Alicia Keys sought to hire a special someone with spunk, who was also smooth on the keyboard. But this wasn’t for a musical gig. It was for a writing gig. The Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter was looking for a blogger for I Am a Superwoman, a new website dedicated to inspiring and empowering women worldwide set to launch this fall.
The search for the Super Woman to head the site started with a nationwide talent search in spring 2010 and culminated with the selection of Alexis Tirado, the daughter of a Puerto Rican chauffeur and a Salvadoran nanny, who decided to apply for the position after a friend sent her the Monster.com job listing via a Facebook message.
The 30-year-old Tirado beat out more than 8,500 applicants competing to be the face and voice of Keys’ news and lifestyle ezine. But first, Alexis had to prove she was Alicia’s woman.
During a nearly three-month long competition, the New Jersey-native was asked to write numerous blogs, as well as post video blogs, all of which were closely scrutinized.
When the list of candidates was narrowed down to the top ten, Tirado underwent a battery of intense board room interviews with Keys’, em, key people, all shot on video. When they were down to the final three, Tirado and two other finalists were flown first class to London to meet Keys backstage during her Freedom Tour concert where the candidates were instructed to continue blogging about the concert and what they were experiencing.
This was not your run of the mill job interview, nor was this your average applicant. Despite the jetlag and foreign surroundings, Tirado found the time to volunteer at a local soup kitchen while in London.
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Most people would have felt the pressure mounting, but not Tirado. “It was like being on a reality show, and I loved it!”
Weeks later Tirado received a call and asked to report to Good Morning America, where Alicia was performing. On June 25, 2010, on live television, and in front of millions of viewers, Keys announced to Tirado that she had been chosen for her dream job.
She was even featured by monster.com in a Monster Success Story video.
When you’re speaking with Tirado, the words “sharp” and “real” come to mind. She oozes a true East Coaster’s confidence, just like her new boss who was born in New York City the same year as Tirado. I ask her if she was a little star struck when she first met Keys. “No, I wasn’t, “she says matter-of-factly, not smugly, “it’s not the most professional way to be.” She describes Keys as very down to earth and someone who makes you comfortable at once.
Her job at IAAS consists of writing, editing stories, interviewing celebrities and everyday people, seeking just the right images for the site, and monitoring Keys’ comments on her social networking sites. Tirado works from home in the small apartment she shares with her older sister in New York’s East Village. And though she rubs shoulders with the “It” crowd for her job, she still socializes with friends she’s known from grade school.Tirado says it keeps her grounded to be around good friends who knew her as that “chubby girl with braces.”
Her scribbler urge manifested itself as she was growing up, finding herself constantly jotting down her thoughts in journals, thinking up stories, even when she was at church with her parents. Instead of scolding her for not paying attention to the priest, Alexis says, “My parents let me be who I was.”
After graduating from Providence College with a degree in communications in 2002, she hit the pavement looking for editorial work. “It was grueling,” says Tirado, “I was even turned down by Playgirl.” If only momentarily.
Tirado had applied for an internship at the magazine and was told she was over-qualified. Deciding that she wouldn’t take no for an answer, she convinced them that she was their girl. Tirado told them a story about how when she was a little, her horrified mother chased her down the street after she caught Tirado reading a copy of Playgirl. “It was the one with Antonio Banderas on the cover,” she laughs. “It was my way of letting them know I had a connection with the magazine and that I really wanted to work there.” The internship was hers.
Now with editorial experience under her belt, she began freelancing for publications, such as the Village Voice, Latina and Time Out. She eventually landed a job as an online editor for another celebrity-run publication, MarthaStewart.com There she helped Stewart launch Dreamers Into Doers, an online community for female entrepreneurs that caught Keys’ eye.
When I ask her where she sees herself in five years, she guffaws at my question and says, “I don’t believe in five-year plans and for those who do, I say good luck!” Evidently, Tirado feels fate is too strong a force to believe we can control it. Her boss is the perfect example of someone who could never have guessed what the stars had in store for her.
In fact, when Keys asked Tirado a similar question during one of her many interviews for the IAAS position, Tirado turned the table on the famous singer and asked,“I mean, did you ever think you’d be where you are now ten years ago?” No wonder Keys hired her.
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1. What was it like to receive news about your dream job on GMA, on live television? Was it hard to keep your cool?
Tirado: YES. I was bursting at the seams with excitement. I remember when they announced my name on national television and it seemed so surreal. From the moment Alicia Keys and GMA anchor Robin Roberts said my name to that night, when I finally went to sleep, I feel like I was in a beautiful dream. It’s as close to Cloud 9 as I ever came to in my career.
2. Please share your favorite Mami moment or memory with us.
Tirado: My mom was always home everyday after school. I would remember coming home during elementary school and my mom would have cookies on the table or another fun snack. I grew up with a lot of latchkey kids so I never realized how lucky I was to have a mom to come home to until I became an adult.
My mom and I always bond over food. She’s the most amazing cook in the world. She makes my favorite meals like meatloaf or empanadas when I visit her and my dad (which is usually every other week). We chat and catch up during “mom’s meals.”
More than a specific memory though is my mom’s strength. She is a no-nonsense Latina and you never want to fuck with her. She always holds her own and through watching her I learned the importance of being a strong, self-assured Latina. She is a fine example of a Super Woman.
3. It’s important to teach our daughters self-confidence. Who nurtured it in you?
Tirado: My parents and mentors in high school, college and jobs. In high school, I was always a bit weirder than other kids—I have a strange laugh, I used to wear funky t-shirts and accessories (like the Rainbow suspenders that Rerun wore in What’s Happening). My parents just let me be….they were strict with curfews and boys but in terms of being creative they always supported me, even when I told them I wanted to become a writer. They never pressured me to get a high-paying job like a doctor or lawyer.
As for my teachers and mentors in the office: These are the professional people in my life who believed in me, who saw something in my writing that I didn’t recognize…without their guidance. The power of a good teacher works wonders on a young, impressionable student. Great teachers really make an impact on their kids.
4. What’s your favorite part of your job?
Tirado: The fact that I learn something new every single day or meet a new person. To be a writer you have to have a curious mind—a trait that I’m convinced I have because I’m a nosy Puerto Rican! I am constantly in awe of the new things I learn on a daily basis. For example, today I discovered that the word “Swag” comes from Shakespeare. He coined the term in 1590 in Midsummer Night’s Dream.
5. As glamorous as your job may be, we’re certain it’s a lot of work. What’s the toughest part about it?
Tirado: Being patient. As the youngest child in my family, I already have a tough time being patient. But you have to be patient when an interview is not going the way you expected it to, you are not getting an email response quick enough, you are not getting the results you want from a project, etc. Patience is key!
I would also say not taking things personally. I always tell people that writing is a lot like dating, you can’t take the rejection (from jobs, editors, etc.) personally. You fall down a lot, but you need to quickly get up and move on. Being a writer is a challenging profession—that’s why many people don’t even bother to go into the field.
6. What kind of advice would you offer someone starting out in the media and publishing world?
Tirado: Write, write, write! Writing is a lot like working out. You have to do it all the time to get better at it.
Also, hustle, hustle, hustle! Go to Mediabistro parties, create a blog, have business cards made, write for free, intern (Even if you already graduated college—I did it!). Do anything to get your name out there and network with people.
7. What’s “me” time for you?
Tirado: Working out, praying, and reality TV shows. When I hit the gym and get on the treadmill to run, my mind and body immediately feels better. Working out is my therapy and it helps me clear my mind.
I would also say praying. I talk to God every morning and just get things off my chest—how I’m feeling, what I’m thankful for, what’s going on in my life. Praying first thing in the morning with a workout right after is the best way to start my day. My third favorite “Me” time is watching reality TV alone on my sofa. I just love to zone out and keep up with the Kardashians.
8. Who is your favorite writer, living or dead?
Tirado: DAMN. This is such a tough question! Dead I would say Charles Dickens. I read Great Expectations in ninth grade and it opened my eyes to amazing, out-of-this-world writing. Dickens is a writer on a different level. Reading his work made me realized that words could truly make a story come alive. I also felt a connection to the character of Pip. I could relate to his unrequited love for Estella and journey from ashy to classy!
9. What’s your favorite song at the moment?
Tirado: I’ve been playing on repeat Tribe Called Quest’s Electric Relaxation. It’s a sexy, summer-y song and I like to pretend that Q-Tip is singing about me when he says, “Honey, check it out, you got me mesmerized, with your black hair and your fat-ass thighs.” LOL.
10. Why did your parents name you Alexis? Anything to do with a certain little 80’s soap opera called Dynasty?
Tirado: It actually had nothing to do with Dynasty! Though I often get asked if I was named after Alexis Carrington (Joan Collin’s infamous character on Dynasty) since I was born in the 80’s. My parents named me Alexis because my mom was a nanny for quadruplets and one of the girls was named Alexis. When I was growing up my name was very unique but these days I meet a lot of young girls with the same name. I’ll live.
11. Do you have a pep talk for yourself? Or what do you say to yourself before facing life’s biggest and most challenging moments?
Tirado: Oh, this is another tough question! I have felt a lot of disappointment and heartbreak in my life—with love, my career, my family and friends. I usually cry and after I’m done crying, I’ll call a few trusted people in my life to get some support from them. Then I pray to God. After all of this I know I’m still going to feel stressed out or sad, so I just write in a journal or tell myself hat I can get through this. When my aunt (who was born on the same day as me, September 14) passed away in December I was—and still am—devastated. She died of a heart attack, but no one saw it coming. I wrote a speech about her for the funeral. It helped me a little bit, to have in writing and in memory, great things said about my titi Haydee.