The untold truth of Julie Chen

Julie Chen is a major force on television. The Chinese-American TV personality got her start as a reporter, before embarking on a career that would make her one of the most recognized names in the industry. In addition to hosting and moderating The Talk, which won her an Emmy, Chen also hosts the reality show Big Brother. 

How did the Queens native make it to the big time? The journey was an exciting, and often difficult one. Here's how Chen became a household name. 

She worked hard to become a nerd

Chen's successful career is the result of decades of hard work, but the ambitious broadcaster wasn't always so motivated. A mediocre middle schooler, it wasn't until her older sister went to Wellesley College that she began to apply herself to her studies in order to be accepted into the prestigious institution as well. From then on, she became diligent and studious, a self-professed "geek."

By her junior year of high school, Chen knew she wanted a career in broadcasting. Instead of following in her sister's footsteps and going to Wellesley, she went off to the University of Southern California. "I wanted a big city and a school with a good broadcast program, and I didn't want to be in New York where my parents could check up on me all the time," she told MediaVillage. "A letter came from USC inviting me to apply, and I thought if they want me, it's meant to be."

Strict parenting inspired her career

Chen's strict parents had a major influence on her life. "They were classic Chinese parents," she told MediaVillage. "We couldn't have sleep-overs, they had to meet our friends, and I remember when Gladys [her sister] was dating it was a big issue that her boyfriend was not Chinese."

According to Chen, her father controlled what his kids watched on television. The family would frequently watch the news at night, and it was this evening ritual that would lead her to her future career on television.

"There was a broadcaster by the name of Kaity Tong on ABC back then doing the 5 o'clock news," Chen told BuzzFeed. "And back then, any time you saw any Asian face… it was a very big deal. It was a special moment." Excited to see an Asian face on TV, her father encouraged his kids to watch Tong, providing the inspiration for Chen's future career.

She faced sexism in her own family

As the daughter of immigrants, Chen grew up in a bilingual household. She is fluent in both English and Mandarin. Her Chinese heritage had a strong impact on her growing up, especially as she comes from a family of all girls. "My dad's family grew very, very concerned that my dad had no sons," she said on The Talk (via CBS). Her grandmother was particularly upset, convinced it was shameful to only have daughters."It was almost shameful that her first born son, my dad, would have no sons of his own to carry on the family name from his lineage."

Chen explained the emphasis Chinese culture places on having a boy, as a son "allows a family to continue the family name and all the traditional Chinese customs." The pressure to have a boy escalated when Chen's grandmother tried to force her parents to adopt one of their nephews. Her mother, however, refused to allow her daughters to see themselves as inferior, saying, "I raised these girls to be independent, strong minded, and I am teaching them to never be ashamed of who they are, what gender they are."

She went under the knife

As an Asian-American woman, Chen has faced a discrimination throughout her career. She revealed on The Talk that she had undergone double eyelid surgery when she was 25, after being told that her Asian features would keep her from being successful. Chen wrote in Glamour that "an agent flat out said, 'If you get this surgery, you'll get into a top 10 market. If you don't get the surgery, you won't.'"

She eventually had the surgery done, explaining that she didn't feel like bringing forward discrimination complaints was an option at that point in her career. "Today, people want to know why I didn't go after that news director," she said. "Well, I was 25, and I wasn't going to stage a lawsuit against the corporation, especially at that time."

Chen emphasized that she didn't have the surgery done because she felt unattractive, but to look better "by societal standards." It was a drastic measure, but one that Chen doesn't regret. "I stand by my decisions and any bad ones I have made, I learn from them," she said. "The surgery doesn't define who I am; it's just a chapter in my life."

Working for lower pay

At the beginning of her career, Chen found that most major stations did not want to hire an Asian-American news anchor. Deciding to work her way up, Chen took a job as a general assignment reporter, but was given a far lower salary than her colleagues. "Normally they paid $125,000 for entry-level general assignment reporters in New York City, but they said, 'You're lucky we're giving you this shot,'" she told BuzzFeed.  Even as her success grew, Chen was often paid less than people in similar jobs. The lower pay was frustrating, but she said "it made me work harder to prove myself."

Later in her career, Chen once again found herself taking a pay cut, this time from her husband, CBS chief Leslie Moonves. In 2017, Chen revealed that she had to take the pay cut to get the celebrity edition of Big Brother, a "condensed version" of the show, green lighted.

She indulges with soap operas

The Big Brother host may be known from reality TV and the news, but that doesn't mean she limits her television watching to those genres. Chen is also a big fan of soap operas, and even made a guest appearance on The Young and the Restless in 2017, playing herself. She told Soap Opera Digest that she had been a fan of the show ever since she was a little girl.

"No one understands a woman like another woman"

Chen is outspoken about her support for other women. In a piece for PopSugar, Chen wrote that she loves to work with other women, such as on The Talk,  because it creates a "girl club mentality."

"It's like this exclusive club where we cackle and laugh, and bond, and gossip, and we talk about gross things that guys don't want to talk about," she said, adding that men guests hosts were less fun, since they often couldn't relate to the topics.

Chen added, "I love working with women — because no one understands a woman like another woman."

Her unexpected talent

It turns out that Chen's gift of gab isn't restricted to hosting. She shocked the audience on The Talk when she performed "California Love" alongside Grammy-winning rapper Eve. Chen showed off not just her ability to rap like a pro, but also her ability to captivate an audiences with her impressive stage presence. Here's hoping that Chen shows off her musical chops more in the future.

She thought she'd die single

Chen is a married woman, but marriage and motherhood weren't goals she set for herself as a kid. "I even went to the Senior Prom with the friend of my best friend's boyfriend, and I was convinced I would never get married," she told MediaVillage"I never said I would never get married, but I never envisioned it. I never envisioned having children either, so if half is not true, maybe not having children isn't true either."

Chen ended up being wrong on both counts. She has a husband, son, and stepchildren.

She thinks the president is "very charismatic"

President Donald Trump has found, if not an outspoken supporter, at least an adamant defender in Chen. "He's tall," she said on The Talk (via Business Insider). "He can be very charismatic."

She also defended the president after Trump's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was vandalized, calling the act "an embarrassment."

"It made me so angry," she said. "I was disgusted by this story… That Hollywood Walk of Fame is iconic. I don't care what your politics are. That is disgusting."

She's not a goody two shoes

While she might seem like a good girl at first, there's a lot more to Chen than meets the eye. She really lets herself let loose on The Talk, unleashing her true personality. "If you really want to judge me, watch The Talk," she told People. "That's really who I am, a little bit dirtier, a little bit raunchier, a little bit more bawdy, but with broadcast standards because I have a son who I have to answer to."

Co-host Shannon Osbourne commented on Chen's transformation. "Over the last four seasons, I have seen her grow from a straight-laced anchor to a hilarious, warm, confident, beautiful, strong woman with a very dry, naughty personality," she said. "She has found her wings and is unstoppable."