LIVING The Emmy-winning talk show host is doing it for herself and the sisterhood on her daring digital talk show, Brunch with Courtney Perna. Jody Miller speaks with her
Sisters are doing it for themselves
Standin’ on their own two feet
And ringin’ on their own bells
It’s been over 35 years since Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin belted out that anthem of solidarity. While society has witnessed infinite progress since 1985, there are still challenges. That’s where Courtney Perna steps in. A pint-sized ball of fire on the front lines showcasing sisters who are doing it for themselves and encouraging women from all walks of life to follow their heart and dreams.
Perna embarked on her broadcast straight out of journalism school in Michigan. Her perky personality and dauntless interview style led to stints hosting celebrity interviews, sports commentary, lifestyle news segments, and, as a field reporter, writer and segment producer in local news markets including her native Michigan, Houston and Las Vegas. Her reputation for engaging features with smart storytelling led to Perna becoming a host on daily morning shows in south Florida and Nevada. As the host of Las Vegas Now, Perna won an Emmy award for Best TV Host (PSW), solidifying her permanent place in morning television. But an unexpected gig is where she got schooled in the true meaning of teamwork and the value of standing up for her sisters.
The relatively new frontier of streaming media is where Perna takes her latest venture as writer, producer and host of Brunch with Courtney Perna for KP Media (available on Roku, Fire, and Apple TV) to share her passion for elevating women to a wider audience.
Part-hard-hitting interviews, part-champagne-spiked girl talk, Brunch with Courtney Perna is about real women making a difference, telling their stories, and dishing helpful dirt on dating, sex, and the best beauty trends. From global entrepreneurs to relationship experts, Perna’s candid approach and knack for getting to the bottom of things is leading the way for women to do it for themselves and let their voices be heard.
So grab a mimosa, a glass of wine or the cocktail of your choice, and read on, because Courtney Perna has a lot to say.
Lucire: Congratulations on completing the first season of Brunch with Courtney Perna. Do you have anything new planned as you start to shoot another season?
Courtney Perna: We’re getting out of the studio a bit more. More on location. It breaks the monotony. Our studio is really cute, but it’s fun to go out and meet people in their own world. So, for instance, if I interview a clothing designer, I want to be there in her store or studio. If it’s a non-profit, I want to be there while they’re out doing good. It’s easier to tell the story when I’m able to go out and about and kind of put myself into their world a little bit.
Does this stem from your background as a field reporter?
Yes, there are more of the five senses. If we’re sitting at a table, there are a lot of good stories, but being out there, taking it in the sounds, the sites, the smells give it more dimension.
What are you looking for when you book guests for your show?
We want to talk about uplifting our sisterhood. So we’re very female-focused, but it’s really anybody who can uplift and inspire. I’m not necessarily after celebrities. I like the real person type of vibe so that someone watching can say, ‘Hey, that’s me. Maybe I can start my own business, or I can do that, too.’
What do you like to discuss with your guests and what happens if they say something that you disagree with?
I don’t always agree with some of the opinions brought to the table, but as long as you’re coming to the table with love, we can have those talks and explore different points of view and expand our own knowledge. I can check myself once in a while. So we talk about some of the tough stuff like racism and misogyny and things like that. But then we also talk about lipstick and ridiculous fitness routines and stuff that makes us laugh. So it just depends on where the conversation goes. Sometimes it’s really good, deep conversations about the philosophy of the world, and other times we’re just talking about boys and make-up. And sometimes those conversations are better when you’re sipping a mimosa.
What is the story about how you became a Vegas showgirl?
It was actually an accident. I was on vacation with my grandmother, one of my favourite people in the world. She loves Las Vegas. So she took me and we were watching the Folies Bergère. There were about 40 girls on stage. So she nudges me and she says ‘Hey, Courtney, look at that girl. She’s got a big butt, you could do this show, too.’ Then I thought to myself, ‘I can do this show. I grew up a dancer and an acrobat, maybe it would be fun.’
And then what happened?
I chatted with some of the girls after the show waiting at the bar, and they invited me to audition the next day. I didn’t even have proper dance clothes. I think I auditioned in my bare feet. I did the choreography they taught me, but thought to myself, ‘I’m only 5 ft 2. How am I gonna get a job as a show girl? This is ridiculous.’ The production manager told me I was a beautiful dancer, but what they really need are girls that can do gymnastics. I then did a sort of balance beam pass with a cartwheel, back handspring, etc. And she said, ‘When can you start?’ And then I was like, ‘Oh, shit, I gotta quit my job.’ So I went back to my job at the local TV station in Lansing, Michigan and said, ‘I think I just got a job as a showgirl.’ It was crazy.
How long did you stay in the show?
A little less than a year. Disney came to Vegas and auditioned a bunch of aerialists, so off I went to Tokyo as the Little Mermaid.
How has your experience as a showgirl been a catalyst for your views on sisterhood?
It enhanced it. A lot of people wouldn’t think so from what you’ve seen in movies, but when you’re running around naked at your job, literally, you’re very much open to the world. You don’t have time for drama. We had to support each other. We all had each other’s back, this familial aspect where I can mess with you, but nobody else can.
How has this continued to resonate with you today?
It depends on the situation. I don’t know if it’s because I’m older and there’s a collective shift happening among women. But in the TV industry and local news, it’s still very competitive. It’s not really a team, you’re on your own pretty much all day. So I’ve been in both situations, and I’m kind of making a choice now that we don’t need to be those competitive women any more.
Is this competitiveness nature or nurture?
I think that women in particular have been moulded this way—whether it’s against siblings or competing against friends for boys or attention from teachers or parents or whatever. It’s always been like a competition. And now that I’m older, I think, ‘Why can’t we just support each other?’ Imagine what we could actually do. I want to inspire other women.
Did you grow up with strong and supportive women in your life?
They were definitely strong and they were very intelligent. But I don’t think they had the opportunities I had. And honestly, I don’t think they had the guts to do what I’ve done or to go after a dream. I don’t know if that is a generational thing, but they always cheered me on because I think they knew that I could be the one to break the cycle. I remember my Nana whispered one time, ‘I’m gonna miss you. But you need to get the hell out of here.’ She was always nagging me to do more than what was given to them. They were always big cheerleaders. I don’t know if it was guts, or if it was opportunity, or a combination of both, but they knew I had it. They pushed me. I’m the one who broke the generational bind.
Are you more empathetic now of the limits placed on them at the time?
My mom was not happy in her marriage to my father, but she couldn’t leave. She didn’t have money of her own and she didn’t have a lot of education. When I realized how unhappy she and my dad were, I thought, ‘Then why can’t you just go get your own apartment?’ I didn’t understand. And now that I’m older, I realize she couldn’t. So I never wanted to be in that position to stay somewhere because I don’t have anything of my own.
What boundaries can you break now that you couldn’t on a network news programme?
Well, it’s my own voice. I can interview the people that I want. It’s all about the story. I’ve interviewed some of the people that have been on my show on different shows, and afterwards they tell me they felt so much more relaxed and themselves. That is the biggest compliment.
Why do you think that is?
I really study talking points. So I know already what they want to say and what they want to get across. That way, if they forget, because everybody gets a little nervous in front of the camera, I can bring it up conversationally, and it’s not awkward. I got their back. I tell them, ‘You just worry about being you, I got this.’ I’m not gonna do the kind of journalism where I get someone in front of the camera and ask weird questions. I want people to be relaxed.
How does your show help emerging businesswomen?
I love supporting female entrepreneurs and small business owners. I think it’s really important for us to support each other any way we can. It can be social media, or sharing their product with a friend who might be able to use it. There’s a lot of ways that we can support each other, even if it’s not monetarily.
Why is digital and streaming media the best outlet for you right now?
The digital world is the wild west, and it’s exciting and scary at the same time. But it is the future. All of us in this realm are still trying to figure out how to do this. My own network, Dame Good Media, will launch by early 2023. It’s kind of the basis of my show, but it’ll have different content underneath the concept of female positivity. It’s going to be different content creators coming together with the vibe of uplifting the sisterhood and our allies. That’s the future and we will do it with a boost in production value. Not just something you do on YouTube. It’s exciting. It’s not like I can follow in someone’s footsteps because everyone else who’s ahead of me is only a year or so ahead of me. We’re all trying to figure it out.
Aside from the positivity and pep talks, what serious message do you want to send women?
That this is only the beginning and you can re-create your life and still go after your dreams in your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, even 80s.
Did you have any self-doubt about this endeavour?
I don’t have the perfect Hollywood body. I’m not perfect, and I sometimes don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but I’m doing it anyway. And I’m doing it scared. And I’m hoping that other women will realize that their chance is now.
How did you overcome your own personal struggles?
Opportunities were not given to me. Growing up in a small town, I didn’t realize that being on TV was a profession. I had no idea. So I feel like no matter what your age and where you are in life, if things aren’t given to you and you don’t really fit into a mould, you’ve got to take it and make your own path. That’s what I’m trying to do. I just knew that I wanted this and this was important to me, and I was passionate, but that doesn’t mean I knew exactly how to do it. I didn’t know how to get funding. I didn’t know how to get capital. I just knew that this is what I had to do. Everything has been self-funded, which can be terrifying for a single woman. I don’t have a safety net. In fact, my fiancé broke up with me two months after I started this. It was too late to look back. I had to make the choice to give up or to keep going. I will survive as long as I can and I’m just going to keep rolling. But it was really scary when I lost that safety net. I didn’t even have a home. I had to move into somebody’s house and rent a room. I was literally moving as I was building the studio and shooting, and I had no idea where my life was going. I was by myself. When you’re by yourself is when shit gets real. •
Jody Miller is a correspondent for Lucire. This story also appears in Lucire Rouge.
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