Meet Jeannie Mai, TV personality, E! red carpet correspondent, and Emmy-award winning co-host of THE REAL, a live daytime talk show featuring a diverse cast of women who dissect and discuss news in pop culture.
Jeannie, alongside co-hosts Andrienne Houghton, Loni Love, and Tamera Mowry-Housley, meet daily to candidly dispute current events, from social media trends and gossip, to political issues, and interviews with celebrity guests.
In addition to her work in front of the camera, Jeannie recently executive produced and appeared in a documentary called “Stopping Traffic”, which shines a light on the gruesome sex trafficking industry, and features interviews with activists, survivors, former traffickers, government officials, and more.
Her latest project, Hello Hunnay with Jeannie Mai, is a digital series that offers a more in-depth and personal look into Jeannie’s life, covering everything from fitness to relationships, offering advice and even appearances from her mother. The series stems from the outpour of requests from her 1.3 Million+ Instagram followers wanting to see more of Jeannie than Instagram’s ephemeral stories feature can allot. Hello Hunnay releases new episodes every Thursday at 10AM PST on Youtube and Facebook.
I chatted with Jeannie about everything from growing up in a large family, to her new web series, and how she’s embraced the things that make her different.
THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED FOR BREVITY AND CLARITY.
Going back to the beginning, how did you get into entertainment?
“Entertaining is just a natural thing in my family. I just kicked off a YouTube series where you can see [my family] a little bit more organically, but my family is just really lit. We’re always silly, fun, outgoing, and super vocal about everything that we think, so when I was growing up, it was natural to me to entertain and make other people laugh. Even though I followed the career of doing makeup first, and then styling, it was always in me to work with people, talk to people, connect with them and relate to them. When I started hosting, I think when I was growing up I just did it naturally in my home. I was always the ring leader. I grew up in a 3-bedroom home with 15 people, so there was always some type of coordination so that everybody was a part of the conversation. What I advise for people out there is - when you do something well naturally, find a way to turn it into a business for people and you will be so happy for the rest of your life because you’re doing what you love.”
And how did you end up on The Real?
“I’m so grateful that all of the [opportunities] that I’ve said no to and the ones that I’ve said yes to led me being picked for THE REAL. THE REAL was having a casting, and at the time I went in, I remember all of these faces and thinking this was my chance because it was the type of women that are my friends, all women of color. I auditioned just like everybody else, but I remember they had called my agent and specifically hand-picked me. What’s crazy is that when I was in that audition room, I didn’t see one more Asian girl. Just being authentically you will lead you to where you’re meant to be.”
AND NOW YOU HAVE YOUR NEW WEB SERIES, TELL ME MORE ABOUT THAT.
“Yes! I’m so excited. My new web series is called Hello Hunnay, which is the way that I greet people I love, Mai Fam, all my people out there. I call them “Mai” fam, because that’s just how I am, when I come in to meet people, I love to get to know people and connect on that close level. I’ve been hearing for the longest time from my fans out there (Mai Fam) that they want to learn more about how I got to where I am, what kind of family I grew up in, the steps I took to build my career, etc. and the only way that I can talk about that outside of the brand is to start my own digital series because the brand can only contain so much. So I started Hello Hunnay, we’re on every Thursday at 10AM you get a fresh episode. Today is one featuring the rockstar in my life, Mama Mai, and it’s a deep one. She actually, for the first time, tells me she’s proud of me. This episode is really special to me because of my mom, and this is the first time I’m sharing her with Mai Fam, which I’ve heard [so many] requests for - people love Mama Mai. Every episode is going to be my way of telling you my story, and then turning it back on you and teaching you how to have confidence to do whatever it is you’re going through. Every single episode.”
What has been the most defining moment of your career?
“I’d like to say winning an Emmy was really cool. I’m so head down and work hard, even though we won an Emmy for our show The Real, I don’t use that as a barometer of “we made it”… there’s so much more to do. That Emmy is sitting in the corner of my house and I’m gonna find a place for it. I’d like to say, though, I very much appreciate having been acknowledged for that. I also, for some reason, remember the job I said no to. There was a job that I had, I had a great contract and it was more money than I’ve made in a long time. The job wasn’t right for me and I’m so glad I walked away from that.”
What advice do you have for young women looking to break into the entertainment industry?
“I think today it’s all about brand identity. Who are you? What do you offer that’s different to the rest of this world? If you look at people we admire like Tiffany Haddish or Mindy Kaling, some of my favourite women who are strong out there, how do you stand out? How are you different? It’s so crazy to me how when we grow up, we’re so fixated on not being different and being like everybody else and hiding our flaws or being embarrassed, when actually, these are the things that make you stand out. One of my biggest heroes, Nick Vujicic, he’s a public speaker and was born without arms and legs, and he’s one of the most amazing motivational speakers; had he been born [with limbs], he might not have found his calling today. If I were to talk to my younger self or any of my sisters out there, sit there and embrace, and when I say embrace, I mean put your arms around the shit that makes you different. I was told the other day that I’m too friendly to people, but that’s who I am and that’s how I got to where I am today. I would never change those things about myself.”
Where do you consume media and do you have any favourite publications or podcasts you read and listen to?
“I love Dan Savage’s podcast. I also really like reading and I have a book club. I’m reading White Fragility right now along with The Four Agreements. I read a lot of books and I also love watching documentaries or series that are like documentaries. Trigger Warning by Killer Mike is BOMB, everybody needs to watch it, it’s so good. He points out the realities of the culture and what’s missing and what we need to be more woke about.”
What big projects do you have planned for 2019?
“Well the biggest project I’m excited about is making another anti human-trafficking documentary about the life of survivors. It’s very important to me that people understand the commodity of human beings has become the third largest form of business next to drugs and weapons. There are kids and women out there that don’t have voices, don’t have help, and I’m willing to do everything I can to shed some light and information that people need to have so we can come together as a community and look out for each other and help to end this.”