On this episode of Pretty Messed Up, AJ McLean, Cheryl Burke, and Rene Elizondo talk about Cheryl’s injury on the Dancing With the Stars dance floor; in commiseration, AJ shares stories of a few times he’s fallen during a performance with the Backstreet Boys. Then their fellow contestant and television host Jeannie Mai joins them to share her inspiring story overcoming childhood sexual abuse, all her many different projects, what it’s like being an introvert doing her extroverted jobs, and the documentaries she has worked on to raise awareness about the grim realities of the global human trafficking industry. Finally, AJ and Rene share stories about their party days: Rene ordered a Harley Davidson motorcycle to be delivered to him in rehab, then drove away to a hotel room in Santa Fe already stocked with liquor and drugs. When his ex-wife found him, he was wearing nothing but underwear and a novelty Rastafarian hat, complete with fake dreadlocks. “What’s the word for when you laugh and cry at the same time?” he asks. “That’s what she was doing.”
Cheryl has felt connected to Jeannie for a long time, she says, because they have such similar stories: Both women grew up in the Bay area, both dealt with childhood sexual abuse, both grew up in similar households with a similar culture. They’re also both “addicted to productivity” and always on the move; Jeannie has several irons in the fire, including her daytime talk show The Real, the makeover show How Do I Look?, and the game show Holey Moley. But despite her bubbly, extroverted jobs focused primarily on talking to other people, Jeannie is an introvert – she becomes drained by red carpets and talk show time, and gets recharged sitting in a quiet space, alone at home. She loves her jobs, but doesn’t really want the fame – she says fame is a tool that allows her a bigger platform to take on issues that matter to her.
For example, human trafficking. Jeannie learned ten years ago that human trafficking is one of the largest industries in organized crime in the world, second only to drugs, and that only 2% of the victims make it out alive. Since then, she’s worked with documentary filmmakers, including a monk, to make 2017’s Stopping Traffic about the experiences of women who have been trafficked as sex slaves. She says she wants to talk about these issues because otherwise, we can’t solve them, and Rene agrees: “Sometimes, talking about your stuff is the only way to get other people to open up about their stuff,” he says. When it comes to sobriety or sexual abuse, or anything else for that matter, communication is key. Hear the entire conversation on this episode of Pretty Messed Up.
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