Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Exclusive Interview With Celebrity Publicist Kali Mari-Bowyer

Celebrity Publicist

Belinda Trotter-James
Kali Mari-Bowyer is known in the entertainment circles as a celebrity publicist to such artist as YC (Yung Chris), Glasses Malone, Angie Stone, Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame Just to name a few.  Before her star as a premier celebrity publicist was on the rise many knew her as the master journalist for breaking exclusive stories for the weekly tabloids everyone loves to hate such as the National Enquirer, Star, In Touch, OK!, Radar Online and Rumor Fix.  Her headline breaking stories covering celebrity and entertainment news were mind blowing.  If you had any dirt hiding where no one could find it, Kali would be the one to dig it up for all to see.  As Kali reveals her journalism journey, we find out how the tables got turned on her and she became the story of headline celebrity news for three years.  She quickly found out that her tabloid journey wasn’t sweet.  However, her career as a journalist has made her the premiere publicist she is today.

“I was actually writing for the weeklies and celebrities liked the way that I sort of gave them a break in certain situations and scenarios; so over time people started asking me to do things… could you do me a favor… could you write it this way and I ended up getting hired by the celebrities that I was writing about for the magazines and it really took on a life of its own,” remembers Kali.

As life took Kali on a tailspin detour, she landed on a camera and just started shooting.  “I went through some personal trials and tribulations about 15 years ago and it was an out for me,” says Kali.  It gave me a way to get out of my head and I just started walking around with my camera and started taking pictures.  Some people liked them and someone said to me one day, ‘You should really sell these,’ and I thought they were just being polite.  So I started doing postcards, calendars and coffee table books and people actually brought them and I was shocked.  I was really shocked because it was just a hobby.”

The more we spoke, the more I realized how she was able to tap into her creative, journalistic writing talent to start developing TV treatments.  “I have written a couple, but the thing is that once you write them and sell them its no longer yours.  Some of them never see the light of day.  I’m working on a show now called Hip Hop Kitchen and I do some casting on the side twice a year.  That’s a whole realm where unless you’re taking the credit, which is very hard to get, whether than the check, you just leave it alone.”

 Management is definitely something all celebrities need in order to keep track of all bookings and contracts.  Kali has now stuck her big toe into the management arena and is handling the challenges very well.  “Management is a new role that I have with some of my old clients when I was just their publicist and I have to say its more challenging, says Kali.  “The publicist part comes real easy to me and its fun.  I always tell people never knock the gossip girl in high school because you never know what she will grow up to be.  With PR you are garnering attention and spinning things to make them more interesting.   You are damage patrol and sometimes you want to pull your hair out and other times its just funnier than I don’t know what… But the management role is definitely a different type of pitch, different responsibility and it’s just not as easy as doing PR and writing an article.  You really have to sit there and read contracts and get lawyers involved and sit with your clients and you could bring them a million dollar deal and they can pass and you say, ‘WHAT!?!’  It’s really easy to make someone famous in 15 minutes, but the management stuff is challenging however, I’m enjoying it.  I’m learning a lot as I go along.”

Even someone as experienced as Kali in entertainment journalism and public relations needs a mentor.  Kali learned from one of the best in the business, Debra Antney, the mother of Waka Flock Flame.  “When I was over at the Waka [Flocka] camp with Debra, I learned a lot about being hands on and she kind of acted as a mentor as far as me managing people now. The last time I talked to her she said,  ‘I don’t want to see you make the same mistakes as I did.’  And I think a lot of it comes from being a woman in this section of the industry.  Hip Hop is a different ball of wax.  In Country music the worst they are going to do is drink a beer and drive a truck.  In rap they’re pushing people out of cars, putting people on fire…. It just keeps going so you have a real big demographic and being a woman you really have to have a thick skin and come to the table almost like a guy.  Then if you’re not African American it makes it that much more difficult with certain types of rappers and that’s because a lot of these kids are from the streets, the projects and they don’t trust white people.  I mean I’m Italian, but I look white enough.  So you really have to build that bridge and that bond and once they’re comfortable, they are the sweetest kids on earth, but sometimes it’s a few humps you have to crossover.”

Publicists in the entertainment industry definitely have enough stories to write a book.  Sometimes it can be impossible to chose one or two career highlights, however, Kali did manage to pull something out of her hat.  “Waka doing the PETA campaign,” recalls Kali.  “He was the first rapper to go nude for PETA, which was an amazing shoot that we did.  I really enjoyed working with Waka and I love telling this story because when I first got brought on to work with them I actually didn’t know who Waka was.  I had to ask my eldest son who is Waka, who’s Gucci, who are these people?  I wasn’t into rap back then and when these huge six-foot plus guys come in the room, it can be a little intimidating.  When you ask them what’s the number one issue here, they will tell you it’s the fact that no one is defending them and that people make them look dumb.  Journalist will look for that clip, that sound bite, that little tiny headliner that’s going to make that story readable.  They are really sweet kids so watching him go from a radical, skateboarding off the wall screamer to a really beautiful young man that now has a family---That’s one of my happiest stories; watching him grow.”

“The other highlight is with Glasses Malone. We partitioned and lobbied the state of California on health care issues for women prisoners.  Now if you’re a woman in prison, you’re protected under Olivia’s Law.  Olivia was his mother who died in prison because of health issues.  You shouldn’t lose the right to health care because you’re in prison.  No one has the right to dismiss someone as a human being. If you can find a campaign to do good for someone else while you’re garnering the attention they need, I think it’s a win-win.” 

“Out of all the rappers I’ve worked with Waka is the most light-hearted rapper.  He’s very easy going and just a normal guy.  He’s just very casual and loves life and lives every day to the fullest and I think that’s the beauty of it because he still maintains that innocents of, you know what…. this could all go away tomorrow.  A lot of rappers are a little bit different; some are really eager, some are really hard.  I will never forget the last time I spoke to Gucci on the phone, this was years ago, and he quote, unquote said, ‘Bitch get me paid,’ and I remember sitting on the phone saying, ‘But that’s not my job.’  So he was frightening and that was an interesting one.  Some of them talk to you differently.  Glasses is like my big brother so I think it comes with the territory and they put their trust in you, they put their careers in you, they put their money in you and they believe in you enough because you believe in them and it just becomes a winning combination.  When you go places you have at least 20 big brothers around you.  It’s hysterical.”

 Kali does keep her personal life completely separate from her business life.  Some of her clients can be very intimidating to her dates.  “There was one occasion where Glasses had a show and there was a guy I was dating and he happened to stop by and I introduced him to Glasses who kind of looked him up and down and the guy left,” recalls Kali.   “He was a little intimidated and I said, ‘Are you really leaving?’, and he said,  ‘Yes, you have work to do.’  The look on his face was hysterical because Glasses is very intimidating. I mean he is a 6 foot 4 big dude and he was a gangbanger and he’s got that presence.  He has that mean stare that says, ‘What are you doing here?’ So its funny, but they do look out for you.”

In any career there are so many memorable moments.  Some you will cherish forever and some you would wish never happened… Her three year tabloid nightmare seemed like it would never end. When Kali looks back on her life as a hard-nose, get-the-exclusive journalist she would have never guessed that the tables would turn and she would be the exclusive story…  “I would never change anything I’ve ever done because it makes me the person that I am.  I think every trial and tribulation makes you a stronger individual, especially a woman,” states Kali.   “I dated a certain comedian back in the 90’s and in the early 2000’s, a court clerk thought it was cute to sell a story to the National Enquirer and the funny thing is that I used to work there so people knew who I was and I really thought that I could control the situation by speaking out on the situation and it just completely blew up in my face.  So I learned that I could fix and control your stuff, but my own… no… I had to hire a professional.  You’re so emotionally involved in your own stuff, but you’re not emotionally involved with someone who is writing you a check to do a job. So you don’t have the highs and the lows and the emotional BS that comes along with it when you’re sitting with a cup of coffee saying, ‘Oh f*ck! What do I do?’  I was told they were going to run the story with or without me and since I use to work there I know how they work.  So in my mind I’m thinking if I say something the way it should be said, that will be the end of it and it literally took on a life of its own and at that point in my life I had a son that was on life support who was very gravely ill and I did not have time to or even the inclination to deal with that type of stuff.  That wasn’t the priority in my life and I didn’t think it was any body’s business”

Actually the incident involving a relationship Kali had with a famous comedian was the turning point in her life as to how she investigates and writes stories about other celebrities and their personal lives.  “That is the reason why I started writing differently about celebrities when I worked at the weeklies,” remembers Kali.  “I was that hardcore, excuse my term...bitch.  I would dig so far in your stuff and blast you for a check because that was my job to break the exclusives.  And all of a sudden I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to be that person that pushes someone over the edge.  I don’t want to be that person who is writing something that is not 100% factual.  So you really start to change the way you look at life and how you write about other people because it’s all just a game.  The entertainment industry is 86% bullsh*t.  If you got the name right, that may be the only thing. A lot of it is ‘sources say’, ‘insiders say’.” 

“When you work at the weeklies, if you have three sources, it goes to print.  And I’m not knocking anyone’s state, but some of the people who live in states like Minnesota or armpit Utah, read the weeklies, tabloids and they believe it.  One day I had to sit there and say, ‘Really?!  Wow.’  Oh well as long as you keep reading it, we have a job.  I had editors tell me, ‘If you start doing things the way you use to, you could make a lot more money in this business’, but a part of me said, ‘I want to be able to go to sleep at night and have a clear conscious that I did not write something about somebody that made them suicidal or pushed them over the edge or made them lose their family.’  When it happens to you, let me tell you, it is not a fun ride.  It is so far from not being enjoyable at all.  So I think that was probably the biggest mistake I ever made in my life.  I should’ve just shut the hell up and let it do what it was going to do.”

Now the hardcore Kali, who would dig until she found exclusive gold on a celebrity finds herself in the hands of other writers with lethal pens.  “A friend of mine who is a comedy writer, who we both mutually knew, said make fun of yourself,” recalls Kali.  “If you make fun of yourself first, they can’t hurt you. It really did take a toll on me and I became depressed.  I couldn’t go to a grocery store, People magazine went through my trash, I had a football coach trying to sell pictures of my son and all of a sudden your whole world that you think is untouchable because I write about you and you cannot do nothing to me becomes invaded.  Your personal space is no longer there and all of a sudden you look at people and wonder why do you want to be my friend, why are you calling me and you really start to build this wall which is sad because then when you do really meet someone who is kind and sincere, you have so many what if’s built up already that you’re not allowing them into your world; and that’s the downfall.  We made some shirts that said, ‘I should have been a comedian instead of F*cking one’.  It was funny back then and lighthearted, but you kind of did anything to get out of yourself.  It died off after three years.  Three years of top of the hour news stories, the front page, the cover of every magazine and I chose not to do interviews, I didn’t do the circuit, I didn’t do Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood.  I watched these women who get involved and do it [the circuit] now and I think, wow, you’re not looking at your future.  I could win the Pulitzer prize for curing cancer and do you know what the headline would read, 'XYZ's baby mama wins…’  It really takes on a life of its own, but I’m not that person anymore.” 

Can you imagine being a news story for three years?  Kali finally just wanted to put a final nail in the coffin to tell her story her way.  “People need to understand that when I was with this certain individual for a few years, it wasn’t a jump-off and it wasn’t a one-night stand by any means; this was in the 90’s”, says Kali.  “I was a kid in college.  I was 19/20 years old.  No one 19/20 years old makes sound choices.  This individual wasn’t as big as he is now and at the time he wasn’t anything special.   He was up and coming and the funny thing was that those things weren’t the reason I talked to him. We met at a club called the Roxbury on Sunset in Los Angeles.  We were at Eddie Murphy’s party.  My dad ran the Betty Ford Center so he was the Dr. Drew of the 80’s and I grew up in this business where those were my peers… their kids, grandkids, nephews whatever.  I would come home to find Elizabeth Taylor in our house or Johnny Cash or Andy Gibb so the whole entertainment side of life wasn’t something that I just walked into; it was already there.  I wanted to be a lawyer.  I worked for a lawyer who owned a newspaper and he said he liked the way I wrote.  I dropped out of law school and there it was; my first job with the National Enquirer.”

Trying to fix things in the entertainment industry requires a bag full of tricks, prayers, miracles, faith and enough skill to turn a disaster into a funny story.  “It’s really about being on the fly creative”, explains Kali.  “It’s looking at something and saying, ‘OK, how can I spin this? How can I make this better, how can I correct this and its all about who you go to because they’re certain websites, certain magazines, certain newspapers that I know if I take it here they will keep it juicy to keep the fire going or if I take it there, they will take it seriously and shut it down.  So that’s when you really utilize your contacts and say, ‘I’ve got something for you that needs to be corrected’.  People would be surprised to know the amount of work a publicist does every day.  You might not see it because it never makes the light of day.  So we don’t just go up and down red carpets.  I really don’t do that type of stuff anymore because I’m too old for it.   A lot of people have this image in their head that a publicist is somebody who walks around with a headset like JLo did in the Wedding Planner with a clipboard and we’re walking up and down the red carpet going… Stop…. Talk…. No! It doesn’t work that way.  Everyday my day starts at five o’clock in the morning because somebody has stole something, said something, done something and besides making someone get attention the job is also about making sure that stuff never gets heard and making sure that stuff is buried.  So that’s when you start networking, playing those cards and keeping on your P’s & Q’s.  You really have to be on it because one slip and you’re screwed.   I will also tell you the hardest thing about being a publicist is that you get blamed for everything.  I didn’t get drunk and call someone a cracker live on an interview, but you want me to fix it and you want to yell at me. I didn’t do it.  So every three years I say I quit and when I’m broke, I go back to work.” 

“It’s enjoyable when you have someone fun to work with like Angie Stone.  I love Angie Stone.  She is such a legend and a diva in her own right and she’s amazing.  When you get to that level of spectrum of people, you’re put in a different class and you really sit back and say, ‘this is what its all about’.  You get to step into the studio and watch them make music and I’m not knocking beats, but I’m saying when the orchestra come in, its just mind blowing.  You’re so in awe.  I can’t sing to save my life so I really appreciate and value being part of that and going, ‘Wow!  You just really did that’.”

As I mentioned earlier Kali’s father was the head of the Betty Ford Center back in the day, which means there could have been a slight possibility we would be calling Kali--- Doctor Kali.  “Oh no! I’m sure my family would have been thrilled,” laughs Kali.  “My great grandfather was the first OBGYN in Orange County and Kraemer Blvd in Anaheim was actually named after my cousin; they owned all the orange groves.  So I come from a long line of doctors, but there was nothing there that excited me.  I had no interest.  I was always the black sheep of the family always going off on my own way.”

In another six years from now Kali would like to see herself married and maybe living out of the country.  With everything she has seen and done, Kali is on her way to her next adventure.  “There’s got to be more to life,” says Kali.  “That’s why I love doing campaigns with Glasses because it’s always political; it’s always about let’s save the world.  We’re doing a concert on June 17th for feeding the homeless.  It’s illegal in 33 cities to feed homeless people; did you know that? It’s an actual fact; it’s illegal.  You can actually get arrested for feeding a homeless person.  There are cities in popular tourist areas that are busing homeless people and dropping them off in other towns, which is disgusting to me because we live in a world that has so much money, but nobody can help anyone out.  So on June 17 we are going to ask about 30,000 people to come out and literally break the law to feed the homeless.”

Stay tuned for updates on the concert for the homeless and other exciting events  with Kali on her website  http:// www.gossipaintsweet.com Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  There is so much more to Kali’s adventures as a celebrity publicist, journalist, photographer, TV treatment writer and celebrity manager.  Don’t be surprised if she puts her words of wisdom in a book.  Stay tuned…

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