Red Carpet Slayer: Meet E! News’ Alicia Quarles

Rocking the mic as an E! News stylish correspondent, Alicia Quarles dominates red carpets and celebrity interviews for a living. The California native strutted into broadcast journalism as a student at the University of Southern California and hosting her own entertainment show.

After graduating, she worked her way up at the Associated Press from producer to Global Entertainment Editor. In 2012, she took on the role of reporter at E! News and has churned out an impressive reel of interview subjects including Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, Eli Manning and Anna Wintour.

Here, the cheery on-air personality sits pretty in her Midtown office and gives up the goods on managing red carpets, her fashion favs and the one thing she can do better than everyone else.

My MLK Moment (Realizing the dream):
I actually didn’t know [I would become an entertainment journalist]. Growing up, I loved Christiane Amanpour. I wanted to be a hard news journalist and thought I would be in war zones. My father was a newspaper president [at the State Capitol’s newspaper, The Raleigh News & Observer]. He was into hard news. My mother is an educator. We moved every three years because he would take over fledgling newspapers before they were fledgling even more.

I remember being young, going home in the 5th grade, watching Barbara Walters [on TV]. But because I was [later] at the University of Southern California, everything was entertainment-centric. I hosted a show there and everybody would come on from Steven Spielberg to George Lucas, who all supported USC’s system. I wasn’t the best student. I knew I wanted to be a journalist. I was that into it. When I graduated, I realized my reel, everything I had written was entertainment-geared, like 90 percent of it so the chances of me doing hard news were slim.

I applied for a job at the Associated Press as a producer. I didn’t think I would get the job because during the interview, [the interviewer] watched my reel and she was like, ‘Okay your work is good, you’re a good writer. In your reel, you have two misspellings.’ I’m a horrible speller and I go, ‘Welp, I definitely didn’t get this job.’ We had to do a hard news events test and she saw something in me, gave me a chance and that was that. I did hard news for half the year and entertainment for half the year and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna stick with the entertainment side.’

On the pressures of working for the AP:
AP sets the bar for what news is, but the beautiful thing is when you went in having an idea, they would support you. I started out as a producer. I didn’t love writing but I pushed myself to write. You [also] can’t be afraid to ask for help. I would ask really good writers to read my stuff. Ten years later, I became their boss and their editor so I ended up managing the people that helped me but it took 10 years of growth and strength. I would do everything in there, like writing articles. It was my idea to make entertainment one department with TV, print, online, radio and photos. It was a long process but [the AP was] willing to say yes and the pressure was huge. At the AP, you can’t make a mistake. I mean you can but you shouldn’t.

My female mentors IRL:
Several. One of the biggest is Liz Rosenberg, Madonna’s publicist. I moved here when I was 22. She took me in like a child and has looked after me ever since. Another is Yvette Noel-Schure, who is Beyonce’s publicist. I remember what she told me at a party AP threw for me when I was leaving. I go, ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me.’ She goes, ‘Alicia, Beyonce told me, don’t ever question your blessings. Own ‘em.’’ Another one is Nekesa Moody, who now has my former job at the AP. She was the music editor there but back in the day, I was not so confident in my writing and I needed that boost. She was there to help me out. Also, my mother. I have so many strong women [as mentors], I could go on and on.

The hardest challenge I’ve faced along the way:
Keeping faith in yourself. The thing is there’s always gonna be somebody prettier than you, smarter than you, who has more connections but my whole thing was nobody will ever outwork me. I loved what I did and I worked my butt off and I still do. So it’s as much pressure as you put on yourself. Keeping the grind, making sure you have the support system and believing in yourself. For years, there were a lot of on-air “no’s.” You’re kinda like, ‘Why didn’t I get that job? What’s gonna happen?’ If you run your own race and believe in yourself, it will happen.

How to handle criticism:
If somebody’s giving you criticism that is there to help you and be better, you gotta be open. So when I’m reading comments and somebody says, ‘That was weird,’ I take that into account but you also have to have thick skin and know when to call BS “BS.” Realize [if this] is constructive criticism or criticism to break you down. If it’s to break you down, bye haters! Bye Felicia! Learn from people. I find that people are very supportive and very real online. If I mess up, they call me out on it, which I deserve to be. If I do well, they cheer me on.

Tips on managing an insane red carpet:
1. Put in the back work. People look at you on E! and have no idea about the work that you put in. I do well on red carpets because I’ve been interviewing these people for 10 years behind the scenes and I know their people and they know me. A lotta times because you’re a pretty face, people assume you don’t know anything, which is the worst.
2. Have a team. All those people help me, from my clothing to the stylist to makeup to doing research to the producers. You have to have an incredible team. There’s just no “I,”
3. You got to have family and friends. My crew doesn’t change at all. One of them passed away but you have to have a team that keeps it real with you.

Hardest story I’ve covered:
I’ve covered [Supreme Court Justice Sonia] Sotomayor being sworn into office, [President Barack] Obama’s inauguration two times, and [former president] Ronald Reagan when he died but the hardest story I’ve ever had to cover was my best friend, Diem Brown’s death. Social media and this platform of being real and telling people what cancer’s really like is important to her. I met her interning. I was 17, she was 18 and we’ve been best friends ever since. She documented her story on MTV and on People!, and I always had this feeling like ‘God, Diem’s life wasn’t fulfilled because she wasn’t a journalist.’ But Katie Couric had our friend Ethan read a letter Katie wrote for Diem’s funeral and she said, ‘She was a journalist because she told her story as journalists do.’ Telling Diem’s story has been the hardest thing I’ve done but it’s been the most fulfilling. It’s given me a purpose and it lets you know you have this platform so you better use it for something really, really good because she did.

My dating philosophy:
Work as hard at your relationships—if you have one—as you do at work because a lot of times, you leave your relationship to the side but in marriage, relationships are work. And if you don’t have [a relationship], this is the best advice a friend of mine and mentor actually told me, ‘Make a life for yourself.’ Because this can all come and go. It’s a job but your [family] is gonna be there, friends are gonna be there. Make sure you make time to date, form relationships, something outside of the business.

Favorite stress reliever:
Working out. I love high cardio. I have a lot of energy naturally so I don’t get down with yoga. I need a spin class. If it’s nice out, I like to run. That’s the best mental release. And this may be too deep but I talk to God. If I’m stressed out, I read my daily mantras and just take a breath. God has me. There’s nothing to be worried about.

My go-to brands:
Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, DVF and Intermix. My guy Rafe made me a clutch. When I worked at AP, I always used to go to the DVF sample sale. The trick is to go all the way in the back and if you can fit a sample size, the dresses are only $50.

The definition of a boss means:
Being a boss means putting yourself last. I remember when I accepted the job as Global Editor of Entertainment at the AP, I said to my father, ‘I don’t know if management is for me.’ He goes ‘Look, at 28 [years old], it’s simple. You’re in a selfish stage of your life. If you can’t put others before you, then you can’t be a good manager.’ For two years, I learned to put others before me and that’s something that’s stayed with me. My team ride-or-dies for me and I ride-or-die for them. You take care of your team, they’ll take care of you.

Photo Credit: VIBE/ Jason Chandler

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