Human search engine Mahalo.com launched its hosted web series podcast Mahalo Daily back in late 2007. When longtime host Veronica Belmont was leaving the show last spring, the team pulled together an ambitious competition to find a new host. After a grueling six week contest, “Mahalo Vlog Idol” winner Leah D’Emilio joined Lon Harris in the hosting duties. Now Mahalo Daily airs new episodes Monday and Wednesday with new weekly Soup-style series This Week in YouTube every Friday.
Tubefilter headed over to Mahalo HQ to watch the pair tape This Week in YouTube and find out what videos made the cut this week.
What did we discover? Leah and Lon put on blazers to channel their best newscaster meets SNL Weekend Update inspired style. Lon writes the scripts, which they read and impressively memorize as they go along. No cue cards. We can tell you that on This Week in YouTube, your favorite stoned-on-laughing-gas boy in the back seat of his dad’s car will be featured on the show. There were many giggles and talks of maybe having a studio audience for future episodes. For now Tubefilter enjoyed our front row seat.
We asked Leah D’Emilio about her journey to becoming the Mahalo goddess, got more background on This Week in YouTube from Lon, and found out what it takes to put an episode together.
Tubefilter: What were you doing before your Mahalo Daily gig?
Leah D’Emilio: Before Mahalo Daily, I was working freelance as an actor, host, and model in Los Angeles and in the mid-West. My first “full time” TV gig was as the “Face of FOX Toledo”, though I had co-hosted a couple telethons and PSAs for my local Children’s Miracle Network before that. The “Face of FOX Toledo” is an on-air position for FOX Toledo (WUPW-36) promoting local events, programming, and station contests. I was in graduate school at the time at Bowling Green State University in the School of Communication Studies and I knew that after I finished my master’s degree I wanted to continue working in the TV/Film industry. After my time with FOX Toledo, I was offered a position to host and produce my own cable sports show called, The Light Side for Buckeye Cable Sports Network (BCSN), where I focused on human-interest stories related to local sports. Working in the local market gave me a ton of experience and created a lot of other opportunities in hosting, commercials, voiceovers, and modeling – including being the spokeswoman for a local Honda dealership, Jim White Honda. I even worked as a substitute traffic reporter on the morning news for a local CBS affiliate (WTOL-11)!
In March of 2007, I decided to move to Los Angeles in order to advance my career. To pay the bills while getting settled in, I worked as a bartender in West LA for about 8 months while going to acting school and getting freelance gigs in hosting, acting, and modeling. In January of 2008, I quit my bar-tending job and focused solely on auditioning/working in the industry. Four months later, Mahalo Vlog Idol came along…and the rest is history!
Tubefilter: How did you find out about the Mahalo Idol contest? What inspired to throw your hat in the ring?
D’Emilio: I found out about the Mahalo Vlog Idol contest from the website www.actorsaccess.com, which is one of the main sites I was using to submit myself for projects in the industry. I read the posting and I thought I was qualified so I applied. A few days later, I received a phone call in addition to an email notification that Mahalo wanted me to come in to audition. The phone call gave me a boost of confidence because most places only send you an email notification, unless they’re really interested. So, I thought I had made an impression from my resume. Before going in to audition, I watched a few episodes of Mahalo Daily with Veronica and Lon and thought – yeah! I could totally do this! It reminded me a lot of my cable show and felt I just needed to adjust to what Mahalo wanted, but that I had all the qualifications necessary to compete and win 😉 Once the competition got going, each challenge fueled my fire and I knew I wanted this position more than anything else. I stopped auditioning for other projects and focused all my energy on Mahalo Daily, until I knew whether or not I had the job. I didn’t know it was going to stretch out over 6- weeks, but thankfully my family and friends were very supportive and helped me get through the contest with their positive thoughts and financial aid!
Tubefilter: Describe your reaction when you found out that you won?
LD: Well, my reaction is caught on tape and you can see that I was just ready to burst with excitement! Going in for that last meeting, I felt 99.9% certain that I had won the contest because my video for the viral video challenge actually went viral, but I still wasn’t 100% sure because it seemed like things were close with my runner-up, Andrea Rene, throughout the whole competition. Honestly, after six-weeks of competing and waiting for what seemed like forever to know whether or not I had the gig, it was a huge relief and I felt like I could breathe easy again! But in all seriousness, it was the best news of 2008 for me and I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be.
Tubefilter: How has the experience of making the show been different that what you expected?
LD: There hasn’t been too much that has been different than my expectations for making Mahalo Daily. It’s fun, but it’s hard work. I don’t just come in to shoot an episode and then leave. I work a 40+ hour week researching, producing, writing, marketing, networking and promoting the show, while managing our crew. I expected Mahalo Daily to be an exciting challenge and that is pretty much how it has been this whole time!
Tubefilter: On the show you try many different types of activities from exercise classes to covering events. What has been your favorite episode so far?
D’Emilio: We’ve had some really fun episodes…it’s hard to pick!!! Hmmm…my favorite event we covered was the Spike TV 2008 Video Game Awards – I got to interview a lot of big timers, including Busta Rhymes, Neil Patrick Harris, All American Rejects, 50 Cent, and I even got an answer from Mike Tyson regarding his favorite video game as he was being rushed into the show! My favorite episode non-event is belly dancing with Jillina! She was an awesome interview and I loved learning some of the moves. Of course, I love our This Week in YouTube shows on Fridays….I could go on, and on…
Tubefilter: Which episode was the most challenging so far?
D’Emilio: Oh boy…haha…I have to laugh here because this question brings to mind my least favorite episode we’ve done and therefore I deem it the most challenging. We decided to do a show on animal communication and spoke with a woman who claims to be able to speak with animals using her psychic abilities. Having said that, I probably don’t even need to explain why this was challenging, but if you watch the episode you’ll see that everything just seemed a bit…off…including her. I don’t think any of us were prepared for the awkward situation we got ourselves into, but we tried to make the most of it. Live and learn! Haha…
Tubefilter: You also have a new show on Fridays called This Week in You Tube. How does the show get put together?
D’Emilio: My co-host, Lon Harris, is the man in charge of This Week in YouTube. He does all the writing, though we occasionally improv on set and have moments of genius. Lon watches a TON of YouTube, so the show is right up his alley. I probably watch about 25 – 50 YouTube videos a week. I’ll suggest jokes or bits if something strikes me, but most of the content comes from Lon. After Kenny Chen, our super talented editor, whips up his latest masterpiece, I approve it, make adjustments if necessary, and then post it to the internet!
Tubefilter: Lon, how many YouTube videos do you think you watch each week?
Lon Harris: In addition to writing This Week in YouTube, I also run the “buzz” team for Mahalo.com, so I would estimate that I’m watching at least 100-150 YouTube videos a week. It’s actually my job to find the most adorable baby, most hilarious skit or most embarrassing “caught-on-tape” moment, in a weird way.
I keep a list all week keeping track of the best videos that I see. It usually winds up being about 20 videos long by Tuesday night, when I actually sit down to write the show. (More if Christian Bale or Bill O’Reilly has completely lost his mind that week.)
Then, I just try to write jokes about the videos. Based on whichever ones inspire the best lines, or just feel like the most ESSENTIAL clips of the week, I cut the number down to about 10 videos, which is usually what makes it in to the actual show.
Once I’ve got some good (okay, serviceable) punchlines written, I start to arrange it into a show format (filling in transitions and banter, figuring out what will be the extended “end of the show” skit, writing the intro and outro dialogue, etc.) Then we film it on Wednesday afternoons, essentially in order, with Leah and I alternating videos just as it appears in the finished video. Kenny Chen, our editor, then prepares the images and does the PhotoShops that appear above our heads during the show and edits the entire thing into something coherent.”
Tubefilter: What would we find you doing on a day off?
D’Emilio: On my days off, I enjoy sleeping in, watching movies, catching up on TV shows, sitting at a cafe drinking coffee and writing in my journal, playing piano/guitar, cooking, hiking, running, working out, hanging out with friends, and taking care of errands/chores that I don’t have time for during the week!
Tubefilter: Lon, is it YouTube all the time?
Harris: I definitely de-YouTube-ize over the weekend a bit. Because I’m working on both Mahalo Daily and just building out and maintaining the Mahalo Index as my day job, I spend a whole lot of time pouring over what’s trending or buzzy from Monday through Friday.
Not that I don’t check in once in a while on, say, a Sunday afternoon. I find it hard to unplug completely.
Tubefilter: Do you take a day off?
Harris: What can I say? I work on updating News on Mahalo.com, and there’s always news happening. I can get sucked in.
I love movies and typically watch at least 1 or 2 a week. I blog at http://crushedbyinertia.blogspot.com. I also write screenplays. Plus, I try to fit in some conventional non-computerized reading now and again. You can also find me at my favorite dive bar or eating tacos at the carniceria in my neighborhood.
Tubefilter: Ok guys, what are your favorite web series?
Harris: think, obviously, this year you have to give it up for Dr. Horrible, which was a pretty professional operation and really sort of upped the ante for how big you could go with Internet shows. I also love Wainy Days and Clark and Michael. Short-form, kind of abstract comedy…Does Zach Galifianakis’ Between Two Ferns count as a web series? There are three of them. If so, that one too. [Ed Note: Yes, Lon, it does.]
When I was first starting to work on Mahalo Daily, I watched a lot of Epic Fu to kind of figure out what doing a web show was about. Oh, and also, What the Buck is really great. Is he reading from a teleprompter? It’s so fast and the timing is perfect.
Catch Leah and Lon on Mahalo Daily Mondays and Wednesdays and on This Week in YouTube every Friday. Recently they have done episodes about Coffin Couches, massage, and exercising with kettle bells. Leah hinted that she might be willing to get a tattoo on camera. We’ll have to keep watching to find to see where Leah and Lon turn up next.