By Ley Calisang
From a young age, Courtney Perna knew she would always be extraordinary. But growing up in metropolitan Detroit, the media and entertainment industry felt far and out of reach. She went to Michigan State University and majored in chemical engineering before changing her major to journalism at the recommendation of one of her high school instructors. She discovered video editing, which is the visual medium of journalism. She quickly realized how much she liked it after concluding that print journalism was not her cup of tea.
Courtney Perna, known as the Digital Diva of Daytime, is a Lifestyle Television Host who recently took home an Emmy Award for Best On-Camera Talent for my role on “Las Vegas NOW.” Besides being a Journalist, she is also a Producer with vast experience both in front of and behind the camera, plus proven Social Media Marketing skills. Before her TV Host position on Las Vegas NOW at KLAS, she hosted “The Morning Blend” on WFTX in Fort Myers, FL, and I was a Feature Reporter / Producer/ Fill-in Host in Houston (DMA 8) on “Great Day Houston,” a morning talk show on KHOU 11.
Her current show, “Brunch with Courtney Perna,” is currently airing its second season and has no plans on ending the series there. All these experiences have led her to create her streaming network, Dame Good. Dame Good focuses on bringing out the best in women by spotlighting female-forward content. This women-supporting-women movement has pushed her to turn her dreams into a reality.
According to Perna, “Dame Good will be an eclectic mix of shows, content, and creators.” “We’re attempting to compete against the big networks like ABC and Discovery. Therefore I want to be able to assist content creators in raising the quality of their productions and amplifying their voices as much as I can. Then, we can support one another and continue forward.”
Courtney Perna sits with David’s Guide for an exclusive interview as she talks about her humble beginnings to her now Emmy Award winning career. Read more on the Q&A below:
David’s Guide: You have come a very long way and have experienced a lot of things before getting to where you are now. When did your passion for television start?
Courtney Perna: Growing up in metro Detroit in the ’80s and early ’90s, I didn’t have a lot of career inspiration outside of the “Big Three” car companies: GM, Ford, and Chrysler. I knew I could also be a nurse because my Aunt is one. I knew I could own a small business. So I figured out I could work in retail or a restaurant, but that was about it. My friends’ parents who supported their families worked for or supported the automobile industry. It never even occurred to me that I could be the news anchor lady on TV.
That is until I failed my first calculus class my freshman year at Michigan State University. During a phone call from my dorm room to my high school English teacher Ms. Nemesi, she encouraged me to pursue writing. I confessed that I never really read all of the assigned reading from her class but rather relied on cliff notes. She assured me that my writing was on point and I could be a journalist.
At first, I thought of the fashion magazines I loved reading, but after my first couple of classes in print journalism — not to mention the excruciatingly long articles I had to write — I realized I hated it! But, once I got into a more specialized curriculum and discovered Broadcasting and video production – specifically editing – I loved it! I realized I could be an artist and video was my medium.
DG: Did you always know that you’ll win an Emmy someday?
CP: I didn’t even know this was possible until I got back into TV News in 2011. For the next seven years, I was nominated in many categories for my reporting and as part of a show ensemble, but I never won. I was starting to feel like Susan Lucci, haha! It wasn’t until I truly showcased my personality and put together a submission that I felt might have been a little “too much” that I took home the Best TV Host/Moderator award. So that just goes to show that you should never dim your own light. My crazy, sometimes over-the-top light probably helped me stand out!
DG: What were the toughest decisions you had to make when starting your career?
CP: The toughest decision I had to make was which career to go with. When I first started as a news reporter, I was getting up at 2:30 AM to “go live from a snowbank “- as I explained it – on the morning newscasts. It was dark and freezing, and there was never a lot going on in that small market, so I was just regurgitating the news from the night before instead of going after my own stories and interviewing my sources. It was nothing like we were taught in school. It was pretty awful, actually, and the pay was next-to-nothing.
My love for dance and gymnastics was still pining in my mind. So after a night out on vacation with my Nano (grandmother), she encouraged me to audition for one of her favorite Las Vegas shows: “Les Folies Bergere” (“The Folies”) at Tropicana.
She nudged me during the show and said, “Look at that girl, Courtney,” as I scanned the stage of about 30 beautiful girls. “She’s got a big butt. You could do this show.” And she was right. I auditioned and was offered a position as an acrobat and dancer shortly after. It was an amazing experience. I even got to don the famous headdresses, feather boas, sequin G-strings, and heels for a few numbers. It was truly glamorous Las Vegas at its finest. I miss the days of the grand production shows in Las Vegas.
From there, I continued as an acrobat and aerialist, performing on the Las Vegas Strip and working at Tokyo DisneySea park in Japan as the aerial-acrobat “Ariel” The Little Mermaid.
After that gig, I had to decide if staying an acrobat was the best decision. I ultimately decided to go back to TV because I knew that it probably had more longevity. However, I never realized how difficult it would be, even at such a young age, to still claw my way back into the industry and get hired.
DG: How did these help you get to where you are now as a TV personality?
CP: Even though it was tough getting back into the industry and having to do jobs for free so I could get material for my demo reel, I think having such a diverse background – whether it was as a Disney princess, Las Vegas showgirl, a cocktail waitress, a gymnastics coach, a company spokesperson for a Fortune 10 company at a convention, or a TV presenter in whatever way I could make it happen – really gave me so many different experiences and insights that eventually helped me connect with so many different people through my true love which is interviewing.
I’m sure “Brunch with Courtney Perna” did not happen overnight. What were the challenges you faced leading to the launch of your show? Realizing or convincing myself I could do this. We “women of a certain age” did not grow up with social media, or reality TV (or even the damn Internet, for that matter) so just switching my mindset to realize this is something I can do, was the biggest hurdle. Streaming is opening doors for many talented people – especially those of us who don’t fit the traditional “mold” – but you just need to have the guts to take this Wild West world of streaming by the horns.
You are now known as the Digital Daytime Diva. Not only that, but you are also building a streaming network of female-positive content called Dame Good Media. How does it feel to be able to help other women reach their dreams?
Sometimes it feels crazy, and I think, “Courtney, what the hell are you doing? How did you get here?” Haha! But it truly is the idea of helping others reach their dreams, supporting sisterhood instead of competing against each other, and empowering other women and our allies to use our voices. That’s what keeps me going every day. This is not easy. I thought it would be easier since I’ve worked in the broadcast industry for over 20 years. Still, streaming and competing to put together a Network just like the “big kids “out there like ESPN and Discovery, not to mention the network broadcasters like ABC, CBS, NBC, etc., is not for the faint of heart. That’s for sure.
But I’m doing it, and even though there’s no roadmap, I’m doing it anyway. I’m “doing it scared,” as other inspiring women have taught me to do. Even my competitors are only ahead of me by 12 to 18 months, and they’re still trying to figure it out too. So we’re kind of all in this together. So streaming is changing the whole landscape, and it’s exciting!
DG: How important is it to empower women?
CP: It’s about damn time we stop competing against each other and uplift each other. I know it’s cliché to talk about what “society” has molded us to do, but it is true: women are often pitted against each other – whether it’s sisters, team members, or work colleagues. So I’ve been set up like that in a work environment, to be pitted against other women, until we figured out what was happening and decided to fight back from the inside.
I believe there’s a Collective shift happening all across the planet, I hope, and more and more women are understanding the power we truly have when we use our voice and support each other, even if we disagree. Sitting down with a mimosa at brunch and conversing with someone with a different point-of-view is so powerful.
That’s why on “Brunch with Courtney Perna, “we talk about everything from makeup recommendations to raising a Black son in today’s world. We talk about misogyny – not just misogynists putting us down, but in season one, we discussed misogyny among women, which was eye-opening for me. We talked about the fun stuff, the tough subjects, and all the “hey girl hey” topics too! And we do it all without holding back, or fear of judgment. So as long as you come to the table with love; pull up a chair and pour around mimosas!
DG: How did Dame Good start? Where did the idea come from and what does it hope to accomplish?
CP: For some reason, the word “Dame” reminds me of my Grandma Ruth. She often used funny “old-fashioned “words like that. I also love that many people read it at first glance as Damn Good Media, which makes me chuckle because I’m not afraid of a swear word, ha ha!
So, I’ve had the company name Dame Good Media floating around in my head for a while. I always thought it would just be female-owned, but the name took on a new, more powerful meaning when I realized how much I could do with female-forward content and how women are ready to stop fighting against each other and start fighting for each other. We can all win! I’m certainly not afraid to stand up for myself, but mostly I’m not afraid to stand up for others who may not be as confident or empowered yet.
Overall, what I hope to accomplish with Dame Good network, is not only to give or offer a seat at the hypothetical table to women all over the world or women who are not as represented on mainstream TV just yet. But to also help women and our allies who might already be doing good content but just need a little boost in production value or a little help in producing their show to make it stand out, pop, and be seen. That’s something no other mid-tier network is doing, as I’m aware.
DG: We see a lot of streaming networks not only on TV but on the Internet as well. What does Dame Good have that no other platforms have to offer?
CP: Besides the female-forward content, Dame Good will empower the content creators, the hosts, the producers, and the creatives. Remember, I have been on the talent and content creator side; I have seemingly endorsed products, hosted sponsored content segments on TV for many years, and helped many large and small businesses promote their products and services. Still, I never got a kickback for it because it’s just “part of the job. My network will offer the contact creators commissions for those paid-for segments, product placements, sponsorships, etc. For so long, it was just the network affiliate making money off the segments I was doing – I never saw an extra dime for any of it! And it was me promoting it!
When I can put a sales and sponsorship team in place for the network, the contact creators and producers can focus on their show and not worry about getting sponsors or monetizing. As far as I know, no other mid-tier network is doing that.
Dame Good network will also offer different packages for show placement instead of just a one-size-fits-all approach to getting your content on to Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and more. We have different packages that will help up the production value so that we can take your podcast, your YouTube show, or even your social media content to the next level – the network level. One that big advertisers want to be a part of and one that gets seen.
We are helping. We are encouraging women. We are not just taking the continent to fill a time slot. We want to help develop the producers, the talent, and everyone on the team, so they can pay it forward when the time comes.
DG: Today, women are becoming more and more vocal than they were a decade ago. Women are gaining more opportunities and are more confident about their hustle. What do you think will impact the younger generations of females?
CP: I hope the younger generations don’t think twice about taking a risk or pursuing their dream. I hope they don’t think twice about societal “norms “and what they should do by the time they’re 24 years old, or 30, or whatever. I hope they look at our generation, roll their eyes, and think, Why would you be scared to start your own business? That seems crazy! “That’s what I hope for. I hope that any sense of hesitancy to speak up or any life decisions based on fear will be squashed.
I often quote Nicki Minaj’s lyrics when I am acting as a hype woman for my friends, or even myself when I need it. So, with that in mind, I hope younger generations of women and our allies can say about starting a business or going after a dream, “Didn’t know what I was doing but I put on a cape” And, from there, they’ll soar!
DG: Before I end this interview, what is your advice to the little girl reading this?
CP: Go For It. I know Barbie gets a bad rep sometimes for body image issues, but the Barbie I knew growing up told me, “We girls can do anything,” and I truly believed that as a child. My whole family, teachers, and coaches, who encouraged me to dream big were crucial to my confidence. But, on the other hand, I think a lot of my family members, especially the women in my family, were shocked and a little scared for me when I decided to go for it because it was something they were never able to do or were too scared to do, but here I am breaking generational binds which is also freeing.
So the advice I would give to a little girl is to keep going and go for it. Whatever it is, give it everything you’ve got and go for it. Get clear on what you want to do in your heart and soul, what brings you joy, and what gives you purpose in your life. Not what your parents want you to do or what your friends think is cool. Do you, be you, and be brave. You got this!
On a practical note, I said to explore and learn the ins and outs of your desired path. The Internet is something I didn’t have growing up, so now we can get an insight into what a marketing executive does and what a shoe buyer for a big retailer does. So we can find out what their actual day looks like and what mundane tasks they must do daily.
Get out of whatever it is that your hometown is known for and what all your friends’ parents do and explore careers. As a teen, reach out and see if you can shadow someone to see if you’d like it. I mean, for goodness sake, I thought I wanted to be a dolphin trainer when I was growing up until I realized that most of the day consists of having fish guts all over you as you’re preparing to feed the dolphins multiple times a day. Not as fun as I thought it was in my head. I’m also against most animals in captivity, but that’s another story!
You can watch “Brunch with Courtney Perna” on demand by downloading the KP Media app on Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV. You can also find season one at Watch.KPMedia.TV.
Go to BrunchWithCourtneyPerna.com