‘Meaning in everything’: E! News’ Justin Sylvester shares how he finds ‘the soul of a celebrity’


INTERVIEW: Justin Sylvester Growing up as a young gay black man in the American town of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, didn’t deter E! News anchor Justin Sylvester from reaching the top TV throne of celebrity news. In Los Angeles, he sits in the E! studio overlooking Universal City to dish the […]

INTERVIEW: Justin Sylvester

Growing up as a young gay black man in the American town of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, didn’t deter E! News anchor Justin Sylvester from reaching the top TV throne of celebrity news.

In Los Angeles, he sits in the E! studio overlooking Universal City to dish the day’s entertainment news.

After it was cancelled in mid-2020, E! News (DStv 124) returned mid-November last year from Tuesdays to Fridays at 22:00 with new co-anchors Adrienne Bailon-Houghton and Justin Sylvester, who stepped up to continue the legacy of people like Giuliana Rancic, Ryan Seacrest and Jason Kennedy.

The former host of E!’s daytime talk show Daily Pop – usually the one asking the questions – said yes to a sit-down interview with News24 and revealed how his upbringing and watching a lot of television helped to shape him for his current role. 

E! NEWS -- Episode 22001 -- Pictured: (l-r) Adrien

Adrienne Bailon-Houghton and Justin Sylvester.

How do you create a comfortable space for celebrities to be a little bit more revealing?

That’s a good question because I actually find that if you reveal a little bit about yourself and if you are vulnerable, they, a lot of times, follow suit. If you are willing to ask a question, you have to be willing to answer it yourself. I sometimes start off the question with my own answer, and that normally gets them to open up because they know that you’re not afraid to go there.

You grew up less fortunate in a small town. Although it was less than ideal circumstances, how did that strengthen you?

Oh, well, first of all, when you grow up broke, you’re not afraid to be broke.

Oh, well, first of all, when you grow up broke, you’re not afraid to be broke.

So you can take a little bit more risk and chances in life because you know what it feels like, and you know how to get out of that space. I think a lot of times when people grow up a certain way – if you look at, like, the Tori Spellings of the world or anyone who’s had it and then it got taken away – it almost becomes a storyline in their lives, and it overtakes their lives.

For me, I like to take risks. I don’t mind. I can be broke again if I need to – it’s not something that I’m afraid of. The other thing is when you don’t have a foot in the door, and you’re not from a family that grew up in Hollywood, you learn how to be savvy and how to get yourself in the door at a very young age.

When coming to my life in Hollywood, that was very easy for me. I learned how to stand out because I didn’t have the money, and I didn’t have the pedigree. Growing up in South Louisiana, I knew that I had to use my humour and my intellect to disarm people, and it served me well in my career.

You grew up as a young gay black man, attending an all-white school. Can you share a little bit more about that?

Growing up that way made me feel… it made me work harder to fit in, and honestly, what I will say to anyone growing up in that space is that you have to remember, and you have to recognise that people in those spaces – if you’re one of the only black people in a classroom or in a space – I very much so recognise that people want my culture.

You know, the white kids listened to music that was Hip-hop and urban. They dressed like my friends who lived in the hood; they spoke like them. So I reminded myself all the time that these people want to be like me, they want to be like the place that I’m from, and I used that to my advantage.

So you just have to remember that your culture is so rich that, yes, they may not like you, but once you realise that they actually want to be like you, you can really, really use that to your advantage.

The other thing is, if you’re feeling isolated and you feel like a place is smothering you, instead of dwelling on it, you should use that as motivation to get out of it. That’s what I did. I just used that as my fuel to go and chase my dreams because I knew that it was not going to happen in the small town that I grew up in.

After Hurricane Katrina, you walked past a church with a sign that said something like “What’s the lesson?” or “What did you learn?” How was that instrumental in your career?

There were a few things that happened in 2005, with Hurricane Katrina being one of the biggest ones. A lot of big things happened in my life in 2005, and it was really odd.

I just thought, what is the lesson here? You know, the lesson for me was that tomorrow is not promised. If you’re going to make something happen, you got to do it today.

I’m grateful that I went through everything in 2005 because there is meaning in everything – every disaster, every decision. There is meaning in everything.

Today, if there is a decision made about a position or a gig that doesn’t go in my favour, I know that it has nothing to do with me, and there’s something bigger at play. And it works. It really has worked for me.

E! NEWS -- Episode 22002 -- Pictured: (l-r) Adrien

Adrienne Bailon-Houghton and Justin Sylvester.

I watched a lot of television growing up, and you did the same. You watched The Young and the Restless with your grandma, which was actually an investment in your future career. What did you learn from all those years of watching Y&R?

I learned how to walk into a room, command it, laugh in the evil person’s face, and walk out!

You know, watching TV at a young age, it’s really funny because people say, “Oh my gosh, you know so much about pop culture. You know so much about the backstory of all of these people that you’re interviewing”. But it’s not because I do a lot of research. It’s because I’ve always been inside the research!

I’ve watched E! News, and I’ve watched Best Week Ever. I used to watch all of these pop culture shows and read these pop culture magazines because it was truly my escape. It was also my hobby. So I’m coming to the table at E! News with over 35 years of experience in pop culture because I’ve lived it. It was 40 degrees Celsius in Louisiana. I was not going to go outside!

Why would you say something like E! News is important and relevant?

I learned this during Covid – people need that escape. People need that place to go where they get their minds off of things and can just focus on something that’s not so heavy.

I also think E! News is important because we report the facts. There are a lot of outlets that run with stories that have no factual background or no credible sourcing. What E! News as a whole is – and I’m including E! Online and E! News social – the amount of legitimacy behind it is important because we do what several other outlets don’t do, and we make sure that we are reporting facts. We make sure we check everything, so that’s why it’s important.

You do need the reporter, whatever the type of news, to go out and bring that news and interview. Within that, what would you say you really enjoy about your job?

It’s humanising celebrities. I think a lot of times we forget that celebrities are humans too, and we think they’re product.

I feel like E! News really grounds celebrities and makes them more relatable because we’re not only asking questions about the project or the movie they’re busy with – we’re trying to get to the soul of a celebrity, and we’ve been really great at doing that. And I love that about E! News.

E! News is on E! (DStv 124) Tuesdays to Fridays at 22:00.

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