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Tim O'Shei - Journalist / Author

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Tim O'Shei: Journalist, Author

A freelance writer and author of 61 books, O’Shei has interviewed some of the biggest stars of the sports and entertainment world. His lastest venture is the joint book/workshop project Live Starring... You! ( which aims to aid and educate ambitious teenagers on the path to stardom. In addition to demystifying the celebrity world and exposing the potential downsides of fame, O’Shei trains teens the skills to report and conduct video interviews and then connects them with their celebrity icons. So far the Live Starring... You! program has conducted over 70 interviews with stars such as Justin Bieber, Heather Morris, JoJo. [ed. note—If the preceeding list of stars made you feel old and out of touch, you’re not alone.]

First tell us a little bit about the Live Starring... You book and journalism training program.

I’ve worked with Mount St. Mary Academy in Kenmore to start the journalism program. We have our “teen reporters” interview professional entertainers, and then share their work with our Facebook audience, which is nearing 17,000 people, and our YouTube channel, which has more than a million views. (People can check those out at and

We’re looking to expand our pool of kids who do these interviews, so I’m running “Red Carpet Reporter Academy” workshops this summer at Bello Voice Studio in Orchard Park, and planning to take the classes on the road in late 2011 and 2012.

As for the book, the original title is a novel for upper elementary and middle-school kids where the reader spends a day in the life of a teen star. We’re re-releasing it as a series this fall, which is going to kick off a full-scale publishing program that includes pop-culture books written by students. The first is going to be Rock Out Loud, an inside look at the music industry written by a group of kids from Mount St. Mary’s who have interviewed everyone from the pop band Allstar Weekend to Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls to Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary.

Who are some of the interesting people teens have interviewed through the Live Starring... You! program?

We’ve done about 70 interviews. Some of the highlights are Justin Bieber, Vanessa Williams, Heather Morris from “Glee,” actress Amanda Peet, the singer JoJo, and a bunch more. We’ve been backstage at Warped Tour, visited multiple tour buses. It’s been exciting to see it grow.

With every teenager in possession of an iPhone and Twitter account a potential new-media journalist, what are you hoping to teach kids today about news reporting and interviewing?

Quality and intregity. You’re right — everybody has the tools to become a journalist. But not everybody has the skills, though you can learn them. People get excited about the celebrity connections, but what we’re actually teaching is public speaking, writing, confidence —skills that will benefit kids in anything they do. Plus, we can deliver an arena-sized audience on Facebook, and even more on YouTube. We can ensure that the good work our teen reporters do will actually been seen.

How does your book address the downsides to being famous? Do you prepare kids for today’s increasingly news hungry and decreasingly private society?

Funny you ask. In the original novel, the main character is supposed to spend a day promoting a new CD. But the media grabs onto a rumor, creating distractions and completely changing the tone of the day. I made up the events, but the spirit of what it’s like to be a celebrity is true. Just to make sure it was a fair reflection, I asked Lindsey Shaw, an actress from “10 Things I Hate About You” and “Pretty Little Liars,” to read it. She wrote to me and said, “I completely love the book ... (It) strips away the celebrity and the megastar and simply leaves you with a person not unlike any other person. Exceptionally accurate ...”

What about drugs and alcohol? How do you address the pharmaceutical perils so often attached to our young celebrities?

The original book goes in other directions, but we’re going to address it in future books and, when it’s appropriate, in interviews too. It’s important for kids and teens to read about, and it’s important for young journalists to be able to ask about it in a sensitive, healthy way. Another hot-button issue we’ve gotten into a bit – and we’re going to get into more – is body image. That’s a huge challenge not only for celebrities, but teens in general.

bonus: What’s the average shelf-life for a teen sensation these days? What is the secret to staying successful while growing older in such a competitive environment?

Nowadays, fame can happen fast — and it can diminish just as quickly. It’s hard to generalize on shelf life, but if you stay in the public consciousness for more than a year or two, you’re doing really well. With Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, stars can stay on their fans minds simply by talking to them, so that’s an advantage. But I think the real trick is to avoid becoming a “teen sensation.” Miranda Cosgrove is 18 and considered a “teen sensation” for “iCarly.” Dakota Fanning is 17 but never grouped in with teen sensations. Why? She’s acted in feature films since she was a little girl. The Disney/Nickelodeon platform is great for launching a career, but the key to lasting is not getting defined by that brand. You have to create your own personal brand — which Miranda is doing now as a recording artist.

bonus: You seem pretty hip to the youth culture. What’s popular with kids (and the kids themselves) seems to grow old in a heartbeat. How do you manage keep up-to-date with the latest trends in teen and pop culture? Is it difficult to understand the 13-year-old mindset?

My own kids (who are 17, 15, and 5) and my students at Mount St. Mary Academy are a great resource for figuring out what’s popular. Plus, as a journalist you learn to understand your audience, and any good teacher is tuned into how kids think. And, honestly, I like pop culture, and I’m fascinated by people’s reactions to fame. For all those reasons, I keep up on it pretty well!

bonus: Ever have any funny “you kids get off my lawn” moments when working with teens?

Not many! I’m only in my mid-30s; I definitely don’t feel old. But I’ll say this: Last weekend we were in Toronto interviewing Al Jardine from the Beach Boys. That was huge for me. I wanted to be a Beach Boy when I was a kid. But on our way to Toronto, I asked the college reporter who also doing the interview, “What do you know about the Beach Boys?” She said, “Well, I remember a couple of their songs.” So I delivered a little Beach Boys tutorial.

bonus: What about your experience personally. Who’s the most down-to-earth person of fame that you have spent time with? In your experience, is that quality something that is hard to hold onto once you achieve a certain level of notoriety?

By far, Heather Morris from “Glee.” I knew her before she was famous, back when she was a backup dancer for Beyoncé. She came to Buffalo to do a series of workshops with Live! Starring ... You! and stayed with my family, so we had plenty of chance to talk. The quality I appreciate most about her is also the one I think is hardest for celebrities to keep: Humility. She doesn’t want to be famous; she wants to be an actress. Fame, for her, is just a byproduct of reaching her goal. She hasn’t changed, and doesn’t want to change. But that’s a tough thing to accomplish when Perez Hilton worships you. (Though I suppose that’s better than Perez Hilton hating you!)

bonus: Do you think we (collectively) are overly occupied by celebrity culture? What does society have to gain by elevating these performers to such lofty positions?

Yeah, a lot of people cross the line. There’s a difference between being entertained by celebrities versus infatuated with them. You can enjoy what they do, but when the course of your day hinges on your favorite celeb’s relationship status, that’s probably going too far. One of the offshoots of Live! Starring ... You!, I hope, is to help preteens and teens how to interpret what they see in the media, and to remember that every celebrity is a real person.

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