Jeannie Mai
Pam Quinones
Diaz Diaz
Marion Caunter
Andrea Chong
Scott Mackenzie (right) with Jeannie Mai.
(Clockwise from top left) Meghana; Amy Yu; Jocelyn; Melati; Amy; Wiggle; Des; Joanne.

The second season of How Do I Look? Asia has the Asian American celebrity at the helm. Tahir Alhamzah has the story

THERE is no doubt that Jeannie Mai is hardworking. She travelled from the US to Singapore to film the entire Season 2 of the upcoming How Do I Look? Asia, and spent 12 consecutive days to shoot eight episodes of the show.

“To shoot the entire season within that time is extraordinary. But we had to as we needed to work around Mai’s availability. She did it. Everyone in the team and the contestants pulled through and it was great when filming wrapped up. Those were very long days for everyone, especially Mai whose call time was at 6am every day,” says Scott Mackenzie, NBCUniversal International’s channels vice president.

While Season 1 was hosted by Malaysian celebrity Sazzy Falak, this time Mai helms the show and is also the executive producer.

According to Mackenzie, it has been a good opportunity for them to have Mai as she is also the host in the US, while her Asian American background is a boon in this market.

In 2009, Mai became the host of the popular and Emmy-nominated show How Do I Look? which debuted in the US in 2004. It was originally hosted by English soap opera veteran Finola Hughes.

The show features “fashion victims”, purportedly turned in by their friends, co-workers and family members. Although there are variations in each episode tailored to the individual contestant, every episode follows the same pattern.

Contestants bravely embark on a journey of ultimate transformation through glamorous makeovers. While they put their trust in Mai and the episode’s Guest Stylist, they pick up vital tips that help them gain a brighter outlook on life.

“This show is not about turning ugly ducklings into swans but rather about empowering women. And for this season, eight women have been chosen from across Asia,” says Mai.

Contestants are from the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia.

As executive producer, Mai has been very much involved with the planning of the show, which included many late nights, long distance calls long before filming even took place at a studio located within the compound of Singapore’s Universal Studios.

In the show, prior to the makeovers, Mai will have a chat with the contestants. This is where her college education in communications and her life experiences come in handy.

“Women love to talk. However, some may not be able to get the message across properly. In getting people to open up, I need to show that I care. Most importantly, I will make sure that these women will not feel they are being judged.

“I will listen to their needs and focus on that. Our mission is not to make them Vogue covergirls, but rather to change and enhance the quality of their life by changing a little in the way they look and feel and how to teach them how to carry themselves more confidently,” says the 37-year-old garrulous TV host.

MAI OWES IT TO HER MAMA

Mai’s confidence comes from her mother.

“My mother has been my No. 1 great influencer from the day I was born. She was born in Vietnam and had a very strict father. She migrated to the US two years before I was born and has been a strong a woman for as long I can remember,” says Mai, who is accompanied by her mother Olivia TuTram Mai to Singapore.

Mai, whose first name was taken after Barbara Eden’s genie character from the American fantasy sitcom, says that her mother went to the US with a dream.

“Having escaped her strict father when she migrated, she also promised herself never to raise her kids the same way she was brought up. I grew up with more freedom. And thus, when I first went to kindergarten, she dressed me up in a pair of shorts with polka dots and glitter dust in my hair,” recounts Mai.

“And can you imagine, when I showed up in school looking like that, do you think other kids would just keep quiet seeing that I was a little different? When other kids started calling me names, my mother said, ‘do you think if I dress you up like the rest of them, they would even notice you? Some day you will thank me for this’.

“She was right. I can never thank her enough for raising me to be the person I am today. She is my good luck charm,” says Mai of her mother, whom she fondly introduced on the set as Mama Mai.

As Mai spends long hours on set, she is thankful for Mama Mai’s presence.

“While it can get a little tiring on the set, having my mother around makes me feel like I am back home. Not only does she take the pressure off me, but she also helps reduce the stress on the set. Sometimes I feel this show is like a family show.”

MAKING IT MAI STYLE

Mai was born in San Jose, California to a Vietnamese mother and a Chinese father. After college, at 18, she became a make-up artist and worked her way up, eventually travelling the world working for celebrities like Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys and Rosario Dawson.

She has also served as a celebrity make-up stylist for MTV’s Total Request Live, Los Angeles-based TV station KCAL and morning show, Good Day Sacramento.

In 2003, Mai began auditioning for local TV networks with self-written scripts to demonstrate her unique hosting talents. She landed a gig co-hosting the Emmy-nominated Asian American magazine-style show Stir, on International Channel Networks.

Soon after, California Music Channel invited her to host her own music countdown. After gaining attention for her spunky personality and knack for style, Mai became an entertainment reporter and producer at WB’s The Daily Mixx.

In 2005, Mai landed her first primetime hosting role on Character Fantasy on the USA Network, where she inspired guests each week to live their fantasies. Following this, she appeared on MTV’s Granted alongside Frankie Muniz and hosted various segments related to fashion and entertainment news on networks such as E!, Lifetime, TLC and NBC.

In 2008, Mai took part in TV history’s first ever attempt to revamp Miss America’s 52 hopefuls on TLC’s Miss America Reality Check. She also starred in Dude, Where’s Your Style, a style special turning men from cute to couture and toured the world as the official spokesperson of Never Accept Ordinary, a line of cosmetics that promotes individuality through colour.

A year later, Mai took over as the host of the Style Network’s popular and Emmy-nominated show How Do I Look?. She also served as a correspondent and weekend host on NBC’s Extra TV with Mario Lopez.

Mai has become recognised for her trademark dark, blue hair. She has also become known as the “Fashion Wearapist”, and also for her constant “so” in every sentence that she uses.

In 2011, Jeannie began hosting Miss Universe. The following year, she appeared as a guest judge on Asia’s Next Top Model, Cycle 1. In 2013, Mai was the host of a live weekly series titled Style Pop on the Style Network. That same year, she started co-hosting Fox talk show The Real, alongside Tamera Mowry, Loni Love, Adrienne Bailon and Tamar Braxton.

In 2014, The Real was picked up again for a second season, credited to the fantastic chemistry of the five co-hosts. It has been a huge success so far.

She and Steffi Graf helped during the Charity Pro-AM class at Longines Los Angeles Masters at Los Angeles Convention Center on Sept 27, 2014 in Los Angeles, to raise US$35,000 (RM139,973) for The Children Of Tomorrow.

Last year, Mai became the host of the reality competition series titled Steampunk’d on GSN. She has made it her mission to inspire, educate and empower women, receiving rave reviews as a speaker on the main stage at Maria Shriver’s The Women’s Conference. This passion for empowerment has given her the title of “Wearapist”.

A frequent fashion expert for the Today Show, Wendy Williams and E! News, Mai has a charitable heart especially when it comes to family. She frequently travels to Asia to volunteer her time with inspiring organisations dedicated to helping those who are less fortunate.

She has so far worked with Heartbeat Vietnam, a non-profit organisation devoted to improving health care for impoverished children and NightLight International, an organisation committed to rescuing women and children from sex trafficking and prostitution rings by providing employment and vocational opportunities.

HOST FOR ASIA

For the new season of How Do I Look? Asia, it is introducing a brand new Glam Squad when the series premieres on Aug 29 at 8pm on DIVA (Astro channel 702) and DIVA HD (Astro channel 723)).

Joining Mai are four fabulous new guest stylists: Malaysian TV personality Marion Caunter, Singapore social media influencer Andrea Chong, L’Officiel Manila editor-in-chief Pam Quinones and Indonesian creative director/fashion academic Diaz Diaz. Each Guest Stylist will appear in two of the eight hour-long episodes.

“I can safely say that most women suffer and struggle from body dysmorphia. That is one problem that needs attention on my show. I listen to what the contestants are tormented with first. By knowing their ‘problems’ only then can the Glam Squad start to work on them.

“I’m a life person, not a fashion consultant. Fashion and style are two different things altogether. Style is individual. Developing a style that works with your body is the key to changing how one looks. There’s no point in hating yourself and it breaks my heart to see the contestants hating themselves,” says Mai, who admits that nobody is perfect and that she has a pair of skinny “chicken legs”.

“A glass is either half full or half empty. And it is how you take and see it. You’ve got to own your credit. Skinny legs have got their advantages too, like allowing me to get into a pair of my tightest jeans quite easily,” she enthuses.

The women featured in this season are: Fashionably guilty lawyer Meghana (Malaysia), budding vlogger Des (Philippines), frequently friendzoned Melati (Indonesia), never-been-kissed Jocelyn (Malaysia), weight-loss wonder Amy Law (Singapore), 32-going-on-13 Doctor Beep (Philippines), staunch environmentalist Wiggie (Singapore) and mummy’s girl Amy Yu (Taiwan).

How Do I Look? Asia Season 2 is presented by online fashion retailer Zalora (as official wardrobe partner) and AirAsia (as official airline partner). In Malaysia, the series is also presented by returning sponsor Marigold Yogurt Drink.

How Do I Look? Asia (Season 2) premieres Aug 29 at 8pm on DIVA (Astro channel 702) and DIVA HD (Astro channel 723)