Hustle and Heart: An Interview with Kelly Sutton
I'm so excited today to interview Kelly Sutton, TV/Radio/Internet Host from Franklin, Tennessee. Kelly and I have known each other for almost 15 years. When Josh and I moved to Nashville in 2002, she and her husband Paul lived in our very first neighborhood. Over the years, we spent a lot of time together. Pre-kids, we got together with our entire neighborhood ALL the time. Carefree cookouts, nights out on the town, concerts, Preds games, trips to the mountains..even a fun vacation to Mexico. I've watched and admired Kelly and her career for years, and I can't wait to share a behind-the-scenes look at how she makes it all happen!
In as few words as possible, describe your 2016?
Amazing. I started a radio show, a brand new TV show, and I continued working with OneCountry.com It was super busy but amazing.
In as few words as possible, how do you hope to describe your 2017?
Adventurous. I hope to say "yes" to everything this year!
When I met you, you were the morning co-anchor on Live with Tennessee Mornings. Now, you co-host a brand new show on WSMV/Channel 4 in Nashville. Did you always know you wanted to reporter and be on TV?
I actually thought I was going to be an attorney when I was younger. But, when I was around 15 years old, I toured a TV station in Louisville, Kentucky with my high school. The minute I walked in, I knew that's what I wanted to do. I literally never changed my mind-it was a done deal. I went to college and majored in broadcasting, and started interning at a station as a sophomore. I did everything during those internships-from cleaning up the set to running teleprompters to learning how to write scripts. My senior year I went out with the I-Team, as an undercover investigator. They knew no one would suspect me, so I was sent through our local hospital wearing a camera to see how far I could get. The story was uncovering the lack of security protocols the hospital had. I literally went into the nursery and touched a baby. No one stopped me from going into the surgical area, but I knew I wasn't sterile so I decided not to go in. The video was so unnerving for that town the mayor was called in after the story ran on air.
Kelly, that is crazy! So, literally your "career" started your senior year of college with an undercover I-team investigation. I'm assuming as soon as you graduated you were itching to get out in the field as a reporter?
Yes. Although it wasn't until my 2nd year out of college that I was hired for a reporter role. Immediately after college, I was hired by the station I had interned with in college. I was able to work the floor crew, mainly doing camera work, teleprompter work ,and they also let me produce and write scripts. It was definitely baby steps! I was there in Indianapolis for a year, but got a call to go to Owensboro, Kentucky as a reporter making a whopping $14K a year. I actually took a pay cut to take that job, but I knew the risk was worth the reward. I knew if I was ever going to be a TV reporter, I had to get to a smaller market where I could actually get in front of the camera as a reporter. I was in Owensboro for 2 months, and the morning anchor quit at the Evansville, Indiana station. My big break happened! I worked as the morning anchor at first and then moved to being their evening anchor for 2 years. One day I went into work ready to do the evening news, and the station called a meeting. We were being bought out, and they fired all 46 of us in one day. I couldn't even go back and use my computer or my phone that day, and I was already prepared to read the evening news that night.
Little did I know though that being "let go" from that position would open the door for a huge opportunity for me. Someone gave Fox in Nashville a tape of me and two weeks later, I got the job working with Ralph Emery on Fox 17 doing "Mornings with Ralph." I spent 12 years doing that show (later named Tennessee Mornings) and I had several co-hosts along the way. For 12 years, I got up at 2:00 a.m. to be at the station by 3:30 a.m. and on air from 5-9:00 a.m.
Kelly, I totally remember the nights when we were hanging out and you had to be in bed by 8:00 because you had your alarm going off at 2:00 a.m. I still don't see how you did that for 12 years! I do remember though when you knew that you wouldn't be a Fox forever. Can you tell me a little about what happened?
There were a lot of changes taking place at the station. The day that said they didn't want to do live music was the day I knew I wanted to leave. I was completely devastated. I mean, I was the first interview for so many acts in Nashville: Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, The Band Perry, Little Big Town, etc. It's crazy to think of how many artists started on our TN Mornings Stage. Taylor Swift and John Mayer had both played our show! For me, that's the part I always loved. Music is my jam..my contribution. In the Spring of 2013 when they came and said no more live music, I knew my days there were numbered. We had a new News Director and General Manager and they wanted us to report on hard news. They came to me and said they were going in a different direction, and you know what, I was fine with that decision. At the same time though, I was completely scared because I had no idea what to do next. There was no Plan B.
I remember that happening, and I remember how sad I was for you because that show was such a big part of your life. But, I also knew how much the show was changing, and I knew God had better things in store for you!
Yes, even though I was scared and sad, I didn't sit around. I immediately started networking and telling friends I was looking to do something new. Two of my friends were producing documentaries and needed help. So, I offered to help them. I was really getting into doing these documentaries and found out someone was looking for a host for a Country Music show on Zeus TV. Of course, I said yes! During that time, I talked to a lot of people who were in TV to help me figure out what my next move would be. I knew I loved music, I loved interviewing people and talking about country music. So, I decided to start my own company-Firefly Media. I had so many connections from my years on Fox, and I just kept going to events and kept interviewing people. The problem was I needed a place for these interviews I was doing. When I ran across OneCountry.com, I knew it was a God-thing. I sent an email to a generic email and told them if they ever needed someone in Nashville to be their hands and feet on the ground, I could be their girl. They called me believe it or not! I had a great conversation, and now I'm part of OneCountry.com-the largest country lifestyle publication on the web right now. Everything from recipes to cocktails to #1 parties and record releases and in-depth interviews with musicians. I get to continue doing everything I love, and I get to share what I do with the readers of OneCountry.com
One little success helped me springboard into something else. I never truly sat down to map out a game plan. But, I did keep following where my leads were taking me. I looked where there were openings and needs. It kept blossoming into more and more. My husband Paul was instrumental in helping me figure out how to make it all work. I remember how he was my cheerleader and really supported me in my business decisions. When I first left Fox and was doing these videos on my own, I didn't have my own equipment to go shoot video regularly. Paul said, "Let's invest in your company and buy the tools you need." We bought a camera, a light, a tripod and microphone. All things I knew I needed to be successful, and with Paul's support we made it happen.
Okay, I'm dying to know how the first gig you did by yourself with no camera crew worked.
Oh my gosh-that was a hilarious story. I went to the Country Radio Seminar (CRS) 2 years ago. I was so nervous because I was setting up the camera, shooting the video and interviewing people all by myself. But as I've been told "fake it 'til you make it!" My first interview that day was with Tracy Lawrence. I was so honest with him. I said, "Dude I'm shooting this by myself and I don't know what I'm doing. We might have to do this whole interview thing all over again if I don't do it right." He was like, "No big deal...ok." Everyone was so kind and supportive. I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to interview that day!
After I got over my nerves at doing that by myself, I kept thinking to myself that I wanted to be the "Ryan Seacrest" of Nashville. I mean he has TV, radio, production companies, etc. I want to imitate that model and make it work here in Nashville with country music. I started thinking-I've got TV and I've got the internet. I knew I needed to get a radio gig. I started hounding Sirius XM. I had done some voiceover work for them, and over time, I learned that "No Shoes Radio with Kenny Chesney" wanted to start a flagship statio called "Country Roads" on TuneIn.
For those that may not be familiar with TuneIn, can you share some details about it?
It's an Internet radio app with over 100,000 stations on it. It's integrated with Alexa, and they have exclusive contracts with all the major sports leagues. TuneIn was wanting to start their only country station on it. I got hired, and now I do a radio show with them daily! I also get to travel for them. Just this last year, I went to South by Southwest, the ACMs, concerts and multiple music festivals.
Let's talk about how you returned to daily TV. I remember when Today in Nashville launched in September, and Hoda and Kathie Lee gave you and your co-host a shout out!
It's so exciting to be back on TV doing a show I truly love! Channel 4 came to me and offered me this daily show, and at first, I'll be honest, I told them "no." I just wasn't ready to give up my travel schedule because I love that part of my job so much. But, they came back to me a second time, and showed me the plans for the set design. They showed me how much they were investing in the show, and explained what a big part live music would play in it. We agreed that I could still travel, and in July 2016, I said "yes" to being a co-host on this show. I get to go to work everyday at a news station, but instead of doing hard core news, I get to do a lifestyle show. There is no politics, no news, no death, no destruction. We just have a ton of fun each day.
You have obviously worked hard and followed your dream. Has anyone given you advice that still resonates with you?
I feel like I learned so much watching Charlie Chase, when we worked together. Early on, he always told me to be myself. As a reporter, sometimes you have to put-on things, such as a voice with no-accent when you report. Charlie never did that. He always said be yourself. I feel like being me and having my own personality has led me to where I'm at now.
Kel, I 100% agree with you. Knowing you for as long as I have, I know that what people see on TV is the real "you." In a world with lots of fake people being authentic is so important! Speaking of authentic, I've heard you say that Dolly Parton is one of the most authentic, most real celebrities you've ever worked with in your career. I'd love for you to share more about her because she is fabulous!
She is everything you think she'll be and more. You know how you have "idols" you've built up but are afraid to meet them because they won't live up to your expectations? Well, I was pregnant with my daughter, Reese, and there was story I did at Cracker Barrel corporate. I think I was 7 months pregnant, and Dolly was doing limited edition commemorative pink rocking chairs. I was sitting in the rocking chair waiting to go on the air and Dolly said, "Oh, you're gonna have a baby. Is it a baby girl or boy?" I told her we were having a girl, and she said, "Well, you gotta rock that baby in something!" So, she signed the chair she was sitting in and gave it to me. I was an emotional basket case. I called Paul from the car crying my eyeballs out. Of course, he thought something was wrong. I couldn't even get the words out-she was just so sweet and thoughtful.
Fast forward to a few years later, when Reese was 2 years old, and I interviewed her again. I gave her a picture of Reese sitting in the pink rocking chair, and ever since then, it's been what we talk about each time. I give her updates on Reese and hand her letters Reese has written to "Aunt Dolly." When Reese was younger and got Books from Birth through the Dolly Parton Foundation, she literally screamed every month because "Aunt Dolly" had sent her a book. We've been at a parade at Dollywood and she came through. There's me, Paul and Reese screaming, "Aunt Dolly!!"
I just love her so much. She literally is the best human on the planet-ever. She has a great sense of humor but is an extremely smart businesswoman and savvy negotiator. She is the epitome of charm, grace and intelligence.
Okay, so Dolly is your favorite celebrity! What about your most exciting thing you've done on-air in TV?
That's tough because I've gotten to do and see some really cool things. But last year, I hosted the Red Carpet for the CMA Awards in November. That week leading up to it is like the Superbowl of Awards shows. There are the ASCAP, BMI and CMA Awards all in one week, and they do 2 solid days of interviews leading up to the big awards show. During the day, I did radio interviews for CMA, and I think in 2 days I interviewed over 80 people. It goes by in lightening speeds. For example, I might have Keith Urban come through. Here's talking to me for like 5 minutes, then we do a quick round of pictures, regroup and the next person comes through. I have a constant rotating door of artists coming to sit on the couch and talk with me.
Immediately after those interviews, I started rehearsal for the red carpet for ABC.com. I did the red carpet and spent the awards show backstage interviewing the winners. It literally was the highlight of my year. If I never get to do it again, I would still be so grateful for the time I had getting to work the ACMs.
What advice would you have for people who want to pursue their passions and dreams?
I would tell people to go ahead and have your "side hustle." You know-the thing you are most passionate about and what drives you. But, keep your day job to keep your income. If you lose your stream of income, it can suck the joy out of the side hustle. It just puts undo weird stress/pressure on you. Wait until your side hustle is bringing in income before you leave your day job.
So, each week, you do a weekday TV show, a daily radio show on TuneIn, you go to #1 parties and album launches, and you manage to be an amazing wife and mother. How do you balance it all?
One of my really good friends, Megan Alexander, wrote about this very topic on Facebook a few months ago. This idea of "balance." Megan and I have been friends for over 15 years. She's a correspondent on Inside Edition, and I truly admire her. She said essentially let's forget the idea of this whole "balance" stuff. If you try to balance, you will always feel guilty you're not doing 100% in all areas.
There are times when I'm 100% mom and others 100% career and others 100% wife. Once Reese is gone to school, I'm 100% career. When we go on vacation to Disney for example, I'm 100% with my family. Balance is too hard-you always feel like you're falling short. So, let's give up the notion of balance, and just really focus on being 100% in the moment.
Kelly, thanks so much for being our 2nd Hustle and Heart spotlight. To see more of Kelly's work, check her out here:
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