I had the pleasure of interviewing Selma Fonseca. Selma is a writer for Billboard Magazine and has interviewed celebrities like Yoko Ono, Kelsea Ballerini, One Republic, DJ Zedd, Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla $ign, Florida Georgia Line, DJ Steve Aoki and J. Sutta, to name a few. In the course of her work, she has met thousands of interesting, talented people from Michael Jackson, Ben Affleck, Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Paris Hilton, Michael Douglas, President Bill Clinton, Mick Jagger, Lionel Richie, Leonardo DiCaprio, Halle Berry and many more. Brazilian-Greek-American, born in São Paulo, Brazil, Selma has photographed and broken news stories for NY Daily News, People, Hello!, Daily Mail, TMZ, Access Hollywood, E! News, Entertainment Tonight. Actor Cuba Gooding Jr once said, “Selma creates a comfort by her presence that allows moments to happen naturally and her timing is impeccable. YOU are a wonderful person, who is a great photographer. I appreciate when I see you because of the professionalism and warmth that you bring with you. I also truly appreciate your dedication to your craft and respect it immensely. From one artist to another, I thank you.”
Thank you so much for joining us Selma! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After years of watching the Academy Awards on TV in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I dreamed of attending Red Carpet events — Oscar, Golden Globe, Fashion Shows, Charities — and in 1999 my dream came true. It’s been a beautiful and glamorous journey with lots of struggles and obstacles!
I moved to New York City from Athens, Greece in 1984 age 18, I knew absolutely no English, I had two Brazilian friends living in NYC, I had no other connection and I was so in love that I overstayed my six-month tourist VISA to live with my boyfriend becoming an illegal immigrant for seven years. Now of course I am a proud American citizen.
Over the years, I had several careers — window display designer, jewelry designer, flower designer — but these didn’t were fulfilling me. My story is rather unusual to say the least!
In 1999 I started crashing/attending celebrity parties for fun in New York City, I attended Britney Spears 18th Birthday on December 01, Whitney Houston’s Birthday Party on December 04, that’s when I meet Michael Jackson and we became friends, that story later.
I saw an opportunity to party and make money by taking photos and writing the story to publications. Also by coincidence I meet George Rush who was the editor of the hottest gossip Column “Rush & Molloy” at the New York Daily News the fourth largest newspaper in America, at the time.
I was managing Stephen Dweck’s jewelry showroom during the day then attending parties at night, the next day I would send photos and the story of what had happened the previous night to George, all my stories and photos were published in the newspaper, it was exciting, fun and I was making money.
In March 2000, I decided to crash the best party of the year, the pinnacle of parties, Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Los Angeles, which was the most challenging event to attend or crash, even celebrities without an invitation were turned away at the door, but I managed to get in. (How did I get in? — that story is in my memoir.)
The party was like a dream, all the celebrities I had seen in the movies were there — Gwyneth Paltrow, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, Matt Damon, Billy Crystal, Hillary Swank, Marisa Tomei, Andy Garcia, Courtney Love, Chloe Sevigny, Tara Reid and more — still to this day I don’t know how I got the courage to introduced myself to everyone and take photos with everyone. I also managed to take great candid photos of the A-Listers, so the next day I told George what had happened at the party and the newspaper published my exclusive story and photos, I was hooked.
The following year I did it again. And again, for 10 years I crashed/attended the most glamourous, fun Hollywood party in the world. At that time everyone was happy celebrating, dancing, drinking, smoking, there were no smartphones with a camera, but I had a small digital camera so I was able to shoot unforgettable Hollywood moments.
After a decade, I was doing such an amazing job, I got legit as a writer-reporter for the NYDN. Five years ago, Frank DiGiacomo, an editor whom I had worked with at NYDN asked me to write a weekly Column at Billboard Magazine, I jumped at the opportunity. I had to learn fast about the music business, the musicians, their music, concerts, and on top of all that Frank asked me to interview the artists, I was terrified, because I had never done that before, but #NoOneStopsSelma so I did my research, practice and went for it.
My first interview was with super-hot country duo “Florida Georgia Line” backstage at the ACM (Academy Country Awards) in Las Vegas, just imagine how nervous I was.
Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard were so nice and the interview was awesome, which made me less nervous, but I still throw up before and after the interview.
Now I am a pro. I have learned to breathe before the interview — Wiz Khalifa told me that’s what I should do and it works — now I am always prepared for my interviews and I have built the confidence to not be nervous and anxious.
When I interview people, they tell me how comfortable I make them feel. I want people to feel like they are having a conversation rather than an “interview” so they can open up and not be afraid to tell me whatever is in their mind.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am launching a podcast and TV show where I will interview very interesting people — musicians, actors, executives — I want to make a platform where anyone that has an interesting story can tell me and we can all get inspired from.
I have also been writing and editing the first volume of my Memoir tentative titled “#NoOneStopsSelma”, After working and partying with A-listers in Hollywood for 20 years I have tons of juicy stories.
I also have an archive of 4 Million celebrity photographs from all the worldwide events I attended so I am very excited to publish several photo books with these photos.
And I am continuing with my work at Billboard Music Magazine covering events and interviewing musicians, and writing my Blog.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Lionel Richie — One of the most talented musicians, songwriter, singer in the world. For over 20 years he has been an incredible loving, fun, handsome friend, and so humble. We have had several special days together but one of the most memorable was when I was alone and sad on Christmas Day in Los Angeles and he invited me to his house to spend with his family, he played the piano and sang to me, making the most beautiful and happy Christmas.
Pele — The best soccer player in the world!
One must understand that while Pele was an international superstar, he was considered a living god for Brazilians, in fact he still is. So, meeting him was a very emotional experience for me. Despite his immense status, he was not pretentious at all, and made me feel very comfortable by telling jokes. He was elected World Player of the Century, and also Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee. In 1958 Pele helped Brazil to their first FIFA World Cup title, then again in 1962 and 1970. He remains the only player to ever achieve such a feat.
We meet in NYC, when I was 23 years old, after a long courtship we dated for nine months, he wanted to get married but because of various circumstances we didn’t, but he was loving, fun, a gentleman, always very grateful for his success and generous. He was happy to sign autographs, take photos and hug his fans, it was awesome to see how he took the time for everyone.
Michael Jackson — One of the most interesting and talented person I have ever meet.
His music, his dance moves, his outfits are so original and legendary.
I meet Michael at Whitney Houston’s Birthday Party, he discreetly entered the Ballroom from a back door at the Hyatt Hotel in Times Square in NYC, but soon enough the quiet room where everyone was sitting for dinner got very busy. Michael sat at Anthony Quinn, Rodney Jenkins, Gregory Peck and Marc Anthony’s table, then he walked around saying hello to everyone, when he said hello to me I almost had a heart attack, I was so star struck, we talked for a while and posed for a photo. Over the years, we saw each other at events then one day he invited me to a party at his Neverland Ranch, which was like being at a private Disneyland. The landscaping was beautifully decorated with colorful flowers, there were two trains that took people around the property, a big Ferris Wheel, movie theater, a zoo with all kind of exotic animals giraffe, bear, and a small house with some of his memorabilia, it was pretty incredible.
Yoko Ono — I was extremely nervous before interviewing her in Las Vegas, perhaps because of her legendary status, but once we sat down and started talking we both felt comfortable, we talked about John Lennon, her music, art and family like best friends.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I am fascinated by intelligent people and inventors, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and a personal friend Paul Allen.
I think it’s incredible how Bezos and Musk dream of making something and they make it happen.
I have meet Presidents, Royalty, actors, musicians, and I did meet Bezos, but the only person I want to meet today is Elon Musk, his mind is incredible.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
When I attend and cover Charity Events I always contribute monetarily and I write about their mission in my articles. Gratitude!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to start a movement about Mental Health.
We need to better understand our minds.
Life is beautiful, but we all have ups and downs and when we are down and depressed we may do regretful things.
I have had lows in my life, sadness, self-dough, feeling ugly, feeling like there is nothing to live for and it’s challenging to get out of these lows.
Mental Health, Drugs and alcohol are a worldwide problem, we think people are fine but when someone commits suicide we are all shocked that closest friends and family didn’t see it coming.
We need to educate everyone on how to see the signs and intervene before that person gets to the point of suicide. We need to care and love more for one another.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Don’t burn bridges.
Always look presentable.
Have a smile on your face.
Go on vacation to recharge.
Take a day or two off per week.
Get people’s contact information.
If someone tells you “Please don’t tell anyone what I am about to tell you” …. Take it to your grave! So many famous people have told me stories in confidence, I have been to parties where “interesting” things happened, those stories I am taking to my grave.
You need to know how and when to separate business from friendship. I don’t believe on the saying “Everything is on the record”, if someone says “Off the record,” then I will keep off the record.
Anyone can tell anyone a story and ask for secrecy, it’s up to that person to be loyal and not tell, and that’s something I strongly believe in. Loyalty and respect!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I wish someone had told me that some people will stab you on the back with a big knife multiple times and have a smile on their face when they see you, be careful who you have in your inner circle.
People will befriend you just to use your connections and knowledge, go with your gut feeling when letting people in your inner circle.
The Entertainment, music and news business is not for the faint of heart, you must be strong and hold your ground.
As a journalist-reporter, you have a voice, you have power, so use wisely and don’t let anyone shut you up, I know that from experience.
If a “source” tells you a story always have proof, otherwise you can get in trouble if someone else lied to you.
Don’t make up stories.
Never publish an article that’s not true.
I always say the truth!
I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I admire and would love to have lunch with Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk.
A Couple of years ago I attended the Milken Institute Global Conference, Elon and his brother Kimbal had a panel, they talked about coming to the United States as immigrants and couldn’t afford to rent an Apartment, he said:
“When my brother and I were starting our first company, instead of getting an apartment, we just rented a small office and we slept on the couch”
But look where he is today. He has revolutionized the world with his inventions and businesses.
Everyone dreams, everyone has ideas, but Elon makes his dreams a reality, I would like to know: “How does he do that? Where does he find the drive and knowledge to make all these “out of the box” things happen?
Elon’s mind fascinates me, he is a person I would like to interview and ask the real questions. I am hoping he will come on my podcast soon.