BND Magazine

August 24, 2014

Summer with a star: Interning on Wendy Williams'show

When someone asks Alexis Johnson what she did this summer, she can say she spent it with TV talk-show host Wendy Williams.

Sort of.

"Well, I didn't actually get to meet her, but one day she told me she liked my skirt," said the 21-year-old from Swansea who is a senior in the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

Such is the life of an unpaid intern on "The Wendy Williams Show." You see a lot of the star, but she doesn't see you. Just working in close proximity was more than enough for Alexis.

"One of the things that really appealed to me was the live aspect" of the show, said Alexis, who hopes to go into entertainment public relations. "'Wendy' is live at 10 a.m. Eastern, so I had to be on the set at 7 a.m., which means I'm up at 5:30. I worked from 7 to 3, which really was 7 to 5." In St. Louis, the nationally syndicated show airs at 1 p.m. weekdays on KTVI-Channel 2.

Alexis, a 2011 Belleville West grad, also held down a second, but paid, internship with Viacom/BET while she was living in New York.

"Having that money made it a little easier," she said with a laugh.

Her internships ran from the end of May to Aug. 9 and earned the first-time visitor to New York six credit hours.

"I worked in production, essentially researching and pitching for Wendy," she said. She was part of a team that successfully convinced People magazine to do a story on the talk-show host. "I was able to see how everything works."

When an audience member was brought up on stage, Alexis sometimes filled the seat so when cameras panned the audience TV viewers didn't see empty space.

The only child of Wendolyn Tibbs and Reginald Johnson, of Swansea, she is the first in her immediate family to go to college.

She made her parents a little crazy when she told them where she would be living this summer.

"My mother thought Mizzou was too far!" Alexis said, laughing. "I had been prepping her in advance since January: 'Not going to be here, Mom.'"

All of it was a learning experience, from learning the subway routes to Wendy's midtown studio-- "Leave an hour early, even if you are only 15 minutes away" -- to seeing her boss as not just a talk-show host, but also a mother and entrepreneur.

"It made me look at the show differently."

She discovered that celebrities "are the most normal people, despite attitude and lavish lives." Working on the show, she came in contact with Abbie Lee Miller of "Dance Moms," Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post, singer LeAnn Rimes and husband Eddie Cibrian and others.

She's a huge fan of actor Robert Christopher Riley of VH1's "Hit the Floor," who appeared on the show, but she had to maintain a professional demeanor.

"One of the things they told us was that it was not a good idea to ask talent for a picture."

She was among 20 journalism interns from the University of Missouri in New York this summer. They stayed on campus at The New School's residence halls in the Greenwich Village area. While their days were spent working, Monday night was when everyone gathered to hear from and ask questions of alumni in the industry. They also toured various media locations, such as studios for "The View," "Rachael Ray," The Huffington Post and the Associated Press.

In their free time, Alexis and her roommate explored the city and visited landmarks. There was limited nightlife because budgets were tight, but that didn't mean she couldn't celebrate a special occasion in style.

"It's something I'd never experienced in Columbia -- rooftop bars. So I did that on my (21st) birthday."

Living and working in New York gave her more self-confidence, she said. It also made her more aware of an industry where she has to keep a step ahead of everyone to find a job after graduation.

The dream? "Head of public relations for Sony Entertainment."

Alexis' favorites:

Favorite home cooked meal: Soul food, like baked macaroni and cheese. "My grandmother is an amazing cook!"

Last movie enjoyed: A documentary titled "Twenty Feet From Stardom"

Favorite TV Show: "It's a three-way tie between VH1's "Hit the Floor," "Pretty Little Liars" and "Dance Moms."

Favorite comfort food: Classic Wings from The Heidelberg in Columbia, Mo.

Best place visited in New York: Smorgasburg (an outdoor weekend market in Brooklyn selling packaged and prepared food with about 100 vendors).

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