t compare ourselves to other people, and I don’t recommend other women compare themselves to other people. Focus on you, focus on the finish line, and go there. That’s how our show is. We focus on ourselves and what we can bring to the show, and that includes our real lives and our real setbacks and insecurities.”
For Mai, being a married, successful career woman brings its own set of problems. “I bring the perspective of being a woman doing great in her career in her mid-30s, married for six years and realizing that I have to make one of the biggest decisions right now about my future when it come to being a mom,” she says. “It’s the weirdest thing that I have this clock remind me every single day that I need to make a decision; it’s so unfair. To put pressure on top of that, if I ever were to say today that I don’t think I want to have children, why do I get weirdest feeling that I’d be getting judged for that?”
As for making sure her voice gets heard, Mai has to walk a fine line between listening and talking. “I’m not one to have to say a lot. For me, I want to hear where all the girls come from before I stick my neck out.” But once she does, she says, “I speak the hell up.”
The Real returns on Monday, September 15 on FOX and in national syndication (check your local listings), with a rebroadcast in prime time on cable network BET.
Want more Jeannie Mai? Keep updated with Audrey Magazine opinions on everything from plastic surgery, gay marriage and even the worst fashion trend. Coming Soon!
–STORY BY JELINE ABUTIN
This story was originally published in our Fall 2014 issue. Get your copy here.