COLUMBIA — Since starting her new job two months ago, Nischelle Turner has met and interviewed so many celebrities that she can't choose a favorite.
On Jan. 15, she attended the Golden Globes, where she got to interview Idris Elba, one of her "celebrity crushes," and Mary J. Blige.
Turner returned Jan. 25 to Los Angeles from Utah, where she was at the Sundance Film Festival; she spoke to the Missourian while waiting for a car to pick her up to go to a movie premiere, then in the car on the way there. Turner spoke quickly and often punctuated her sentences with laughter, once breaking off to exclaim that people nearby said they had just spotted Brooke Shields.
She will attend the Grammy Awards on Feb. 12, then the Oscars on Feb. 26.
Turner, who grew up in Columbia and graduated from Rock Bridge High School and MU, is the new West Coast entertainment correspondent for CNN and "Showbiz Tonight," an entertainment show on HLN. She works in a studio and on red carpets, interviewing actors, singers and other celebrities.
Turner, an only child, grew up in Columbia, where nine of her mother's siblings live. A 10th, now deceased, also lived in Columbia.
Since graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism in 1998, Turner has held jobs at news stations in Indiana, New Orleans and Los Angeles. She has done sideline reporting at football games for NFL on FOX and for Major League Baseball and college basketball for Fox Sports West.
At one point, she had a deal for a talk show on Oprah's OWN network, but the project was shelved.
Turner started her new position at "Showbiz Tonight" on Dec. 1.
Turner did not expect she would work in entertainment; when she started at the Missouri School of Journalism, she wanted to be a foreign correspondent. That changed quickly, but she still thought she was a hard-news person.
When she started working at "Good Day LA" during her time at KTTV, a Los Angeles FOX affiliate, "I figured out it was OK to be yourself on television, and that's when it all changed for me," she said.
Turner works in entertainment but also loved covering sports. She also is the kind of person who will sit and watch political debates. She said there’s nothing wrong with loving it all — politics, fashion, celebrities.
“It’s not brain surgery, it’s not rocket science,” but it’s a job where she’s paid to laugh and have a good time, she said.
While attending Rock Bridge, Turner was the "life of the party" and always had friends, said Vicki Reimler, who was Turner's volleyball coach for three years. She said Turner was a hard worker, ambitious and assertive.
"She was just really a joy to be around while she was in high school," Reimler said.
KOMU/NBC news director Stacey Woelfel was Turner’s teacher for a broadcast journalism class and worked with her during her time at the station, where she was a reporter and anchor. He said Turner was a "bundle of energy" in the newsroom. Having grown up in Columbia, she knew her way around, and she came into KOMU comfortable, he said. He said Turner was assertive in a fun way and had a big smile.
Greeley Kyle, an associate professor in radio-television journalism, said Turner was fantastic during her time at MU. She took chances and went out on a limb to do good journalism, he said. She was one of a good class of journalists who learned from each other, he said.
Reimler, Woelfel and Kyle all said they were not surprised by Turner’s success.
"She just had a drive about her that you believed that anything she wanted to do, she could accomplish," Reimler said.
Woelfel said Turner is at a level in television not many journalists get to. "I know she fits right in there very well," he said.
Reimler said part of Turner's success is that she is real and genuine. She nominated Turner to be in the Rock Bridge High School Alumni Hall of Fame, to which she was inducted in 2008. Reimler said she thought Turner was representative of someone who had graduated from Rock Bridge and done well.
"I’m just so extremely proud of her," Reimler said.
Turner said her relatives, having lived and worked in Columbia, didn't understand at first why she had to leave the city to succeed in journalism. But when she first got them tickets to a Kansas City Chiefs or St. Louis Rams game, she said, they understood.
When she brought them to the BET Awards and they got to walk the red carpet, they thought that was cool, she said.
"They support me so much, and I just love them to death," Turner said.
Her mother, Jacque Turner, watches her daughter on TV when she can or, if she can't, records it if she knows something special is on. "She makes me pretty proud," she said.
When Nischelle Turner hosted ESPN's "Red Bull: New Year. No Limits." New Year's Eve show in Las Vegas in 2008, Jacque Turner stayed there with her. She remembers seeing her daughter's face on big screens all over the Las Vegas strip.
When Nischelle Turner heads to the Oscars this month, she'll have the chance to see another memorable interviewee, George Clooney, whom Nischelle Turner met a couple of years ago and who is up for best actor for "The Descendants."
"He's just the coolest cat you'll ever meet," she said.