Hollywood Insider

By Nina Ahn

Photographs by Eric Sueyoshi

“I read Cosmo,” says Michael Yo, his face lighting up with a playful grin. “I’m not gonna lie. I read Glamour. My job is to relate to women.” Sitting in the glass-walled studio of his new satellite radio show “Yo on E!,” part of the multimedia entertainment company’s venture into talk radio, the 32-year-old is confessing to poring over female talk rags.

“I read what they read,” says the radio host. “I talk about the things they talk about.”

Once more interested in sports stats than dissecting the latest celebrity escapade, Yo has no qualms about losing some of his “man card” in order to do his job. He is exactly where he wants to be. An established radio personality in Miami for nearly a decade before coming to E! five months ago, Yo has finally been afforded the opportunity to “take it to the next level,” a phrase he repeats again and again as he talks about his new gig and future plans. “Yo on E!,” which broadcasts daily in the afternoons on both the Sirius and XM networks, markets itself as a Hollywood insider’s show centering around celebrities, pop culture and gossip.

Yet this Houston native could hardly be described as a Hollywood insider. He is still more at home in the familiar humidity of Miami than the sunny glitz and glamour of Los Angeles. And despite his experience interviewing pop music artists for his Miami show, Yo still gets awestruck when seeing celebrities at the local Starbucks.

“Oh my god, there are so many celebrities,” says Yo. “When you live in Miami, you just see them on TV. You think these people must live in a bubble and never go outside.”

Still, says Yo, he has been gearing up for a career in entertainment his whole life.

Only 15 when he got his first internship at a local radio station in Houston, by his mid-20s, Yo was hosting Miami’s Y100 afternoon top-40 show, which he continues to host remotely from Los Angeles. When E! came calling, Yo packed his bags and left for L.A. within two weeks after landing his current gig.

So far, the response has been overwhelming. While most new shows don’t experience much call traffic in the beginning, “Yo on E!” was inundated with callers after the second week. And while the self-described “black brother with a Korean mother” is still hesitant to call his show a success so early in the game, he isn’t altogether surprised. The show, which combines interviews with call/e-mail/text-in discussions of the latest Hollywood news and gossip, has struck a chord among celebrity and Hollywood-obsessed youth.

“[The listeners] love it! They buy the magazines, they watch E!,” says Yo, his rapidly gesturing hands struggling to keep pace with the quick tempo of his speech. “So why not give it to them on the radio?”

Aside from the brand-name recognition of E! and the instant marketability of all things celebrity, Yo has a knack for asking difficult questions in creative ways and putting people at ease. He presented Nelly Furtado with a gift for her daughter at the beginning of a recent interview, then got the singer to spill the details about her feud with Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas. After the show, Furtado’s manager was slack-jawed.

“People don’t do the research [to] find out she has a daughter and what her daughter likes,” explains Yo. “For an artist or celebrity to take time out of their day to come on my show, I feel like it’s an honor.”

That humility coupled with a persistent gutsiness is, according to Yo, the different angle he brings to entertainment talk radio.

“I’m never that edgy guy, but I will ask the questions — respectfully. If they say they don’t want to go there, I don’t go there.”

For all the show’s apparent success, however, Yo is already gazing toward the future. Although he promises his love affair with radio will never end (“I would always keep radio. You have the pulse of the people always.”), Yo’s ultimate goal is to host his own entertainment TV show, hopefully on E!.

“I wanted to just get in the building,” explains Yo. “Then hopefully I can take it to the next level for TV. Ryan Seacrest and Carson Daly laid the foundation. I would love to follow in those footsteps.”

“I think he’d be a great addition to late-night – a Letterman type of thing,” says Hyla, “Yo on E!’s” producer and on-air sidekick. “It’s all white guys on the late night circuit.

“His delivery is different from anyone else. He’s considered one of the best jocks in the country. He’s got a unique look that people find interesting, but there’s also substance there.”

In the meantime, however, Yo is more than happy to be heard and not seen, except, that is, through the glass walls of his show’s studio.

“If somebody, just by hearing you, can build a relationship with you,” he says, “that is so much stronger than TV. The picture they see is what you paint.”