INTERVIEW: BRANDI MILLOY
When and why did you come to Los Angeles?
In 2008, this small town girl moved here to chase her big city dreams of being a television host and producer. I was scared out of my mind and drove out here with my best friend and my car filled with everything I owned. I knew Los Angeles was the right place for me to seriously pursue my career goals and even though it took me years to appreciate it, after 8 years here I can say it’s home.
For our readers who might not know, give us a little rundown of what you do.
I am the Host and Producer for POPSUGAR FOOD’s two series, Eat the Trend and Get the Dish. On Eat the Trend, I recreate the viral foods you see all over your social media feeds using accessible ingredients and easy to follow recipes. Some of my favorite videos are my Giant Oreo Cookie and when I recreated McDonald’s French Fries. I am also a TODAY Tastemaker where I regularly contribute content to TODAY Show and Today.com. In addition to doing food segments, I’ve also hosted the show alongside Willie Geist and Natalie Morales (which was a dream!) Everytime I’m there I feel so lucky to be a part of one of my favorite morning shows on television and to work with such incredibly talented people like Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer and Al Roker.
Growing up in a military family, how did your experiences in this culture influence who you are today.
My Dad served in the US Army for nearly 40 years, serving two tours as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and retiring as a Chief Warrant Officer 5. We moved around every two to three years. I’ve lived in a variety of different places including Germany, Hawaii, and Arizona to name a few. Getting to experience different cultures really cultivated and nurtured my interest in food and people and the way it connects all of us. Growing up in a military family also shapes your awareness of social and current event issues. There’s an immeasurable amount of pride and respect you develop for the Armed Forces that goes deeper because you’ve lived on military bases your whole life and you can’t deny the sacrifices the soldiers and their families make for our freedoms.
At a young age you were diagnosed with scoliosis that eventually led to you wearing a back brace and several surgeries. What was it like being so young with such a debilitating condition? Did you take anything away from this experience?
Being diagnosed with scoliosis and wearing a back brace for several years definitely shaped me into the person I am today. I’ve endured being bullied and treated differently because of my back. Kids would knock on my back brace and run away or when I would change out for P.E., they would hide my brace so I couldn’t find it. There were a lot of times I was excluded from group activities and was even bullied by adults. I’ve had some really low times in my life where I struggled with accepting myself and feeling accepted by others. But I believe that no matter what obstacle, you can overcome anything you want to and you will come out the other side stronger from it. Every setback, hardship, unanswered prayer is a lesson if you allow yourself to learn from it. Being told by surgeons I would endure three scoliosis surgeries and lose the opportunity to play collegiate sports also forced me to tap into other areas of interest and passions which led me to pageantry. There, I was able to use my title as a microphone to promote causes of importance to me, mostly youth related organizations and empowering our youth.
Since then, you have become quite the hustler! Between your pageant career, investigative reporting, hosting, and your philanthropy work – where do you get your motivation from?
I am motivated by the desire to be the absolute best version of myself and to make an impact wherever I go. One thing pageants taught me is your biggest competition is yourself. Knowing your strengths and the gifts you can offer the world are paramount in fueling drive and motivation. I remember questioning myself when I was younger wondering if I could ever have a 9am-5pm job (it seemed like such a long amount of time as a child). Currently, most days I work 12 hours and weekends. And everyday I think to myself how thankful I am for every opportunity I have. I love my career and the life I have built for myself. Something I’m a huge proponent of are vision boards and the power to visualize things and take the steps to make them a reality. I love setting goals for myself and that motivates me to constantly work harder and be a better person. I’m also blessed to have a significant other who supports me in every way possible. Having a team of people who build you up and believe in you and surround you with positive energy is priceless.
A big moment for you was in 2008, when you were chosen as a finalist of ABC’s Oprah’s Big Give! Can you tell us about the moment you found out, and a little about your experience on the show?
Oprah’s Big Give was such a once in a lifetime opportunity because for a couple months I traveled the United States rallying communities together for a great cause and got to surprise people with gifts, money, cars and even answered some dying wishes. I pretty much played Santa Claus for months and got to help make a lot of people happy. Being a part of that team was so great because I was surrounded by all of these amazing people who enjoyed giving back and putting others first. I made lifelong friends on that show including my old roommate, Cameron Johnson who I moved to L.A. with 8 years ago.
Now you produce and host for POPSUGAR, one of the most popular online publishers on the web. What personal attributes do you credit for getting you to where you are today?
Tenacity and hard work. I also rarely say no to an opportunity. I remember in the beginning, we would have opportunities that were no pay or involved working on the weekends and other hosts wouldn’t be interested in doing them. I would always say yes and find a way to make it work. Those jobs became bigger opportunities and relationships I still have today.
You are such a fun and vibrant personality! Do you ever have days where your mood feels… well, moodier than usual? If so, how do you manage to get your energy “camera ready”, so to speak?
I am very outgoing. I’ve never met a stranger. I will make friends with anyone and I just love people and learning about them and hearing their stories. But there are days where I’m more mellow and laid back and it tends to throw people off when I’m quiet but a lot of my friends including my fiance know that side of me more than the “on camera personality.” Although, if it’s for work, I can always find energy. That’s just something that is a part of me and no matter what, I give it all I have. But that’s why when it comes to my down time, you can find me relaxing at the beach or with my feet up on my couch watching Fixer Upper with my fiance.
Your job seriously looks like so much fun. It looks effortless, which tells me that it definitely isn’t. Can you tell us a little about the work you have to do behind-the-scenes in order to make your presence on-screen so smooth?
I work with a small team to come up with content for our shows. Sometimes it’s doing research on trends or recipe testing and writing original content. The pre-production work also covers writing all of my own scripts, optimizing our video for specific social media platforms, writing graphics, working with the director on a shot list and staying true to our editorial voice and how we want to tell the story. The biggest priority when we are creating videos is to educate, entertain and become viral. My goal is for every video to be a hit. I understand that my excitement and personality can help drive views so that people want to keep coming back to watch. I’ve learned that the more authentic you can be, the better.
Can you think back to a particular setback or mental block you had to overcome in your career?
When POPSUGAR FOOD started taking off and I was really becoming the face of the channel, everyone thought I wouldn’t be able to balance my other duties as a Lifestyle Host & Expert. People would say that “you can only do one thing great” or “you have to choose your focus.” But I remember thinking and praying about it and deciding that I could do both and I didn’t want to just focus on one thing. People are dynamic. We have a variety of interests. Some of the women I look up to do so many things at once-we are multitaskers and I’m a naturally motivated person. If I’m not busy, I’m not happy. Choosing to focus on food and lifestyle at POPSUGAR was the best decision I could make for myself and it opened so many other doors. My biggest advice is to always follow your gut instinct and don’t even let anyone else tell you what you can’t or shouldn’t do.
From reporting on vital issues like illegal immigration to volunteering across the world, philanthropy is a very big part of your life. When did your urge to make a difference start?
I remember learning at an early age how fortunate I was to have two loving parents who had the time and resources to help me with my homework or come support me at soccer. I remember learning in elementary school that some of my classmate’s parents worked two jobs to make ends meet and sometimes they wouldn’t see them when they got home because they had already left for their second job. It was then that I realized how important youth related organizations are and made it my personal platform to empower our youth and do what I could to be a mentor or coach and tutor a child. I’ve worked closely with a variety of organizations including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America where I also was a grant writer for two years.
What advice do you have for other busy business women and men looking to give back, but who might be intimidated by the commitment?
The greatest gift we can give is to share our talents. So many of us think that we have to write a check or donate money and if you can, that is a huge help to so many programs. But if that is not something you are capable of, it’s important to find a program where you can share skills and talents you have. I think the best way to connect or pair up with a program is to find one that works with your schedule and energy commitment. For example, if you don’t have time to be a one-on-one mentor for a child for a year (which is most time commitments for large mentoring programs), I would suggest to find a program that offers one time opportunities. Do something that you already love doing. Giving back should never feel like a chore, it should seamlessly fit into your daily life. I host a girls empowerment day at different youth organizations and all of my girlfriends will come and volunteer with me and some of my best memories with my friends are when we are giving back together. POPSUGAR has an amazing program called PS GIVES where we are encouraged to spend a paid day volunteering. Our coordinator will come up with a variety of opportunities and people can pick and choose what they connect with. Whether it’s feeding the homeless or doing a beach clean up, donating to a clothing drive or spending the day playing basketball at a sports camp, there is always something! Sometimes I think to myself how much I get back from volunteering or helping others and chuckle because there is something so gratifying about being able to make a difference in someone’s life. I think if more people just tried it once they would be hooked on helping other!
Lastly, what advice can you give for others hoping to make it in a competitive industry like hosting or reporting?
Never be “too good” or “too above” any job. Opportunity usually comes disguised as hard work. Every little job I’ve had has led me to where I am today. Whether it was working as a bus girl at a restaurant or a PA at a news station, if I was going to learn a new skill, or challenge myself in a new way, I took it as an opportunity to grow and better myself.
L.A. Lady Culture
Favorite area of L.A.? The South Bay because the ocean fixes everything.
Favorite eatery in L.A.? Menu item we must order there? Favorite Brunch: Superba Food & Bread at the Point (for the everything croissant, beet blood orange mimosa, cheesey egg tartine and chicken curry salad); Favorite Dessert Spot: MILK on Beverly Blvd (for their blue velvet cake and fruity pebbles macaron ice cream sandwich). Favorite Lunch: MB Post (for their thai muscles, cheddar biscuits with maple butter and truffle chicken sandwich). Favorite Dinner: Estrella on Sunset (order the cauliflower hummus, beet salad, candied bacon, whiskey cocktail and I could keep going on!)
Favorite happy hour? Ruth’s Chris in Beverly Hills! I go there a lot on Wednesday nights before my bible study. I am obsessed with their seared ahi tuna appetizer and their steak sandwich is amazing! The Rockefeller also has an amazing happy hour and Tuesday 99cent burgers!
Favorite weekend activities in the city? My fiance, Chris and I love to ride our bikes along the strand from Manhattan Beach to Redondo. We play beach volleyball in the summers and enjoy being outdoors as much as possible. He is a fantastic chef and cooks a lot for me and we love inviting people over but we also have fun trying out new restaurants and going out with friends.
Audio of choice when sitting in traffic? Always country music but I am loving Justin Bieber’s new album and take full accountability for my actions.
Place or thing you want to do most in L.A., but haven’t yet? I would love to take a boat down the venice canals!
Biggest L.A. guilty pleasure? The Church Key on Sunset has the best brown butter donuts hands down.
-Brandi Milloy, of POPSUGAR