Veteran entertainment reporter Julissa Bermudez and Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross are breaking news and barriers as the hosts of the entertainment and pop culture magazine show “Central Ave.”
The duo made history as the first two women of color to host an entertainment magazine show during their successful 2019 test run of the series. They took time out of their busy schedules to speak with Atlanta Black Star about how thrilled they are to bring their self-described “unique” and “dynamic” relationship back to the small screen for a full season.
Both Bermudez and Richards-Ross are proud of the diversity, thoughtfulness and authenticity that “Central Ave” brings to the entertainment news space, and feel that those traits will help the show, as well as the stories covered, resonate with their audiences.
“Not only are we two women of color in front of the camera, but we have an incredibly diverse group of people behind the camera, led by Will Packer and Monique Chenault, who is the first woman of color to be a showrunner at ‘ET’ and now she’s running this show,” Richards-Ross told us. “I think we can all agree, especially during these times that we, as minorities, are having a different experience in this world, and so it’s really hard to tell our stories without our people. If you don’t have those voices, those perspectives to really look into a story, and to be able to speak on it authentically, it’s really hard for it to resonate with us.”
She continued, “I think that’s what makes us different, is that the stories are very thoughtful, very investigative, and very diverse. And so I think when you sit down and watch the show, you can be like, ‘Oh my God, I feel seen, I feel heard.’ ”
Bermudez agreed, noting that the array of people from “all backgrounds” and “all walks of life” that work on the show is something that’s a rare find in the news business. “Behind the scenes, we have people from all backgrounds, all walks of life, and that right there is something that you don’t find with any other show. You know that from the minute you watch ‘Central Ave,’ because there’s something different that resonates with you when you are tuning in.”
Julissa, 37, is a familiar face to many, having hosted popular BET music video show “106 & Park,” as well as entertainment and reality TV shows on MTV and Style Network. She credits her career longevity to remaining authentic and confident about her abilities throughout the years, even when others have told her no.
“Stay as authentic and as grounded to what it is that you know for a fact that you bring to the table… I was very transparent about the fact that I got told about my accent a million times,” she shared. “And that is because I was born in Dominican Republic and raised in Queens, New York. When I was on BET, people were like, “Is she black? Is she mixed? Is she Spanish? I mean, she sounds like a Spanish girl, but is she Latina?”… You have to really believe in yourself more than anyone’s ever going to believe in you because it’s not about who’s co-signing you at the end of the day.”
Richards-Ross is a bit newer to the entertainment news game, but the 35-year-old athlete feels well prepared for the gig thanks to her phenomenal track and field background, which includes four Olympic gold medals. “The biggest thing that has helped me throughout this process is understanding delayed gratification,” she told us. “And so for us, we’re training for the Olympics and it’s four years of putting in all this work and praying that in the middle of August, you’re in the best shape of your life mentally and physically. And that’s when you have the payoff.”
She added, “And it’s been that process with this as well…it’s been a two-year-in-the-making job and opportunity and process, and I have learned that along the way, everything that we do, is going to pay off in the end. I would say that has probably been the greatest lesson I’ve learned in life is, you put in work behind the scenes, you put in work now, now, now, and one day down the road, you’re going to be rewarded for it.”
Working with co-executive producers Will Packer and Monique Chenault definitely falls under the “reward” category for the hosts. “Monique, for me, has been such an amazing role model to see a black woman in leadership and the way that she handles herself with so much grace and poise, while at the same time being so delicate,” Sanya said of her showrunner. “Especially with me, I’m new to the process and she’s just really wrapped her arms around me to help me to step into this role and to grow every single day.
“I also just admire the way she tackles stories, like the way her brain works,” she continued. “It’s like she hears it and then the way she spins it and thinks of all the layers and how we can make this thing visual, it’s just really incredible. And Will Packer is one of a kind. When he walks into a room, the energy shifts. He’s just like a movement.”
Julissa agreed, noting that even though she’s been in the entertainment news game a bit longer, the fact that both Packer and Chenault gained word of her work was still a shock. “To get a phone call from somebody like Will Packer and then someone like Monique Chenault, I was actually beside myself,” she admitted. “I couldn’t even believe that they both knew any of my work, let alone knew that I was in it, that I existed in this space and thought that I would be a fit for this vision that they had. That is something that you can never ever in life predict.”
Each episode of the series focuses on three stories that are making headlines that week. The crew has their story selection process down to a science; it’s run in such a way that everyone’s voice is heard, although final decisions are left to the producers.
“We have our morning meetings at 8:30 and Monique is at the helm of our meeting, and she’s always asking and inviting everyone to bring something,” Richard-Ross explained. “So that there’s a daybook and we talk about everything that’s trending. One person kind of leads and goes down that list and then all of us are able to pitch our ideas. If we know something, if something that’s an area of our expertise, we share that. And then ultimately Monique and Will Packer and [another producer] have the final decision on what they think they can turn into a really investigative story.”
The show’s weekly, deep-dive, quality-over-quantity format is meant to go beyond the rapid fire reporting and soundbites that are more standard to daily news formats, and instead deliver a mixture of investigative journalism and entertainment, which Julissa hopes will allow audiences to “really formulate your opinion” about the trending topics of the week.
“People know what all the headlines are on your six o’clock news. They know what people are going to report on because it’s on our phones,” she said. “We’re getting notifications, we’re scrolling through these headlines. So by the time you watch the news, it’s not really news to you anymore. So when you watch ‘Central Ave,’ you’re not just getting the news that you think you know, or the headlines, you’re getting a lot more than that so you can really formulate your opinion.”