Samantha Harris knows a thing or two about charging ahead. Whether that refers to the jousts she watched at the Renaissance festival her family-owned (more on that in a sec) or pushing through adversity, it’s hard to imagine this Emmy-winning television host, author, breast cancer survivor, and mom of two being complacent about anything. The former “Dancing with the Stars” host is more than happy to share her beginnings, obstacles and where she’s going from here.
A Star is Born
Growing up in Minnesota, Samantha Harris says there was one thing she knew for certain she wanted to be: “A star!” Although she says she probably didn’t realize what that actually entailed, it was an appropriate choice for someone who has always had a backstage pass to show business—literally.
As the daughter of a rock concert producer, Harris witnessed musicians not just performing, but going about their daily lives. “I literally grew up backstage watching the artists from the time they ate their dinner backstage with catering, until they walked on stage to perform, and then came off stage, exhausted and sweaty.”
It was a vantage point that made her see performers as normal people, just doing their jobs. “I think that really helped me get into the entertainment news business, interviewing A-list celebrities.”
While her school year was spent in Minnesota, Harris spent her summers in Chicago, enjoying herself at the Renaissance festival her parents ran in the area. “Every weekend I’d be frolicking around this majestic, 16th century English village with jousters on horseback and ‘royalty’ and having a true fantasy world around me. I think to get away from being a performer in any respect would have been impossible.”
It wasn’t long before she got to test those performing skills, booking her first TV hosting job at the age of 16. “It was the first time I realized I can actually be myself and be on camera. I learned everything I could about reporting and writing stories and anchoring and reading from a teleprompter and editing and so that led me to the journalism school at Northwestern University.”
Pushing Through Obstacles
With the pursuit of her dream came the inevitable rejection that all performers face. When asked if she ever faced obstacles on the road to success, she answers with a sense of weariness you can almost feel. “So many! So many doors were slammed in my face. Time after time, doing so many auditions, never getting a callback.”
That said, when those doors slammed shut, Harris pushed back and now that she’s on the other side of the experience, she wouldn’t have it any other way. Before moving to L.A., she says, “Everyone told me, ‘Don’t do it, it’s too hard, there’s so much failure. Stay in Minnesota. You can do it here! And that was never an option for me. I’m glad that was the way it was because nothing could stop me. I had so much drive to be in this business.”
Although that drive may have gotten her to the top, like most mothers, having children affected her feelings about staying there and how she envisions the future.
“My perspective has shifted as a parent. I want to be present for my kids. I want to be involved as a parent. I don’t want to be working such an insane schedule — as I sure did through the birth of both of my girls — where I’m missing out. It’s really about that struggle that we all go through as women and mothers, finding that work-life balance.”
Of course, nothing will get in the way of life like, well, life, as Harris experienced when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 40, with no genetic link to the disease. Immediately asking herself, “Where can I focus my talent?”
Harris drew on her journalism background and began researching the causes behind that and other chronic diseases. The result is her book, “Your Healthiest Healthy,” which she calls “A comprehensive action plan for anyone looking to better their lives and be healthier, not just cancer survivors.”
While Harris is quick to point out that she is neither the first nor the only person to come to this conclusion, she says her research brought her to one very specific conclusion: “It is truly what you put in, on, and around your body that affects your overall wellbeing.”
Harris urges us to ask questions like, “What are the beauty products you’re putting on your face, on your body? What cleaning supplies are you using in your home? What foods are you truly eating? What do you think is healthy and what is marketing hype? How do you empower yourself as a consumer to know the difference so you can take care of yourself and your family?”
She also addresses the effects of toxic relationships on health and the importance of surrounding yourself with positivity.
With a look in her rearview mirror at the journey she’s taken, she shares this advice for anyone thinking about their future career.
“If you are passionate and if you’re lucky enough to find your passion, then don’t give up, don’t take ‘no’ as an answer, and charge ahead.”
About Redefining Rosie
This profile on actress, author and television host Samantha Harris is a part of our Redefining Rosie: Cool Women, Uncommon Jobs.
Parentology created this series to celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. It features articles highlighting remarkable women in the workforce around the world — and in outer space! Check out our other profiles in the Redefining Rosie hub.