Today on “10 Questions With…” we have Tim O’Shei from Live! Starring … You!
1. Can you tell readers a bit about your background in writing?
Sure. I’ve always focused on entertainment, sports, business and children’s writing. The magazines I’ve written for range from Dance Spirit to The Sporting News to Scholastic’s Scope, which is for middle schoolers. As an author, I’ve written more than 60 books for kids on subjects like spies, princesses, and survival.
One of my favorite things about writing books is author visits in schools. When I do those visits, I like to tell kids about my succession of dreams, all of which seemed to fail (but actually didn’t): When I was 4, I wanted to become Superman – but couldn’t fly. At 10 I wanted to become a rock star – but the only instrument I was good at was the tuba. Then, at 14, I wanted to be a baseball player — but couldn’t hit the ball.
By 16, I realized I was pretty good at writing, and that I loved doing it. I pitched a story about a baseball scout (who was also a family friend) to a national magazine called Baseball Digest. The editor called and said, “I like your idea, but I have no idea if you can write. Go ahead and do it, and if we like it, we’ll pay you $150 and publish it. If not, then that’s it.” So I went ahead and did the interviews, wrote the story, and got it published. The editor was pretty happy with it and offered for me to do more writing for the magazine. So, in 11th grade, I ended up interviewing big-league baseball players in the locker room and on the field.
Through that, I realized that that writing was a great way to touch all of my dreams – and in a sense, make them come true. Over the next bunch of years, I interviewed hundreds of athletes as a sports writer and hundreds of performers – including rock stars – as an entertainment writer. Once I got to play a game of “professional” baseball, which was actually a movie shoot. (I was writing a story about this baseball movie and they asked me to be an extra, playing left field for a team called the Omaha Royals.) I even interviewed two actors who played Superman – Christopher Reeve and Dean Cain – which I suppose is the closest I could possibly come to that dream!
2. You have written for dance publications during your career. Which ones have you done articles for and how did you get involved with the dance world?
I’ve written a bunch of stories in the last four to five years for Dance Spirit and Dance Teacher. Both are great magazines. I got started when I met a woman named Katia Bachko, who at the time was a Dance Teacher editor, at a writing conference in New York City. I was working on the original Live! Starring … You! book at the time, and wanted to incorporate dance into it. I figured the best way was to write about it.
When I met Katia, she looked at me and said, a bit hesitantly, “Do you dance?” I’m 6-foot-1 and more than 200 pounds — and I wish I could dance.
“No,” I told her. “But my wife was a dancer. And I’m a teacher.” (Which is true — I’ve taught elementary, middle, high school and college.) Then I added, “So I figure I could write for Dance Teacher!” That worked. I started writing for DT, and DS soon followed.
A funny side note: I actually made my dance debut recently in a dads’ routine for my daughter’s studio. I was dressed as a tulip – with green petals and pink tutu and ribbon socks – and we did a two-minute ballet to Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through The Tulips.” That really made me appreciate dancers’ skills!
3. What do you enjoy about writing articles that have to do with dance?
Dancers impress the heck out of me. They’re so incredibly skilled and passionate. Dance is a perfect mix of athleticism, story telling and visual art.
Beyond that, I’m also fascinated by the mentality that dancers in the commercial world must adopt in order to survive. When you’re a backup dancer for big pop star – Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Usher, Britney, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, whomever – you’re right on stage, playing a key role in a huge show, and on the receiving end of massive cheers. But they’re almost never meant for you. And once you’re offstage, the makeup is off and the street clothes on, you’re a regular person. Depending how you look at it, that’s either seriously cool or (if you want to be the star) will leave you desperately wanting more.
4. Can you talk a bit about what your latest project, Live! Starring … You!, is about?
I’m really proud of LSY! – we do some cool stuff! Essentially, LSY! is a pop-culture publishing and education organization. We publish books for younger readers and teens who are interested in entertainment or “fame” careers. We also work directly with students to train them as “teen reporters” who do interviews with professional entertainers. In those interviews, we aim to demystify “fame.” In other words, we ask questions that show what it’s really like to live in the spotlight, and dig into how entertainers balance work and creative concerns, how they overcome obstacles, and how they can use the spotlight to do good things for other people.
We push those interviews on our website (LiveStarringYou.com) and especially through our Facebook (facebook.com/livestarringyou) and YouTube channel (youtube.com/livestarringyou). In the next several days we’re unveiling a blog, too.
LSY! works closely with Mount St. Mary Academy, a private, Catholic, all-girls high school where I teach part-time in Buffalo, New York. All of the cool things we’re doing – from the books to the on-camera interviews – begin at Mount St. Mary’s, and it’s also the place where I test-run new ideas. Mount St. Mary’s is the home base for LSY!, but we’re expanding. This year, we started bringing LSY! to other schools and even to colleges, and I’m really excited to see that grow.
5. How did you get the idea for this project?
When I was a kid, I badly wanted to be famous. I had this total fascination with celebrities. It didn’t happen for me – which is OK! – but as a journalist I’ve had the chance to interview hundreds of celebrities and get a sense of what it’s actually like to be in their position. I thought it would be cool to start an organization that could give younger people that same “insider”-type look.
6. What has been the reaction to Live! Starring … You! so far?
Incredible! The reaction has been awesome: We have 17,000 Facebook fans, and 1.3 million views on YouTube. Last fall I was named to the National Honor Roll of American Entrepreneurs, which was an incredibly nice surprise. I get Facebook messages and emails every week from kids and parents around the U.S. and Canada asking us to come run workshops in their cities — which we’re planning to do in 2012. On that note, if anyone wants to have a workshop where they live, please reach out! I also enjoy visiting schools as a guest author.
7. What are the workshops like?
The workshops are very hands-on, creative and fun. They’re good for kids who love to be in the spotlight and for kids who are a little more shy but looking to kind of ‘break out,’ if you know what I mean.
In the on-camera and writing workshops, which are called Red Carpet Reporter Academy, we do a lot of role-playing to practice speaking into a camera and asking questions during interviews.
In the goal-setting workshops, which are based on LSY’s “Steps to the Stars” and “Secrets of Celebrity Success,” we break down how successful entertainers have made it to the top – and how they’ve survived in the spotlight. We also teach the kids to make their own “Dream Boards,” which is something I learned from my friend Heather Morris, a former Beyoncé dancer who’s now Brittany on “Glee.”
Our school workshops vary even more, because I totally customize those to each school. I do full-group assemblies for hundreds of kids, small-group writing workshops, evening programs for parents, staff development for teachers, and more. One of my favorite things to do is host an “author lunch” with a group of kids. It’s a great way to sit informally with my audience and hear about the things that interest them.
By the way, anyone who wants more information on author visits can visit www.timoshei.com.
Well, this past weekend we interviewed Miranda Cosgrove from iCarly and Greyson Chance, the teen whose version of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” blew up on YouTube and landed him a record deal. One night last week we interviewed Weird Al Yankovic, and the day before that we interviewed Simple Plan and about two dozen other bands backstage at Warped Tour. A few weeks ago we were in Toronto to interview Al Jardine from the Beach Boys, and the week before that we were in New York interviewing JoJo at a red carpet event for the charity She’s the First.
We’ve been really lucky to work with a lot of great celebrities. I already mentioned my friend Heather Morris from “Glee.” She and I teamed up to do three days’ worth of programs, including a really cool interview workshop where the kids asked her all about building up her dance career, then transitioning into acting, and about how her life has changed now that she’s on “Glee.”
We’ve also worked a lot with Jordan Francis from the Disney Channel’s “Camp Rock” movies. LSY! even teamed up with Jordan on a project for the Make-A-Wish Foundation to help a young cancer patient fulfill her wish of writing and recording her own CD.
Other celebrities we’ve interviewed? There are dozens. They range from Justin Bieber to Vanessa Williams to the Goo Goo Dolls to cast members from “Whose Line is it Anway?” and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels from Run-DMC.
9. What has been the best part about being involved with this project?
Live! Starring … You! has made a real impact on people’s lives. Our teen reporters have learned how to prepare for an interview, work on camera, and then write and edit video to tell some really cool stories. And from my perspective as a teacher, what they’re really developing are their research, speaking and writing skills.
From the fan perspective, we get wall posts and messages all the time on Facebook asking us for advice about writing, performing under pressure, things like that. We try to always write back or point them to our interviews that might help them out. A lot of those kids then write back to us and tell us what a difference we’ve made. We’ve heard phrases like “I took your advice, and it worked!” and “I love you guys, LSY!” a lot.
10. What is next for you?
We’re expanding. The first step is for me to do more author visits in schools, which will give more kids a chance to get involved in Live! Starring … You! not only as readers, but possibly as reporters too.
We’re about to unveil a publishing program that will give kids the chance to become published writers, both online and as book authors.
Right now we’re working on a tour for 2012, where we’ll go to different cities and do author visits and our Red Carpet Reporter Academy workshops in schools, and also in dance studios, theaters and other performing arts and community centers.
If people want to bring us to your town, we’d love to chat! Just email me at email@example.com and we’ll get to work on it.
And then behind the scenes, over the next several months we’re developing a pop-culture-based language arts curriculum for teachers, and goal-setting workshop for performers. (Several of our entertainer contacts have asked us to do that.)
We’ve got lots to do, and we’re really excited to see Live! Starring … You! grow!