Growing up in the small town of Mount Vernon, Ross Mathews was teased by his peers for his distinct voice.
That all changed when the 34-year-old decided one day to “use what makes me different to make me stand out from the crowd.”
Formerly known as “Ross the Intern” during his stint at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the bubbly talk-show host has risen through the ranks of the entertainment world thanks to his boundless enthusiasm and zest for all things pop culture.
As he returns to E! for a second season of his show, Hello Ross, HELLO! Online caught up with the People’s Choice Award nominee, where he gushed about his favourite celebrities, his biggest supporter (his mom), and what viewers can expect from Season 2.
First and foremost, congratulations on your People’s Choice Award nomination! How excited were you when you found out?
Oh my god, oh my god. I was a cat with wrapping paper. I was nuts. I’ve covered award shows and dreamt of having a talk show for so long – it really was this cherry on the sundae of a dream come true that I couldn’t even imagine.
What are some of your personal highlights from last season that really stood out for you?
Personally, what’s so memorable for me was making the show that I always dreamed of as a little kid – a show for super fans that never apologizes for dorking out over pop culture and doing it with people that I love. We’re trying to do it right and it’s working – people are watching, we got a second season – it’s so exciting!
Did you always know what you wanted to do?
Yes. Since I was eight years old, I said, “I’m going to be a talk show host.” In my book, Man Up, I write about watching Regis and Kathy Lee with my mom one morning and my mom was so happy. They got to interview celebrities, and I wanted to make my mom happy, so I wanted to interview celebrities. I remember putting it together and saying, “That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to be a talk show host.”
Every since then, every decision I’ve made has been to get here. There was no clear path, but it just felt like a force stronger than me – like this is what you’re supposed to do. It’s such a validation to get here and love it like I do – it’s as good as I always pictured it, but even better.
You seem to have a really close relationship with your mom. Has she always been your biggest supporter?
Yeah, she’s always been my biggest fan. Even when I wasn’t that great in high school plays she always said, “Honey, that was Tony-worthy.”
What does she think of your success?
She is so excited by it. She does get a bit overwhelmed, though. But she’s so supportive and so proud – my whole family is. But then it’s always just like, “Oh, good honey, you interviewed Oscar winners today – well I made a taco salad because your brother was craving tacos.” It’s very much a normal part of life now.
In your book you talk about growing up in a small town and you mention you were teased as a kid, particularly for your voice. How did you learn to harness that as a positive thing?
Well I think everyone is teased for something. If you escaped childhood without being teased you’re probably not a very interesting person now. [ Laughs]
At one point, I just remember thinking I’d rather be me – I’m either in or I’m out – I can waste time hating who I am or I can use what makes me different to make me stand out from the crowd. That’s what Man Up is to me – that’s how I define it. I just remember a specific moment where I was like, “Screw it! I love me. I’m in. I’m all in!”
In terms of your voice and your interview style, you’re obviously very loud and outspoken. How did you develop that style?
I just get excited. It’s all genuine – I’m just genuinely excited because I love pop culture and I can’t believe these people are here in our space, it’s like, “OMG can you believe it?” There’s not a message to the madness, it’s just legit excitement.
Being in this industry for so long you’ve obviously made some big time celebrity friends. Can you maybe name some of them?
I get to be on these red carpets and talk to people and interview people, but of course, Gwyneth Paltrow –and there are so many others. It’s fun that I get to live in this world. I’m such an outsider on the inside so I pretend like I fit in and then I scream about it in my car and say, “OMG I can’t believe I was there.”
What celebrity would you love to have on your show if you could? I think you once said Oprah – Is that still your answer?
[ Sings] OPRAH! Yes, Oprah of course. And Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift. I just want these people who have such strong fan bases because our show is a platform for pop culture people to come together so I’d love to give that access to fans of Oprah, fans of Lady Gaga, fans of Justin Bieber, fans of Taylor Swift.
You’ve been with your boyfriend, stylist Salvador Camerena, for a long time. How do you manage your relationship in the public eye?
There are pressures in the public eye just because I think people have an opinion about everything. You take the good with the bad. We work right now. We’ve been together over five years – he’s a wardrobe stylist on the show and styles me for all the red carpets and he styles other celebrities – we have just a really strong relationship. We’re at work together, we’re at home together and we support each other. Like I said, people have opinions about everything and you just got to take the good with the bad anywhere you go.
Speaking of the red carpet, do you have any stars you’re excited to see with the Oscars coming up?
Well I think this whole award season there has been two standouts and I think they’re going to be standing out at the Oscars as well when it comes to fashion. They’re probably going to be in the winner circle as well: Cate Blanchett and Lupita Nyong’o – those are people to look out for.
Is there anything else you want to let your fans know about the show?
Absolutely. We make this show for fans – we’re on Twitter, on @helloross – and we want to talk all week long. You dictate what we talk about on air and on the show. The audience is my co-host and I just want to say thank you for giving me a second season. Now it’s second season and beyond, but you've got to show up Fridays on E!
Season 2 of “Hello Ross!” premieres Friday, Feb. 21 at 10 pm on E!. His book, Man Up! is available on Amazon.ca.