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Courtney Perna: Conquering Media on All Mediums

Courtney Perna knew from a young age that she was destined to go against the grain. But growing up in metropolitan Detroit, the world of media and entertainment seemed so far away. She attended Michigan State University, where she studied chemical engineering before shifting her focus to journalism at the suggestion of one of her high school teachers. After realizing print journalism wasn’t really her cup of tea, she found video editing — the visual medium of journalism — and realized how much she loved it.

Perna went on to become an Emmy award-winning lifestyle TV host and producer, working on-air or behind the scenes with networks like CBS, FOX, Fox Sports, E! Entertainment Television, MTV and more. Before her chance to interview some of your favorite celebrities, she spent time entertaining through a different medium — as a Las Vegas showgirl. “I kind of accidentally got the job,” the Michigan native says before telling the story of her and her grandmother’s night out to see the Tropicana’s classic “Les Folies Bergère” show while on vacation. She states, “My Nano nudged me and said, ‘Look at that girl, she’s got a big butt. You could be in this show.’” It was then that Perna, who trained as a gymnast and dancer, managed to land an audition the very next day and, although they were impressed that she could learn a dance routine so quickly, she wasn’t offered a job because there were no dancer roles open – until she demonstrated her acrobatic prowess.  

Perna strutted in heavily-sequined headdresses and thongs (and did backflips in high heels!) for about a year, joining an all-female aerial-acrobat troupe in the process. During this time, Disney came to town looking to fill some open roles at two parks in Tokyo, and the reporter turned professional dancer and acrobat landed the role of The Little Mermaid’s Ariel at Tokyo DisneySea. “They heard I was an aerialist and said all they had to do was put a wig on me. When I was ‘swimming’ 30 feet in the air, I looked like Ariel,” she quipped. “So, they hung me by a crotch harness, strapped a huge fin to my feet and I had to lip sync in Japanese. It was a gorgeous show.”

Tough Decisions

She was undoubtedly having the time of her life but was still yearning to work in television. “I had to decide then and there,” Perna said. “I was 25 at this point and I knew the longer I waited to get back into TV, the tougher it would be.” She goes on to say, “I had to decide if I wanted to perform my whole life, which I didn’t think had longevity. I kept being put on weight notice. While in ‘Les Folies Bergère,’ I was told, ‘If you don’t lose three pounds, you could lose your contract.’ I was 118 pounds and they wanted me at 115. But I had a six-pack!” Perna decided she was done being told that her weight mattered and put her plans in motion to go back to TV.

From Under the Sea to E!

Getting back in the media sphere wasn’t the easiest thing for the now former acrobat. She ended up working freelance gigs for free (because she needed content for her reel) as well as some convention booth modeling. She was determined to get back on track, stating, “I knew I was a good interviewer. I could guide an interview and produce content very well.” One of her many interviews was with a high-end VIP host in Las Vegas who was interviewed by E! News the following day.  He was asked if he knew a local interviewer who could produce and do behind-the-scenes work and he put Perna in contact with them, telling them she was one of the best interviewers he had come in contact with recently. Not long after, Perna was freelancing for E! Entertainment and has been doing so since roughly 2006. “Talk about the dream,” Perna says. “That legitimized me. From there I was able to book more paying gigs, but that one interview changed my life because he was able to pass me along. E! has been great.”

Where the Best Conversations Happen

After conquering the red carpet, Perna is taking on a new form of media: streaming services. Her latest show, which she built from the ground up, “Brunch with Courtney Perna”, is available on Apple TV, ROKU, Amazon Fire, Android/Google TV, and the KP Media TV web app. “This is a whole new challenge for me,” Perna states. “I thought I knew how to do this because I have been working in broadcast for 20-plus years, but the internet is the wild west, which is great for someone like me who has the guts to grab it by the horns.”

The ex-Disney Princess explains that “Brunch with Courtney Perna” was created to give women a space to uplift and support each other. “We’re done competing!” Perna says, “My show is female positive and is not just for women — it’s for women-identifying and our allies too.” When speaking on the title of the show, she explains, “I settled on that because I think the conversations you have at brunch are the best conversations. Especially when you’re two mimosas deep,” she laughs. “You feel like you can exhale and be yourself. That’s why the theme is brunch: It’s not necessarily about food, it’s about the conversations that happen at that table.”

Empowering Others through Dame Good Media

“Brunch with Courtney Perna” is currently on its second season — and she doesn’t plan on stopping there. Now, quickly becoming known as the Digital Daytime Diva, Perna is currently building a streaming network of female-positive content called Dame Good where her show will be the anchor. “It’s going to be an eclectic mix of shows, content and creators,” Perna explains. “We’re trying to compete against ABC and Discovery, so I want to be able to help the content creators amplify their voice and lift their production value up a little bit. Then we all kind of empower each other and make our own way.” Dame Good is slated to be up and ready to go by the year’s end on Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Google, as well as Apple Podcasts.