Jeannie Mai On Finding Identity As An American Television Personality | Vietcetera
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May 31, 2024
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Jeannie Mai On Finding Identity As An American Television Personality

In the Asian American community, the belief in the power of education to secure success runs deep. However, Jeannie Mai has chosen to forge her own distinctive journey.
Jeannie Mai On Finding Identity As An American Television Personality

Source: Bobby Vu for Vietcetera

Jeannie Mai (Vietnamese name: Mai Cẩm Tú), born in 1979 in San Jose, California, is a well-known host of TV shows like How Do I Look and Holey Moley. She earned a Daytime Emmy Award for her role as a host on The Real. Her career trajectory diverges from what she describes as the "traditional Asian American model of success," which typically entails securing a stable, high-paying job, earning a degree, and remaining in that field indefinitely.

In many Asian American families, the pathway to a successful and esteemed career often revolves around education and obtaining degrees. However, Jeannie, who has ADHD and faced academic challenges early on, discovered that this conventional route wasn't suited to her.

Rather than pursuing the traditional route, Jeannie harbored a childhood passion for makeup and styling and aimed to turn it into a career. Her inspiration stemmed from her mother, who, despite her limited English fluency, left a lasting impression on job interviewers with her exceptional makeup artistry and conversational abilities.

Transitioning from a passion for makeup into a thriving TV career is a long journey, filled with many trials and errors, each teaching her valuable lessons. Among these lessons, she emphasizes the importance of understanding her own identity - embracing her strengths, acknowledging her weaknesses, and recognizing both her successes and failures as integral parts of what makes her uniquely Jeannie Mai.

Ensuring everyone is heard and understood

Jeannie Mai grew up in a bustling household with 15 family members, where meeting everyone's needs was no easy task. Despite the chaos, she naturally took on the role of mediator, bringing the family together through understanding and empathy.

This knack for connecting with people became evident in her first job as a cosmetics seller. Instead of just selling products, Jeannie engaged customers in meaningful conversations, helping them find the perfect lipstick or powder for their skin tone. Her belief was simple: everyone deserves to feel heard and understood, regardless of whether they made a purchase.

Her creativity didn't stop there. She transformed the mundane space in the mall into a glamorous "stage" for makeup sessions, making customers feel like celebrities. This innovative idea not only enhanced the shopping experience but also drove up sales, earning Jeannie a well-deserved promotion.

Source: Bobby Vu for Vietcetera

At the time, the local TV station in Jeannie's area had an empty slot. Seeing this as an opportunity, she proposed creating a makeup show. This initiative significantly boosted her career, leading to opportunities to work with renowned stars like Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys. Eventually, she became the host of How Do I Look, showcasing her expertise and charm to audiences worldwide.

You don’t have to sacrifice to be yourself

While How Do I Look celebrated diverse fashion, Jeannie had to conceal her tattoos on the show due to the conservative nature of American television and the public's disfavor of celebrities with tattoos.

This was when Jeannie realized that she had to find other ways to express her personality, something that made her "Jeannie Mai" - a confident Vietnamese woman who excels in forming connections and inspiring audiences, whether in a ball gown or pajamas. They are the core values that define her, regardless of the situation.

Source: Bobby Vu for Vietcetera

This mindset was even strengthened when she was asked to portray an "Asian mistress," wearing a padded bra. It was the first time she truly felt the sting of being typecast into a predetermined mold, something she couldn't accept just to fit into a role. That’s when she decided to set her boundaries clear that she would not compromise her core values just to satisfy the show's demands.

This experience taught her the importance of saying no when necessary, as she realized that "not all money is good money." This lesson holds significance not only for Jeannie Mai but for everyone on the journey of discovering their core values.

Owning your flaws before others can use them against you

Right at the start of her conversation on Have A Sip, Jeannie openly shared that her Vietnamese might be a bit rusty as she picked it up mainly from family and friends. Despite her limited vocabulary, she takes pride in speaking the language.

This is another “winning” strategy Jeannie has learned: acknowledging her imperfections rather than hiding them. True confidence, she believes, stems from being comfortable with one's shortcomings. By owning her flaws upfront, she disarms others from using them against her.

Achieving this level of self-acceptance wasn't easy. Jeannie also shared her struggles in her marriage, including the misconception that she didn't want children, which contributed to her divorce. However, she's now the mother of a 1.5-year-old daughter. Jeannie realized her reluctance to have kids stemmed from her fear of not being a good mother, a fear she wasn't prepared to confront in her previous relationship.

Source: Bobby Vu for Vietcetera

In a sincere message to her fans, Jeannie expressed feeling liberated when she finally confronted this fear, seeing it as a stepping stone toward personal growth. She even expressed gratitude to her critics, as they helped her realize her capacity to own her shortcomings and grow from them.

Translated by Thúy An

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