Haute Interview: E! New York Correspondent Alicia Quarles

Alicia Quarles, life reads like a fairytale. A graduate of the University of Southern California she began an incredibly successful nine-year run at the Associated Press (AP) where she traveled the globe interviewing some of today’s biggest names. Alicia eventually became the Global Entertainment and Lifestyles Editor anchoring live coverage of the Oscars and Grammys. Now at 30, Alicia is happily married and can be seen everyday reporting the day’s top headlines and newsmakers on E! News as the New York Correspondent. I sat down to talk candidly with Alicia in her office at 30 Rock about her journey, her work ethic, meeting her idol Diane von Furstenberg and much more.

Before you began at E! News you were Global Entertainment and Lifestyles Editor at the Associated Press. What was your experience like working there?

It was wonderful! I call it the grad school of my life. When I graduated from the University of Southern California I started working at AP (Associated Press) as a Producer, I was on the TV side. At the time I didn’t really understand how AP worked on the television end but it’s the largest provider of entertainment video in the world. 500 stations, everybody was our client, I’m talking CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, everybody.  At AP I would cover the Oscars, the Grammys, breaking news but I was also hustling.

I remember painting my own wall. We needed our office painted and I was like “ya know, I’ll just do it myself” because it had to get done. I learned how to write for the print wire, how to do radio, etc. So my motto was “say yes to everything.” Working at AP was great training ground.

How long were you at AP?

I was at AP for nine years total. I started as a Producer and then I was promoted to run our East Coast TV entertainment operations and from there I became the North American Video Editor overseeing those operations and then from there the Global Entertainment and Lifestyles Editor. So by the end of my tenure I managed about 75 people and I oversaw video, photo’s, text, everything entertainment related for AP. It gave me such a hands on experience because I was in the boardroom with these older gentlemen and women who had been there for a long time and to be able to hold my own as a young woman was an invaluable experience. I cannot say enough about my time there.

Wow! And you don’t look a day over 30!

Thank you, I just turned 30 actually (laughs)!

You look amazing. And you were managing 75 people at one point?

75 people, yes. It was just absolutely amazing. I oversaw the budgets, I had to hire/fire people and I was responsible for something if it failed or succeeded. And on top of that I never gave up my dream. I loved being on-air so I would do things for Good Morning America, Today Show or E! if they called. I looked at it as, yes its hard work I didn’t sleep for years, but it’s awesome, I’m getting to live my dream. I got to make a lot of choices and I got a lot of responsibility and those are experiences I’m going to carry with me no matter what I do.

I can be behind the scenes and I can relate to where my bosses are coming from now when they have to make those tough decisions because I’ve been in those shoes.

You have interviewed pretty much everyone. I wouldn’t even know where to start. But you recently got to interview someone that you look up to, Diane von Furstenberg. What was that experience like talking with her?

That’s the best part of the job! When you grow up idolizing somebody; you sometimes get to meet them! I just love her because she’s worked hard, her designs are timeless, and she also gives back which is really important. Sometimes when you meet your idols they can let you down but she was amazing and exceeded my expectations and that’s where you feel like all your hard work is a great reward when you get to meet awesome people who are changing the world.

Before AP, before E!, before University of Southern California how did you get started on this journey? Was the life you have now something you dreamed about as a kid growing up?

Always! When I was in 5th grade is my earliest memory when I knew I wanted to be a broadcast journalist. My Father is a newspaper publisher and President. I grew up in the print side of journalism and we moved all over the country, because he would take over papers and then we’d move on. I remember being little and running home to watch 20/20 on Fridays (laughs), I love Christiane Amanpour and Barbara Walters. I love the art of story telling, I love bringing news to people that otherwise wouldn’t get it. I love the excitement that comes with journalism; you’re not just sitting in your office everyday. And then seeing my Father’s passion for it and what he was able to do for the community and all the opportunities it allowed our family. People when they move sometimes you go, “oh my God I can’t believe I’m moving,” for us, it was always exciting and an adventure and I wanted to be apart of that. I always knew I wanted to be a journalist.

Looking back, what advice would you have given yourself ten years ago?

The advice I would have given myself (pauses) probably would have been to network more. Early on in my career I wasn’t necessarily networking, I was working really hard and enjoying it but I wasn’t using my resources. And now I call them, “fairy godmothers or godfathers,” people that look out for you. You need a community of people that want to help and support you, so reach out for that. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Sometimes I was the girl who didn’t necessarily ask for advice and I wish that I would have reached out more.

You’ve been noted as being instrumental in covering President Obama’s inauguration. What was it like to be apart of that historical moment?

That was one of the best moments of my career. It was such a crazy week getting down there; there were so many people on the national mall. That day wasn’t about politics, it didn’t matter what side you stood on you were there to be apart of history. And that’s what I love about journalism; you’re there when it happens. Just being there I remember I got goose bumps and chills that day. It the first inauguration I ever covered, this one was historic.

Tell me about the day you found out you were going to be E!’s New York Correspondent. What did that feel like?

It was kind of like that walking on air feeling. It was very surreal, it’s funny, cause when I told one of my closest friends she started crying and I was like, “Why are you crying?” She was like, “Alicia do you remember years ago, you told me that was your dream job?” And I didn’t remember saying that to her but it always was my dream job but again a lot of times I don’t verbalize what I’m feeling. She was like “I cannot believe you made it happen.” In this moment I feel so blessed and so happy and I just absolutely have to give back. I think Matt Lauer said “Opportunity happens when preparation meets luck. And I prepared, worked by butt off, but you have to have that opportunity and somebody to open the door for you. And that’s what E!’s done for me, so I think its those two things coming together.

Wow…You’re gonna make me cry!

Aww you’re going to get me emotional!

I think anyone who has been able to live out some portion of his or her dream gets that feeling. When something big happens, there are almost no words to explain it.

Yes! Exactly. It’s like the ultimate high. It was Beyonce’s publicist Yvette that told me at my AP going away party and I was like, “I can’t believe this is happening to me.” And she’s like, “No, don’t question your blessings, own your blessings.” So that’s what I’m trying to do, own my blessings and give back. Because I think the minute something like this happens you have to start giving back to people. Regardless you should be doing that, but now you’ve got a bigger platform so you better start doing something.

So now that you are on E! Do you just pick up the phone and call Giuliana Rancic? (laughs)

Oh that’s my girl! (laughs)

What’s it like to come to work everyday and get to work with the amazing team you have here at E!, like Giuliana, Jason Kennedy, Catt Sadler?

Giuliana’s a big reason I came to E!. I remember years ago I was in L.A, being in the field with her and she was working her butt off. This is before all the fame, before all that. Now seeing the place to where she’s gotten and the fact that she’s still such a good person and she does so much with breast cancer awareness and IVF (In Vitro Fertilization). To me that was a big reason I made the transition. Look how this person has grown at this network and how it’s been nurtured. My first day here, Giuliana was in New York and she introduced me on-air. So to see a person whose career you followed and to see them grow and then to have them introduce you on air is a full circle moment.

It’s been a really good transition. E! was a client of AP. My bosses now I dealt with on the client side, so we already had that respect. We knew each other; they were really patient in the process because we were going through award season as this was happening. People look out for each other, it’s a family, my expectations have been exceeded coming to E!.

What’s an average day for you like?

An average day is all over the place. Today for example I woke up early at 6:00 am to shoot my Today Show segment. Came in here (my office), now I’m doing a little research, cause I’m going to be interviewing Justin Beiber’s mom about her book and then I fly out to L.A for the Emmys. So my stylist is coming here in a little bit to do final fittings and all that good stuff. And then it’s calling sources; we’re interviewing somebody from the Voice right now. So an average day could be anything from red carpets, to sit down interviews, Today Show, MSNBC and then going to great dinners and hanging out with my friends.

Do you think you have had to sacrifice anything for your craft? Because it’s not all about the glitz and glam. For young people looking to break into the business, they might see the finished product and think it’s easy. What advice would you give someone looking to break into broadcast journalism?

Yes, you are going to have to sacrifice. There are so many things I could go on and on. I used to shoot my own interviews back in the day at AP. I learned how to edit; I always still wrote for print wire, I think that’s really important. A lot of people just want to be in front of the camera; if you don’t have fundamental skills, you’ll get to a certain point but you’re not going to get a lot further. I like being able to talk to my producers and understand because I’ve done the job before. It gives you a different level of understanding and they have a different level of respect for you.

Any grunt job that you can do, I’ve done. Never be above anything. It’s also personal life and time. You don’t necessary need to sacrifice having a personal life, I have a husband and he’s amazing. But you’re not going to make every girlfriend’s birthday party, you’re not going to be able to hang out late night like everybody else does. I found a good balance but there are going to be times when you have to say, “No I can’t do it.” Weekends are gone often times, but in the end if you love it and it’s your dream it’s worth it.

Coming up I just wanted to be a good journalist. I wanted to tell a story and enlighten people. Everything else is a perk. Getting to go to fabulous a party, meeting interesting people, hair and make up that’s all great but it’s not what drives me.

It’s the icing on the cake.

It’s the icing on the cake! Exactly. If the ingredients aren’t good the cake is not going to be great. So you have to put in that hard work and eventually you get the pay off.  My motto is, “Play hard but work harder.” My advice to young people is don’t be above anything. This business is up and down, at one point in your career, you may be hot, and the next you might not be. Be good to people and they’ll pay it forward.

Photo Credit: Matt Sayles