Having been booked to discuss teen drug and alcohol use on Anderson, tampons on Tyra and her own career on Today, Chelsea Krost, at age 21, has a sizzle reel that TV personalities twice her age would envy.
When asked by Today guest co-host Andy Cohen, in 2011, how someone with a nascent media career could possibly address the panoply of real concerns teens face, Ms. Krost replied, “I don’t say I’m an expert. I say I’m a teenager who can just really relate to all the other teens out there.”
The relatability part is, of course, open for discussion, but the expert part? She definitely says she’s an expert.
“My expertise,” she told The Observer recently, “is that I’m a chameleon. I could talk to Tyra Banks, Anderson [Cooper], Hoda [Kotb] on the Today show, but then I could be relating to the people where, literally, their feet are in their own feces in Africa, in the slums.”
“Once people meet me,” said Ms. Krost, “they realize that I can really be articulate in many facets of the world: entertainment, or philanthropy, or something practical, like cyberbullying or whatever. I really don’t think there’s anything I can’t do.”
As a post-teen, Ms. Krost had to change directions slightly: no longer a natural expert on teenagers, she morphed into an expert on all things millennial. As Ms. Krost put it during a local Fox segment in San Diego wherein two psychology experts congratulated her on her strong understanding of current dating tropes, “Who better to talk about the millennials than a millennial?”
A couple weeks ago, we dropped by her Upper East Side apartment, which was in a state of mild disarray in advance of a planned move. Ms. Krost, who is possessed of dark hair and a strong Selena Gomez aspect, wore a sleeveless white eyelet frock. Her eyes hold on you while she speaks; she never even glances at her phone, set on a table behind her, even though it beeps about every three minutes with a new message. A single book was displayed, cover-out: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. A framed photo depicted Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A Life magazine with Marilyn Monroe on the cover sat on the coffee table. In the corner lay a stack of her memoirs, one of which she gave us.
What is a millennial, we inquired, aside from the purely generational designation for people in their late teens and 20s?
“I think our generation is the most different out of every generation. Every generation has differences. But I think our generation differs so drastically because the world changes so fast today. … People don’t function the same because now the iPhone exists, because Twitter exists, because Facebook exists.”
Ms. Krost’s manager, Josselyne Herman, told us that she came up with her client’s two-word hook: “millennial expert.” There had never been a millennial expert before. “It was a unique branding title. Language creates reality.” (Somewhere the ghost of Derrida raises an eyebrow.)
Ms. Krost originally came to our attention when The Observer received an email from her publicist, wondering if we were planning back-to-school coverage. (We weren’t.) Her client could advise our readers on how to avoid “the dreaded freshman 15.”
(Quoted in the email, Ms. Krost notes that she gained only ten pounds her freshman year. Even that, though, was surprising. “I was working out all the time, totally into fitness, and realized I had more body fat than I thought I did.”)
Such an approach clears the bar for many bookers, it would seem; and in person, Ms. Krost is compellingly charismatic in the way people successful on TV are.
Indeed, the switch from teenager expert to millennial expert prompted big changes for Ms. Krost: first, she had to alter the title of the AM radio show she’d hosted since age 16, Teen Talk Live, having received what she characterized to us as scathing criticism. The program was renamed, unsurprisingly, The Chelsea Krost Show. “I was like, wow, you literally have nothing better to do than focus on my 20 years of age? So, to come back at everybody, I decided to write a book called Nineteen. I was stepping into my 20s with this open diary, per se, of my journey from 16 to 19.”
The book, Nineteen: A Reflection of My Teenage Experience in an Extraordinary Life: What I Have Learned, and What I Have to Share, is intended both to list Ms. Krost’s wide range of experiences and to convey the breadth of current affairs on which she can plausibly comment. (Talk-show bookers, take note!) The chapter on her time in Africa, “CHARITY—My Drug of Choice,” precedes a short memoir of Ms. Krost’s time as Kotex’s youth ambassador.
“Every chapter is a different topic,” she told us. “Bullying. Mean girls. Body image. Nutrition. Sexting. Philanthropy. Every chapter is something I’ve discussed with the media as well as ample other millennials, and then personal experience.” The book, published by Jacquie Jordan Inc., is blurbed by Randy Weddle, the television instructor at Boca Raton’s Spanish River High School, as well as by Ms. Krost’s own editor.
Ms. Krost’s broad range of interests come naturally. She noted that her parents have always called her an old soul. “There are things I know and understand, from a very young age,” she explained, “and don’t understand why I know them, but I just do.”
It’s easy to get Ms. Krost talking about the issues of the day, a practice she undertakes by merging anecdotal experience with sweeping social statements. For instance, she has strong beliefs on the dangers of technology. “People need to learn how to use technology for the right reasons, for networking and growing in their career, and not as a tool to hurt people. So I’m constantly speaking on behalf of bullying. I was also bullied, so it’s very personal.”
Perhaps her ease in speaking extemporaneously comes from getting started on-air so very early. Ms. Krost quickly became too big a fish for her high school broadcasting department. “Only seniors were allowed on the morning announcements,” she recalled proudly. “I changed that. I was the first sophomore on the morning announcements.”
It was time to set her sights on a bigger goal. In the era of Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, Ms. Krost saw an opportunity to speak for the young people, to communicate that not all members of her (very loosely defined) generation were self-centered, egotistical, seeking fame for its own sake. Imagine!
“It was a very confusing time,” Ms. Krost remembered, of Paris Hilton’s moment in the spotlight.
She pitched an AM radio station on her concept, as well as on specific issues of consequence to the millennial generation, brainstormed with her mother in a spiral-bound notebook. When the station manager told her that AM radio was a medium catering to a 60-and-older audience, Ms. Krost was undaunted. “Exactly what you said is why you need me,” she countered. “I’m going to bring a whole new demographic to your station and make AM radio cool again.”
She hadn’t expected to be signed, or to end up with her own show. Nor did she expect to start out on a media career of any consequence, producing segments and building a network of contacts. (“When I talk about plastic surgery,” she said of an early producing epiphany, “I need a plastic surgeon on the show.”)
“I literally thought it was going to be something that got me into college,” Ms. Krost, currently a rising senior at Marymount Manhattan, added.
There’s one matter Ms. Krost generally refuses to talk about: politics. Why cut off a segment of your audience? is her reasoning. But she is particularly proud of her reporting on Occupy Wall Street. Heading to Zuccotti Park to produce a video segment, she called her father. “I told my dad if I get arrested, it’s for a great cause. But they support me in whatever I do, so, you know, whatever.”
As for her experience of Occupy, Ms. Krost notes that “Occupy Wall Street was invigorating, it was uplifting, it showed spirit toward people coming together and trying to voice a change. But: I did not see an overall message. I think it was more of them trying to make a statement than trying to get a concrete resolution.” Her piece for the Huffington Post, “I’m Proud to be Part of Occupy Wall Street,” ends with a message of hope. “My best wishes go out to those standing up for their rights and also fighting for better things to come within the millennial generation!”
We also asked Ms. Krost about the so-called War on Women, a wedge issue in the 2012 campaign. She declared that she is not a feminist, because she doesn’t think boys suck. (She’s known her current boyfriend since the eighth grade.) However, she has been inspired by the struggles of women in Saudi Arabia; she believes in Girl Power; and she suspects the state of the nation might have been better had Hillary Clinton been elected.
“Women can multitask better,” she explained. “I think multitasking equals success. You have to be able to balance multiple things in order to achieve your goals. You can’t focus on one thing forever. You can’t. So, learning how to multitask is probably the biggest life lesson.”
Ms. Krost’s family has provided the support she needs to sustain herself through a punishing schedule. “My mom has been my best friend my entire life. My dad is my rock. My brother is also my best friend. My grandparents—I tell them everything.” They even supported her in her first experience of journalism, making a documentary about the effects of Hurricane Frances while stuck with no power at her childhood home in Delray Beach, Fla. (Prior to her amateur meteorological journalism, she’d previously wanted to be a veterinarian, but despite her love of animals, she says, “math and science are not my thing.”)
Ms. Krost now sees no one in her path. “I am waiting to hear somebody else like me, to rival me in a way, to say ‘It’s being done, Chelsea,’ and there’s no one else like me,” she said. “If there were someone else doing what I’m doing, they’d probably be in New York, California, or Miami, and I run all of those markets.” Given her success in San Diego, Ms. Krost refers to herself as “bi-coastal.”
She reported, perhaps predictably, that she’s after a large platform all her own, to be the next Oprah Winfrey, “but with a twist. As amazing as Oprah is, she was always untouchable, she’s like a god, and I want to be very touchable—and not in, like, a pedophile way.”
And how does she plan to do that? “I think I’m going to grow with the millennial age group and mindset,” she mused. “As we get older, we get wiser. But I would love to branch out into a full-time correspondent role in lifestyle and entertainment.”