Taryn Southern is an American singer, actress, comedian and entertainment journalist.
Southern spoke to Insider Journalism Secrets about how she went from Witchita, Kansas to landing her first agent in Hollywood.
This is an edited and condensed transcript:
By TARYN SOUTHERN
“The earliest video that I have of myself is interviewing a local reporter at a local news station [in Kansas]. I was 6 or 7 and so my interview was not very good but I always found the work really interesting.
“I would watch women like Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer doing really compelling investigative journalism and I always felt that that was something that I would love to do. So throughout middle school and high school, I really focused on English and writing and trying to get experience under my belt in front of the camera even if it was local access TV.
“I was very anxious to be in front of the camera. So with public access TV…I don’t even know what that looks like anymore because in LA I don’t ever turn on my TV. But growing up it was always those really crappy channels you turn on with a bad TV show.
First gig at 10-years-old
“But at 10 years old, I got my first gig in front of the camera just reading a teleprompter and hosting this local cable access TV show. I don’t even remember how I got that job. I probably called up someone at the local station and said, “Do you have any kid’s shows that need hosting?” I was like 9 or 10 and I was terrified of being in front of the camera.
“So I did that for 6 to 8 years in Kansas on a number of different local access shows.
“I eventually got to a place where by that time I was a senior and I was writing my own stories. I had my own show called “Real Action” and it was about teens talking about real issues.
[Later I went to the University of Miami]… it was a mixed media journalism degree. So I got to create my own major a bit. I took a bunch of different courses in various media because journalism now is becoming much more hybrid of a career. A lot of journalists online now are being required not just to produce and write their newscasts, but sometimes to shoot them if they are video blogging; edit them, post them, market them and promote them. And depending on where you’re working and what your goals are, sometimes you have to do a little of everything. My course load was really nice because I was stuck doing things that reporters stuck in a newsroom would do but got to work in a variety of other mediums as well.
“I was still really fascinated with investigative journalism. So I reached out to the head guy, who was the executive producer at NBC, who ran the investigative unit in Miami and begged him to let me intern.
“I worked for him for 6 months in the investigative unit in Miami. And while I did that my number one priority was to put together a professional reel that could be used to get me work.
“It was really fascinating but by working in that environment I realized it just wasn’t for me.
“At the same time, I started looking at what entertainment journalists were doing and seeing how they were having fun out in the field.
“It was just starting to happen that we were seeing a lot more shows come about where hosts were needed. There was a sort of this nice combination between journalism and storytelling and just being an on air personality. “I thought, I think that fits me better. Maybe the hard news route might not be right for me.
“So while I was putting together my hard news reel in Miami, I started putting together an entertainment reel. I did that by essentially just renting out the camera equipment from my school and begging a poor college student in the director’s program to shoot a story or two or three for me and I would buy him lunch.
“What I started doing, I was looking at entertainment reels from people in Los Angeles. I had found a couple of manager websites that had their clients reels up there. So I essentially built a reel that was identical in content to what I was seeing from these people in LA.
“But I didn’t know how I would go about getting celebrity interviews and a lot of the topics that I would need. I started creating fictional shows and then building wrap arounds and intros and outros and putting them in this reel. Then, whenever red carpet events happened in Miami, I would call and basically get a press badge as a University of Miami student to appear on the red carpet and interview whoever might come. While I was down there I was able to get a couple of fairly recognizable celebrities like The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, Tara Reid and Vanessa Williams and Roberto Cavalli.
“So I went to fashion shows and then I went to a movie premiere and I made a fictional travel show and I shot an intro on the beach. I had this nice montage of different entertainment related shows that I thought might be fun.
“I remember my first meeting in Los Angeles with an entertainment hosting agent and I was shaking when I gave them my reel. No one at that point had seen it except me. I thought he was going to know it was all fake and there is no way he’s going to want to represent me. And he watched it and at the end of the reel he said, I don’t understand how you have done this much and you just graduated from college.
“To him, it didn’t matter that it was fake because it showed my personality and it showed my interviewing skills. He has no idea if the shows were completely fictional ever aired, it didn’t matter. That ended up being the tool that got me my first agent in Los Angeles.”