Thursday, February 08, 2007

Interview with Allison Samuels

Allison Samuels - Photography by Ian GittlerI was very excited to speak with first time author and veteran Newsweek reporter Allison Samuels, who recently published Off the Record: A Reporter Unveils the Celebrity Worlds of Hollywood, Hip-Hop & Sports. When I found out that her book discussed individuals who have a relationship to the hip-hop culture, I knew I had to meet her. Let me tell you an open secret, the best writers are reporters because they will dig deep in the tomb and rattle out the bones of truth. I live for that. Samuels is a seasoned reporter who can pull out the truth so quick her subject won't know what hit them. "I felt the stories needed to be about the scene and place and not so much the stories I do in the magazine, but more of an outtake of the story," said the Atlanta University graduate. "I had so many stories I told at parties and people would say, 'you have to write this down'. When HarperCollins approached me, I thought, well I do have something [of] worth."

Off the Record serves as a cautionary tale with straightforward advice on what to expect when your goal is to be famous. The book reads like a who's who in sports and entertainment, revealing the different experiences of African Americans in the celebrity world. Some of Samuels' interviews are based in the early beginnings of highly successful African Americans in the entertainment industry who had no clue what to expect. Through these interviews, she lets her readers in to the vulnerable moments of these first celebrities, before the Hollywood factory machine took over. She praises actresses like Angela Bassett and sports stars like former Chicago Bulls shooting guard Michael Jordan for their abilities to deal with the media. Then, there are the others like comedian Eddie Murphy and former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson who could have used some much-needed guidance.

Samuels breaks down the rocky relationship between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal when they played with the Lakers. She describes Bryant as the 'sweet faced Philly kid' whose biggest mistake was skipping college to go straight into the NBA. O'Neal, at this time, was a seasoned veteran who did not take too kindly to the young Bryant's cockiness. Samuels' draws a similar analogy with Angela Bassett and Halle Berry. When Berry won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2002 - the first African American woman to do so - an infamous quote by Bassett disparaging Berry's win took a life of its own and Samuels felt remorseful over the drama that ensued. "If people had read the article it was very clear what she said and what she meant. It was regrettable and I was upset for her. It was not my intention to put her in a bad position. You never know what is going to be taken a certain way and what's not. There is really no way to determine that."

A hot subject Samuels could not overlook in her book is the soon-to-be ex-Mrs. Bobby Brown. The moment Whitney Houston arrived in 1985 with her powerful voice belting out 'You Give Good Love' and 'Saving All My Love' she breathed new life in music. As we have seen in later years, Houston's popularity has been in considerable decline. "There was a lot with Whitney but what I was trying to do is chronicle my dealings with her. Obviously, there were many examples of how she [had] gotten even more out of control after I interviewed her. My experiences with her were enough for me [that] I didn't need to look at anybody else."

Samuels also mentions having chicken and waffles with former Book Cover of Off the Record by Allison Samuelssupermodel Tyra Banks, how Bill Cosby grieved over the death of his only son Ennis and on meeting 'the sexiest man alive,' Denzel 'Two-time Oscar winner' Washington. Samuels makes her writing both personal and available. She provides the sense that the reader is sitting right next to her as she connects with all her subjects. Samuels saw these celebrities take their first step into a world with no guidelines, watching to see who would be left standing with the least amount of bruises.

Allison Samuels will sign her book at Eso Won Books on Friday, February 9th at 7 p.m. and also at Vroman's Bookstore on Thursday, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m.

-Mary Emerita Montoro, Contributing Writer

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