Lilliana Vazquez On Her Phenomenal Career Journey

Lilliana Vazquez On Her Phenomenal Career Journey

Lilliana Vazquez is a force to be reckoned with. She is an Emmy-winning host and TV personality as well as a complete girl boss with an inspiring career journey and positive attitude. She is hard-working, ambitious, and a leader in the Latinx community for entertainment and fashion. I had the pleasure of chatting with Lilliana and got to learn more about her and her road to success. 


You double majored in international business and entrepreneurship in college. What started your passion for writing and broadcasting?

L: I am one of the first in my family to ever attend college at a four-year university, and so my mom and dad wanted me to major in something very classic and traditional that I can always fall back on. If it had been left up to me, I would have probably majored in fashion design at Parsons or in media and broadcast at The George Washington University, which is ultimately where I went to college. But as a first-generation kid, you kind of do what your parents say because you just never want to disappoint them. So what I did is, I used all of my extracurricular opportunities to harness that passion that I had for storytelling. So whether that was, producing and launching WRGW my freshman year or writing for the school newspaper, that's what my passion always was. It's just that I had to pursue it in extracurricular ways because my parents insisted that my tuition would be put towards classes that were a little bit more traditional and conservative, and God forbid if something happened, I would have the ability to fall back on a career based on my degree. 


How did you get started in the industry that you're in?

L: Right out of college, I was faced with the same decision that I had been faced with four years prior. Going into college, I was like, okay, do I study media and storytelling and journalism, or do I study business? I chose business for my parents. This time, I was faced with, do I go work at an investment bank or do I go work as a fashion assistant at W pursuing my passion? This time I chose for myself. So I ended up going to work at W Magazine. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to be around fashion, and I knew that I liked storytelling and wanted to be a part of that. So I thought, okay, a magazine is the perfect next step. I, of course, was in an entry-level position as a sales assistant not on the editorial side. So it was a very rude awakening. It was everything that I did not want to do, but at least I got to be in the fashion industry, and more importantly, it taught me how not to treat people in a business environment which is to not be disrespectful. You want to lead with kindness, you want to give people the opportunity to learn and be great. I wasn't given any of those things, but it was important for me to see that. So through my career and built my team, I knew exactly how I didn't want to treat the people that work on our team. So I was there and I saw it, and then I progressed.
My career has never been linear. I went from there to go work at an advertising agency where I worked in traffic, meaning I knew advertisements from department to department. I got to work with our creative directors and produce photoshoots. I then started my own accessories company and ultimately I started a blog in 2008. The reason I started the blog is that I felt like nobody was telling the story of women my age and of my means. What I mean by that is in 2008, very similar to now we were facing at the time, what was the greatest recession that people our age had ever faced. We had never dealt with anything like that financially, but at the same time, fashion and style were really important to me. It was how I had confidence and it's how I express myself. 

I wanted to create a space to share with people how you can still have style without having to spend a lot of money, and my writing skills came into play, and the visual learning that I had done while I was on the job at an ad agency came into play. So I put all that together and started my blog, the Cheap Chica's Guide To Style in 2008 in the middle of a recession. It started as a blog and I started it thinking that just my cousins and friends would read it, but it really just hit a nerve with people because it was somebody authentic who you could relate to talking about something that is very, and that should be relatable. I had worked in fashion at the highest end. I worked at W magazine, it transacts in exclusivity. I wanted to do the opposite of what I learned in that job, which is to make fashion an inclusive space that made people feel good about themselves and comfortable. So that space didn't exist, I didn't relate to editors in chiefs who grew up in Paris and who were privileged. So for me, if that space wasn't there, well, then I was going to build it and so I built it. It struck a chord with young women who were looking to kind of find their way through this recession financially, but still, look really good. Before I knew it, it had hundreds of thousands of views on a monthly basis, and I was fortunate enough that within five years I was able to turn that into a very, very popular book. 

You were originally into fashion and writing. How did that transition into now being an on-air talent?

L: I have at the core always been a storyteller. If you ask my mom, what I was saying when I was a little girl, she would always say that I was not just playing dress-up, but telling stories with the dress up. I was writing and crafting narratives as young as I can remember being able to read and write. So I think what happened was with the blog, I was telling a story with words and with images and the next iteration of that was, well, I want to tell that same story with moving images and models. So TV was just a natural progression for me. It also allowed me to reach a much wider audience, and I knew that that audience would be hungry for the content that I was creating because it was unique in the space. You know, most people on TV talking about fashion with expertise were editors, or stylists, or people of very kind of affluent needs.

I wanted to be talked to about fashion, the way that I talked to my cousins and my best friends, very conversationally and again, accessible. I wanted to hit this cross-section of aspiration and accessibility. If I knew the audience was out there, I wanted to reach the audience in the best way possible, and back in 2008-2010, there was no Instagram. You couldn't reach millions of people unless you went on network television. So I cold-called local TV stations in Philly until I found somebody, and somebody found my blog and it happened simultaneously. Then we turned my blog into a segment, and I remember the first TV segment I did was the look for less for Jennifer Lopez.

I broke down her signature style at H&M in Philadelphia on Walnut Street, and honestly that became my calling card. That was what people knew me for, they knew if you want to look like a million bucks and you've got a hundred dollars to do it then Liliana is the person to call. Don't call this editor at Marie Claire, don't call this editor at Vogue, you need and you want Lilliana Vazquez on your show. The way I spoke to people, I spoke to them like they were my friends, not like I was an expert or somebody that was better than them. I spoke to them like I cared about them and like I wanted good things for them. I think you see that now, and that's why influencers have all of this happening because people want to be spoken to like they're one of your friends, not like you're some preaching from some alter about fashion.

What were those pitches like?

L: First of all, it was incredibly intimidating because not that I was out of my league, but I was certainly out of my depth. What I mean by that is, I am not someone who had ever worked at a TV station. I had never worked in production, but I knew I had a good story to tell and that's what I was able to do. I was able to use my skills as a writer and a storyteller to craft a pitch that no producer could say no to. That was what was really unique about how I pitch, and that's always been a strength of mine. You have to express to somebody who's interested in booking you for a segment or putting you on television why there is nobody like you on TV. 

You have to find what is truly special about what you are and what is special about what you've already done and why the world, and a bigger audience need to hear that. So it was very intimidating, but I practiced. That's one thing that people don't do enough. When you're going into a pitch meeting, whether it's to be on TV, or you're trying to sell a product, or you're trying to raise capital for your brand, you need to rehearse a thousand times. You need to know what you're going to say in and out.

I just did Wendy Williams this morning, and a friend of mine, who's a producer on the show knocked on my door and he asked, "Did I just hear you going through your segment?" and I said, “Absolutely”, and he asked, "Liliana, you are one of the best entertainment journalists and experts in television, and you still rehearse?” and I said, “Absolutely, I've been rehearsing since last night!” There is nothing more important than being prepared, and by prepared, I don't mean that that you studied, I mean that if God forbid the electricity in the room went out and you didn't have visuals and you only had your voice and you only had your passion, you could still sell whatever you are pushing. That's why it's so important to be prepared. You just have to feel it and in any situation where you feel out of your comfort zone, or you feel like the direction of the meeting has changed, or the segment, all of a sudden gets hijacked by a crazy host, you still stay really true to course, and you never, ever, ever lose your footing. The only way to get there is to practice and rehearse. That's it.

Your job is so glamorous and fun. Are there certain parts that are less glamorous that most people may not know about?

L: One hundred percent. I mean, the end product that you see on TV is very glamorous and there's hair, there's makeup, and there's wardrobe, but you know, what we do is so emotionally taxing. It's hyper-competitive and the climate for entertainment is constantly changing. The industry is getting smaller and smaller because people are finding their news and their stories in different ways. You have Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. So as your industry is shrinking, there's constant stress about where you belong as it's getting smaller and smaller, and how do you differentiate it? How do you evolve? And most importantly, how do you innovate? That part in itself is emotionally very stressful, but also, putting yourself together is hard. There would be weeks when I would land at JFK on a Monday night and be back at JFK on Tuesday morning. I would fly 36 hours to Australia to shoot for a four-hour story and then get back on a plane in Sydney and fly right back to the United States to be live the next day on the Today Show. It's taxing on your body and it's taxing on your relationships. When you are in this business, your business and your career come first, and that's at the expense sometimes of being a good sister, or being a good wife, or being a good friend. So you miss a lot, and there's tons of unglamorous stuff. I didn't feel like I had reached that glamorous part of my career until I started at E! in January. Before that, it was a hard hustle for me all the time. 

Even now, I was at E! for two months before COVID hit, and I went back to what I was doing 10 years ago, which is a one-man-band. I set up my own camera, I do my own lighting, I do my own hair, do my own makeup, and I do my own edits. So I went from having everything done for me and working 10 years to get to this place in eight weeks. It was all taken away and you go back to square one. You can't have an ego about who you are or what you do. You always have to be willing to say you know what, I'm back right where I was 10 years ago, and I'm just lucky to have a job. I'm lucky to be doing something that I love and not everybody responds that way. Some people went through a phase when they're like, “Well, I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to broadcast from my house. It's bad lighting and I run my own camera and, and do my own scripts. I'm not going to do that!” Where are they now? Not on TV! Savannah Guthrie who I have so much respect for, and Robin Roberts are doing that at home then you gotta do it too!

How did the opportunity at E! Come about?

L: I have watched E! since I was in high school. I was obsessed with Giuliana Rancic, Ryan Seacrest, and Jason Kennedy. When I started at the Today Show, I just focused on style and fashion, but so much style happens in the entertainment world. So I always ended up covering the red carpet and premiers and I slowly started to really find myself very drawn to entertainment and entertainment news. I think because I love the industry, I love the back end of it, and I love the production side of it. So while I was at the Today Show, I really pushed hard for them to let me cover entertainment stories.

I was very grateful that they did, and I then left the Today Show to go work at Access Hollywood, which has been on the air for 25 years. They’re to me, the pinnacle of entertainment news next to E! and Entertainment Tonight. I did two years at Access Hollywood, and I really cut my teeth as a writer and as a producer and also on-air. My old executive producer at the Today Show actually ended up going over to E! and when she went to E! she said to me, “We know what you've done in the last five years in terms of really creating a space for yourself and being the of the best on the red carpet. You're the kind of person I want to work with at E! If there's an opportunity for you here, would you consider coming?” and I said, “Absolutely!” I thought that she was going to hire me as a correspondent but then she told me that she was actually going to offer me the anchored role at E! News. It was in New York, so it was an opportunity that I couldn't say no to. My life is in New York, my husband's family is in Philly, and I love New York. It's part of who I am, and so when she told me that they were going to launch E! News in New York and that she was offering me the role of a lifetime, which was to anchor that show. I mean, how do you say no to that? Also, the show has been on the air for almost 30 years, and never in 30 years, have they ever had somebody who's Latinx anchor on that show. Thirty years is a long time to not have that representation. They had one correspondent who was Mexican, I remember when I was in college I thought she was amazing. We were kind of underrepresented and we still are, but E! is incredible when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Tammy Filler led that by hiring, not just me, but she also hired Victor Cruz, who's black and Latino! She wanted to push for real diversity on that network.


What has been your absolute favorite moment in your career?

L: My very first Oscars red carpet, I don't think you ever forget it. The reason it's my favorite is because I think when you think about the Oscars red carpet, you think you're going to be on a platform with lights and you're going to be hobnobbing with celebrities, and that's certainly what I thought it was going to be. But, I ended up with what we call an illegal position on the carpet. So basically you're credentialed to cover the carpet and Access Hollywood had three credentials and two were on the main carpet and one was not even a journalist credential, it was more of a photographer credential, but we managed to kind of sneak me in. I only noticed until the day of, so I ended up actually standing on stadium bleachers. I was on the bleachers with photographers and I had my camera guy next to me. I had the first position, meaning that I saw the celebrities before anybody else saw them, which ended up being a huge advantage because I was covering fashion. So I got to see everything about Lady Gaga when she stepped onto the carpet that night before anybody else did, and we were able to report that. My position was not glamorous, I was standing on a bleacher in a gown with a camera six inches from my face, screaming at celebrities.The reason that moment was so special to me is because it was everything about me all in one bubble. I totally am that girl who will eat at Olive Garden one night then want to go eat at Nobu the next. That was all of my worlds colliding. It's like, here I am at arguably the most glamorous event globally when it comes to film and television and the entertainment industry, and where am I sitting? On a bleacher! It was my first Oscars and I would never have it any other way. 

Then I actually just had what I think is probably one of the most important career moments for me.  I actually got to produce, create, and host a special for Hispanic Heritage Month on E! The show was three Latinx hosts talking and celebrating everything that it is to be Hispanic in the United States in 2020. I pitched this idea back in the summer and I created the concept for it. I did the interviews with J Balvin and so I really got to drive this half-hour special and host it. It was 10 years in the making. I remember wanting to do this and when I first started thinking about it, I thought, there's no way that anybody's ever going to give three Latinos half an hour on network TV, but they did! Not only did I get to host it, but I got to conceptualize this idea and also produce it. That's meaningful to me because I think that while it's important to have representation on screen, the most important representation happens behind the scenes at meetings when people are talking about questions to ask and conversations to have, and if you don't have representation in those conversations, it doesn't matter who's on-screen. So to be able to approach this project, not just as talent, but as a creator and a producer was the most valuable opportunity and one of the most valuable experiences I've had.


Have there been any career lows that have challenged you?

L: Absolutely. I think getting both shows canceled on E! was probably a low. Obviously, we're in the middle of a global pandemic and there isn't a lot that you can do. All we do is say, listen, I got here, I will get here again and be excited for the journey that gets you back there. Also there are just real learning moments. I've been super disappointed throughout my career because of the way I've been spoken to or treated. I don't come from a traditional news background. People will find a way to use what you have against you and I've definitely been met with that both from men and women. I think anytime you're in a situation and there are women in a position of power and you don't feel supported or you don't feel championed, I think that hurts. 

I'm used to it from the guys because I think they're just scared of women. Because if women actually ran things they wouldn't have jobs. I think some of my most challenging moments have come at the hands of women who have been in a position of power and not use that power to empower others. I don't think it was personal. I found that most of the time my experience with them was shared by other women as well. So yeah, there's definitely been some lows, but I would say the lowest low definitely came this summer. I mean, it's really hard to try and get a show off the ground, be eight weeks in, and then be off the air and then be canceled with everything that's going on. That has not been easy, but I'm excited for where it's taken me and how I've learned and evolved through it.


In a recent interview, you said how incredible you felt to watch Gloria Campos deliver the news. What began your passion and drive for fighting for the Latinx representation in the media and did she play apart in it?

L:  I lived in Texas, it's one of the biggest, most populous states in the country and Gloria was one of them I looked up to when I was growing up. In college and as I moved through my life, I just felt so invisible in that space. I went to a private high school and I was the only Mexican girl in my class, I went to GW and I was one of two, Mexicans on my floor in my dorm. I think for me being able to establish a community, even if that community is only visual or connected through Instagram is so important to someone's success because it's that old saying, if you can see it, you can be it. I didn't see enough of it. I was very fortunate to have a mother who believed in me like no other. I wouldn't be here without her and I was very lucky to have her confidence inspire my confidence, but not everybody's that lucky. If you have a family that doesn't do that for you, or you have friends that don't do that for you, you kind of look to other people and you want to see other people's success and you want to see other people's paths and journeys and to me, there's not enough of us. I want to be an example for the little girl that grows up on the North Side of Fort Worth who's speaking English as a second language to see me and say, “Oh my God, what?! English is her second language and she comes from the North Side of Fort Worth too?!”

It's really important. I think more than anything, it breaks those boundaries and those limits that we kind of sometimes self-impose on ourselves. I think that especially first-generation immigrants and kids, we are so grateful for any and all opportunities that sometimes we short change ourselves. People would always say to me when I was growing up “dream big and bigger,” and that just really wasn't my life. It wasn't my life when I was a little girl, my mom always told me I was super smart and I could do anything, but it wasn't like that. It was more, you can do anything within reason. So I think when you see people succeed and strive and go beyond those boundaries, it's incredibly powerful. 



What advice would you give for people looking to break into your field, especially for people from the Latinx community?

L: Number one is that you have to be your own biggest fan and advocate and sometimes being your own biggest advocate means that you have to get really comfortable with singing your own praises when you deserve to be sung to. I think you have to know your worth and you have to be willing to share that worth with others around you. My biggest advice in this business, especially in media and entertainment is no one's going to give you something you don't ask for. Oftentimes the scariest part is asking, and you can ask for things when you know in your heart that you have earned them and more importantly that you deserve them. But it's hard, and it was really hard for me and it took a long time. Now I'm in a place where either, if an opportunity comes to me and I think the opportunity isn't big enough, I don't say no to the opportunity. I just say, okay, I love this idea, how do we expand on it? How do we make it bigger and better and turn into something that I am excited about? Also at the same time, there's power in the past. Not every opportunity is going to be the right fit for you. Trust me, at the beginning of my career, I said yes to everything. Like literally everything. They turned me into a hologram at an airport one time, and the reason I said yes, is because I wanted to learn more about the technology.

There's a time and a place for this growth in your career. I do think that knowing your worth and knowing your value and being able to effectively communicate that to somebody who's in a senior role or position is really important, and that's something you should practice, even if you're only practicing it with yourself in the mirror. That's something you should practice very early on because before you know it you're going to be in a place where you actually have to communicate that to a room full of people that might not be your biggest fans.

How have you been tending to your mental health during these hard times?

L: One of the things that I love to do is, I love to read and I love to listen to stories. So I am obsessed with Audible. I think books are, to me, one of the greatest escapes in life and growing up with not a lot of means, books allowed me to travel and experience things that I could really only ever read about or dream about. So books have been a great escape for me through this pandemic and it lets me shut a part of my brain off that’s really hard to turn off normally. I work a million miles a minute constantly and for some reason, listening to someone's voice reading me a story really helps me kind of turn that part of my brain off and let it rest. Because I think that what we've discovered is we were all going way too fast and even though you think you're being super productive, your brain needs time to find creativity again and find inspiration.

That's what reading does for me, it shuts down this one side of my brain to give it a break, and then I come back and I have great ideas. So that has been number one for me, just as an escape from the craziness. Sometimes I just want to escape from the reality of the news and books do that. That has been amazing for me and also creating and writing. I was able to launch a show literally from my little studio at my house for Peacock, which is the number one priority and initiative at NBC right now. I basically learned how to shoot on a green screen, chroma key, and edit together a one-man show and I did that because I love innovation and I love creativity and I love learning. I taught myself how to do that over one weekend and was able to earn a spot on the trending page on Peacock when it launched in July.

What’s your favorite book?

L: One I'm reading right now. It’s at the top of my list from Maria Hinojosa. She's an incredible journalist and it's called "Once I Was You", and it's about her journey coming to America as a little Mexican girl. So obviously I relate very much to it, but it's beautiful because it's rooted in a lot of education about immigration in the 1960s-1970s, which is a story that we're not often told. She also really navigates how difficult it is to exist in these two cultures. She was Mexican but grew up in America and how difficult that was for her and how she didn't even realize that her brain was overloaded and it was a short circuit every time. Then this summer I read, "I'm Still Here" by Austin Channing Brown, it's incredible. She's African-American and she speaks to what it has been like for her to be a black woman going through life. It was so powerful and so moving and it's her firsthand account and hearing her voice tell these stories was just incredible.

What are some of your favorite Fanola products?

L: I love the foam and I am obsessed with the No Yellow Shampoo. I actually use it once a week on dry hair. I am obsessed with it. I have naturally very dark hair, and my hair tends to get super brassy whenever we do our highlights after a week or two. So a way I'm able to keep my hair ashy, which is the tone that I love in my hair, is by using that shampoo once a week dry on my hair. I also do the foam once a month! It helps so much. You guys literally  help so much. I would have orange hair if it wasn't for you guys. Also, somebody gave me the scalp kit you guys have, and I brought it out to Montauk from the city and I now feel like I've discovered that scalp care is really important.


I had a wonderful time talking to Lilliana! You can follow her @lillianavazquez and visit her website