Behind the scenes with Terry and “Real Housewives”

When Alexis Bellino, one of the Real Housewives of Orange County, wanted to perfect her performance as a TV Host, she sat down with me for some custom talent coaching. It was shown May 1 and 2 in Season 7, Episode 12 of the wildly popular program.  The segment showed portions of an hour-long coaching session held last December at a studio in Fountain Valley. Most of the time my coaching services are 100% confidential, so it was a rare opportunity to show a national Cable TV audience what goes on in a coaching session.

The producers had sent me some air checks of Alexis on the Fox morning newscast in San Diego. We began the session by analyzing the strengths of her performance and the targeted areas for improvement. Although I’m not a hair and makeup teacher, I do mention appearance issues when they interfere with performance. In Alexis’ case, her low-cut halter top was too revealing for morning TV news, and certainly not appropriate for a discussion of how to protect your kids from overly sexual content on TV! The outfit was even more problematic for a cooking segment where she had to bend over a stove and nearly fell out of her top. (Wardrobe malfunction!) We discussed the rules for looking casual, comfortable, connected and credible in front of the camera. In my opinion, this would include trimming her long hair, which tends to draw attention to her chest rather than framing her beautiful face.

Alexis was an eager student, who quickly grasped the concept that driving a live TV segment is like driving a speeding bus; the guests on the show are the passengers on the bus, but only the host has to be able to drive.  I found her to be bright and engaging. However, the demands of reality TV meant that only the most critical comments made it into the “Real Housewives” episode. Yes, I did say that she was not qualified to drive the bus. What you didn’t see was the road map we developed to improve her driving skills, with lots of positive reinforcement along the way.

She admitted to being intimidated by a coaching exercise that simulates a live report from the scene of breaking news. After all, she is not interested in being a hard news reporter. She’s aiming for a hosting role, like Brooke Burke on “Dancing With the Stars.” But it was important to take Alexis out of her comfort zone in order to focus ONLY on her performance in front of my Flip camera. I suggested a scenario where she would be standing in front of a burning house. We needed to break some old habits, like starting the segment with “hi” and clutching her microphone with both hands. She quickly adapted to using her free hand for natural gestures, but it was a lot harder to get rid of the “hi,” until I pointed out that it made her sound “like a bimbo.” Problem fixed! Alexis sounded much more credible when she “drove” directly into the heart of the story. We moved on to some other exercises where she was in her comfort zone, such as a segment taking viewers on a tour of a five-star hotel. Unfortunately, that part didn’t make it into the episode.

I didn’t know the segment was going to be on the air until my Facebook page lit up with people telling me about it. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive. One blogger praised me for “keeping it real.”  However, I have to credit Alexis for her willingness to embrace the coaching techniques. Usually, “what happens in talent coaching stays in talent coaching,” and no one ever sees the exercises where my clients look or feel a little foolish because they are outside their comfort zone. Alexis gave her best effort, knowing that her coaching session would be seen by millions. She made significant improvement in a very short period of time, and I’d jump at the chance to work with her again in the future. Thanks to everyone at RHOC and Evolution Media for a great experience. Now, if we could just do something to fix Gretchen’s singing voice…