Inside LSY! with founder Tim O’Shei

LSY! founder Tim O’Shei onstage at Hard Rock Cafe in Niagara Falls USA with X Factor contestant Caitlin Koch.

Kids and teens around the country know Live! Starring … You! as a cool organization that connects youth reporters with people in the spotlight. But how did it start? Who’s behind it? Where is it going?

Samantha Visone, a communications student at Buffalo State College, conducted an interview with LSY! founder Tim O’Shei that answers those questions and more. Check it out!

How did you get started with Live! Starring … You!?

Tim: It started as a book, actually. I’ve written just over 60 children’s books – all nonfiction – and I wanted to write a book that shows kids what it’s like to be famous. (I’d always had a fascination with fame, and so do probably three-fourths of the kids I meet.) So I began interviewing every professional performer I could reach, from Miss America to Hilary Duff to the cast of High School Musical. I spent three or four years just learning about fame from the inside, and then sat down to write the book. (Which actually turned out to be two books in one: a novel, and a non-fiction section on how people make it to the top and handle the spotlight.)

When the Live! Starring … You! book came out in 2009, I started running what I called “Celebrity Reporter Boot Camps” to promote it. One of those was with my friend Heather Morris, who plays Brittany on Glee. The workshops in general, and especially the program with Heather, took off. I also realized the concept of kids and teens as “reporters” was a cool one and had a lot of educational value. With that in mind, LSY! became an organization – not just a book – and our hallmark is our “teen reporter” program.

How old is it?

Tim: The book came out in 2009, though I started working on it in 2004. The programming and interviews began in very late 2009 – almost exactly two years ago.

What’s your favorite part of being involved?

Tim: Easy: Seeing the kids absolutely glow after a good interview. It’s an incredible confidence-builder for them — and a resume-builder too. It’s also exciting when one of our interviews breaks new ground on the subject. That’s happened several times, actually, including just the other night. We were doing an interview with a new group called The PreZcotts, which is four sisters. Their dad had gotten them into music, and he died a couple of years ago. We knew that much from their bio, but no one had ever asked them in an interview about the impact of their dad’s death. We did, and not only were they were incredibly open to talking about it, but they were also grateful that we had asked.

What’s your least favorite part?

Tim: I honestly don’t have a least favorite part, but I can tell you that there are so many cool interviews to do and stories to tell, that we sometimes feel flooded with possibilities! That’s a good thing, though!

What’s the best interview you’ve ever done?

Tim: For me personally, it’s a tie between President Gerald Ford and Superman actor Christopher Reeve. For LSY! specifically, it’s tough to say. We’ve had some extended, deep, probing interviews with well-known people like Heather Morris and Darryl  McDaniels, who is the DMC half of Run-DMC. But then there are light moments that come to mind, like when a teen reporter named Lauren McDaniel pulled out an iCarly doll in the middle of an interview with Miranda Cosgrove and said, “What’s it like to be a doll?” Miranda just broke out in giggles and gave great answers – it totally made the interview.

What’s the worst?

Tim: Luckily, we don’t usually have bad interviews, because if someone doesn’t want to talk, they just say no. The interviews that would be “bad” tend not to happen. That said, very occasionally we’ll interview someone who will forget that our audience is kids, and our teen reporters need to handle awkward or inappropriate answers. We have a very simple rule for that: You can only control what you ask and how you react, but never what the interviewee says. So if they say something you know we can’t use, simply don’t react and move on.

Where do you hope to see LSY! go in the future?

Tim: I’d like to work with more and more schools. Our “home” is Mount St. Mary Academy in Kenmore, N.Y., and we also do workshops and visits to other schools. I’d like to keep expanding those one-, two- and three-day workshops not only in schools, but also in vocal and dance studios and in places like Hard Rock Cafe. I also do presentations and keynote speeches for college students, and for teachers and parents, along with author visits to schools. I’d like to do more of all of those things, and I am: The calendar for 2012 is getting pretty full already!

I should also mention that LSY! has expanded into sports in the last few months, and I expect that side to grow steadily in 2012.

What do you hope to see your students accomplish with in LSY! and their futures?

Tim: No matter what their career goals are, working with LSY! should help them develop their speaking, listening and writing skills. It should help them become more confident people, too. If they’re looking to go into the communications field, their LSY! work should provide great portfolio material and networking opportunities.

Have you ever been starstruck? And what’s the best way to handle it?

Tim: I get starstruck and nervous if I’m interviewing great writers, because they do something I’ve done, and at a level I aspire to reach. The kids sometimes get starstruck over the celebrities we interview, sure. There are two bits of advice I give them: The first is to prepare. No matter how nervous you are, if you’ve researched your subject and prepared questions in advance, you’ll be OK. The second thing I tell them is, “When you’re doing the interview, pretend you’re an experienced, 25-year-old reporter inside a teenage shell.” Basically, they can be giddy before and after, but during the interview they need to flip a switch and be totally professional, even if it’s an act.

What advice would you give to interviewers starting out?

Tim: Again, prepare. Also, during the interview, make sure to listen to the answers, which allows you to ask questions that you didn’t plan. Too often people worry about their next question, rather than listening to the current answer.

What is the best way for someone to give a smooth interview, what should the interviewer do while the person is answering questions? And in-between questions?

Tim: You can take the previous answer and apply it here, for sure. Also, asking open-ended questions will get you better answers than yes-or-no, close-ended questions. I like to use phrases like “What went through your mind when…?” or  “Tell me about…”

Do you love what you do? Why?

Tim: Absolutely. I love teaching – my bachelor’s degree is actually in education, and I have a New York teaching license – and I love seeing kids succeed. I also love journalism. I got started in the business at a very young age – I was 16 years old and covering big-league baseball. It’s very cool to give teens the opportunity to do something similar.

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