Bypassing the typical J-school-to-journalism career route, the self-proclaimed Renaissance woman was a dancer and an actress before she just kind of pirouetted into hosting. "I'm not one of those people that has a five-year plan. I'm very go with the flow, very free-spirited," Ray admits. "I was watching an interview on the red carpet and I said, 'I can do that.' It was the same way with interior design." And, this Thanksgiving, she's launching mindbodycasa.com, a lifestyle website she describes as "the diary of a global chica and a love letter to all of the favorite things that inspire success." Touché.
I made a pact with myself when I was little that I was going to be a professional dancer before I was 30, because I guess 30 was the oldest thing in the world I could think of, and I ultimately got the experience of dancing with Will Smith and doing the Grammys with [singer] Brandy. It was amazing. But after a couple of years, I was like, 'OK I did it. Check.' And I organically moved into acting. But once I was in the profession, there was something nagging like, I'm not there yet. Like, this is part of it but I'm not there yet. So, it's always been about fulfilling my dreams one at a time.
|"I don't think we live in a society where we celebrate 'oh, for 35 years I've had the same job.'"|
You've worked for Nickelodeon, TBS and HGTV. How do you decide which gigs are right for your career?
I dream big and go with the flow. I've been in this career long enough that I can wait for people to put me in their box and understand what I can offer or I can do it myself. Now that I've had a myriad of experiences, I want to siphon them into what I see as interesting television or an interesting place on the Web. I started doing freelance because I still love the red carpet. That's something I get a beautiful high from, connecting with person after person after person. It's like a party for me, and I love touching base with these figures and where they are in their lives and sharing that with the audience. It's one of my gifts. I love sharing that with not just myself and that person, it's myself, that person and you at home watching. It's a three-person conversation. I've been freelancing for Essence magazine. I was the host for their Women in Hollywood event, their pre-Oscar event. I did a two-hour special on TV One. I am now doing a show that's been airing since July for the CW called Oh Sit!. I appreciate these moments when I'm sort of cherry-plucking the times when I want to work for other people.
Did you feel burnt out when you were doing Extra?
Oh, absolutely. I was a victim of my own success. They had other people that they could go to, but I had such great rapport with some celebrities and their PR that they would request me. So even when I had booked days, I then extended them from 8 in the morning until 10 at night every single day, because they started throwing more pieces under my name. I did that for five years straight, seven days a week, 24/7. It was wonderful, it was the most blessed job I've had, but I'm definitely not a lifer in that way. I have so much respect for Shaun Robinson, because she's been doing it for almost 20 years and I love that that's who she is. I, however, need to be free. So, when I say I'm a pop culture specialist, it crosses all mediums from television to websites to writing. I'm always expanding my brand.
|NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Nina Parker, Producer and Correspondent for The Insider?|
How did you parlay your passion for design into a gig on HGTV?
Along the way as I was working really hard for Extra, I found that I was at home asleep and I was at the studio working, and it became this robotic, exhausting cycle. When I was home, I could be myself, I could breathe, I could have a little space, and I wanted to make my space as comfortable as possible, because that was where I went to rejuvenate. I'd rip pages out of magazines like Domino and Elle Décor and started to do little DIY projects. I would go to the thrift store and get little vintage couches, recover them and love the ownership of "I created that." Creation is such a beautiful place for me to be. An old friend of mine was an executive at HGTV and was like, 'I know you always liked design and we'd love to have you on board.’
I think what I bring to the table is excitement and energy for whatever I'm talking about, whatever I'm hosting, and that speaks volumes more than what the genre is. I think that's hard for people to wrap their brains around, but it all makes sense in my head because it's all communication. I sort of stumbled into interior design and HGTV legitimized my love for it. It went from being a passion and hobby to realizing I knew what I was talking about. I never felt so at home with other talent as I did at HGTV. That was a really beautiful experience.
|"I actually witnessed somebody in the office cheering when something unfortunate happened to a celebrity."|
Entertainment news is often criticized for being gossipy and kitschy. Were you ever caught up in that world or asked to do an assignment or story you felt uncomfortable with?
A hundred times. But that's the nucleus of that job. It's not the [Entertainment Tonight] we all loved in the 80s. It's gotten a little uglier and it's another part of the reason why it was time for me to go. It wasn't just me being "burnt out," but it was also being disappointed in the agenda of entertainment news. My naiveté got me, because I realized no one ultimately cares about the artistry. Nobody cares if Halle Berry stretched farther than she ever did before while playing a character. They care about who she's dating, who she's breaking up with, who she's in a lawsuit with. I actually witnessed somebody in the office cheering when something unfortunate happened to a celebrity. You lose sight of what is real when you live everyday like 'gotta get the big story, gotta get the big story.' That becomes everything and people act like they are curing cancer, but they're not. They are passing along frivolous, unimportant details of somebody's private life. It just made me feel gross.
A lot of people want a career like yours for the fun or perceived glamour of it. What's the one difficult thing about the job that aspiring TV hosts may not expect?
The glamour quotient is all an illusion. It's very glamorous to the outsider, never to the person who has to trek around Los Angeles in their own car, make sure their makeup's OK, go from one shoot to the other and manage everyone's expectations. As long as the glamour quotient lasts on television, that's how glamorous it really is. But it doesn't matter what I tell people. They're going to do it anyway. People are so enamored with this career choice. I can give them the ugliest story ever, and they think their experience is going to be different. At the fore, the most important thing is to be happy and content with yourself, so do it until you can't do it anymore and then get out.
Janelle Harris is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. She documents her editorial adventures at www.thewriteordiechick.com.© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.