From Burn Survivor, to Miss Nevada, to On-Camera Host: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Graduated, with Hilary Billings
“I’m a living example that you don’t need to be flawless to feel beautiful. And in such a social media driven age, I’m a firm believer that it’s a message all young women need to hear and believe.”
I had the distinct pleasure to interview Hilary Billings. Hillary is accomplished in acting, modeling, and journalism. She went from being rejected from graduate school to founding a successful travel blog and becoming USA Today’s “Las Vegas Local Insider.” As a burn survivor, she challenged herself to win Miss Nevada US in 2013. Now an on-camera host and correspondent, she’s interviewed icons ranging from Ringo Starr and Dolly Parton to Floyd Mayweather and Mark Cuban. And this professional adventurer has no intention of stopping there… Check out our interview below.
What is your “backstory”?
I grew up in Las Vegas and graduated from UNLV at the top of my class. When I was rejected from graduate school, I thought my life was over and I responded the way most rational people do: I took off to Nicaragua and started a blog (The Nomad Grad).
I spent a few years traveling nomadically, sharing the ups and downs of my adventures on my blog, and gained readership in over 120 countries. My travels came to an abrupt halt in 2012 when I was hit with a malfunctioning firework on the Fourth of July. As I healed from my burns, I decided to enter my first-ever beauty pageant — something I wouldn’t have considered prior — in order to face my self-confidence issues. Winning Miss Nevada US 2013 led me to writing and hosting for USA Today, modeling, and doing guest hosting for other outlets. My career in the entertainment industry continues to grow and I now live in Nashville. These experiences taught me to embrace the challenges and obstacles along the way.
How did your experience as a burn survivor affect your year as Miss Nevada US 2013?
I’m a living example that you don’t need to be flawless to feel beautiful. And in such a social media driven age, I’m a firm believer that it’s a message all young women need to hear and believe. My favorite thing about being Miss Nevada was connecting with others in my community, especially young women. I was involved with dozens of philanthropic organizations, but I particularly loved serving as an advocate for the Firefighter’s Burn Foundation and the Burn Institute’s Camp Beyond the Scars.
Hilary & Train
You started your on-camera hosting career with USA Today while you were still Miss Nevada and contributed over 300 pieces in your first year. What did you learn transitioning to journalism?
In an industry that’s known for being cutthroat, I learned how important it is to establish friendships with other outlets. On one of my first assignments, there was a hole in my camera bag and I lost an SD card with my most prized interviews of the night. Miraculously, someone found it and I was able to turn in the footage by my deadline. I can laugh about it now, but as I elicited the help of almost strangers to comb a red carpet in the middle of the night, I realized it wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t have allies. You’ll never lose by being a team player.
Hilary and Olivia Newton John
What about working with celebrities? Can you tell me about a favorite funny moment?
The days that are the most memorable to me are the ones where I am truly connecting with who I’m interviewing. One of my top moments was a high-energy backstage interview with Pat Monahan and Jimmy Stafford of Train at the iHeart Radio Music Festival. What began as a normal Q&A spiraled quickly into a pun war, using only their song lyrics. Everyone was in stitches, including the surrounding outlets on the carpet. The piece turned out great and it laid a foundation for future interviews.
As an on-camera host and red-carpet correspondent, you’ve had the unique exposure to hundreds of celebrities and influencers. Is there a particular interview that stands out?
My first-ever red-carpet interview was with Ryan Seacrest — THE host of all hosts. I was so overwhelmed by his presence I remember very little about the interview, so thank goodness there’s footage (laughs)! But I learned through that experience how important it is to establish rapport, develop authentic interaction, and to create a comfortable space for you and your interviewee, even if it’s just for a few minutes. It’s since been the foundation for how I approach interviewing.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
While there have been innumerable friends, industry contacts, mentors, and strangers cheering me on, I owe so much to those early interviews and USA Today for having faith I could conduct them. Those experiences shaped me and I’m grateful.
Hilary, Sam Alex, and Dolly Parton
Who do you aspire to be like one day?
While I look to many for influence and inspiration, the only person I can strive to be is the best version of myself. It’s the only goal I can actually achieve.
What are your 5 things you wish someone would have told you when you graduated college?
1. Embrace what makes you different. In high school, I was teased constantly by my peers for my ‘model walk’. I didn’t know how to walk any other way and I was embarrassed to learn I was different somehow. It wouldn’t be until years later, when I was hired by haute couture designers to walk in fashion shows that I realized my natural gait was an asset. Wield the power of your weird!
2. Bad things will happen to you and that’s okay. No-one gets through life without challenges, let-downs, trauma, and failures. It’s how we navigate these negative experiences that shape our character. It’s often when we resist the struggles that we get stuck in a victim mentality of, “why me,” and experience suffering. Anticipate obstacles and grow from them.
3. If something scares you, do it. Aside from common sense dangers, most of the things we fear in life are based around unknown outcomes. We often refuse to leave jobs, cities, countries, toxic friend groups, and relationships because we don’t know what awaits us on the other end. We’d rather stay where we know the outcome, even if it means we’re unhappy. Take the leap, in spite of the fear.
4. You’ll more likely regret the things you didn’t try than the things you did. If something excites your soul, even if it seems totally out of your norm, go for it! The worst that’s going to happen is you’ll have a great story to tell later on. Having a funny story is MUCH better than a lingering regret.
Hilary with Napoleon Wrasse, GBR
5. How you choose to define yourself will change. I used to think that I needed to be an expert at just one thing and that one thing would define my career. Turns out, having a broad skill set allowed me to better adapt to my constantly changing environments and make me less afraid to go after what I want. You can be a burn survivor, beauty queen, world traveler, writer, and on-camera host all in one lifetime… and it will be fun.
Hilary Feeding Marina
You’re ending this year with new adventures, including developing a podcast series. What sparked this new venture?
Most of my successes and opportunities have been forged out of adversity and I know that story is not unique to me. I’m passionate about engaging authentic conversations and inspiring others, so I’m looking forward to sharing the tumultuous journeys of high-profile role models in this new medium. Stay tuned!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. 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 might just see this. :-)
When I was travel blogging, I was given a unique opportunity to live with The Firewalkers in Fiji. I heard a great deal from the tribe about Tony Robbins and his time living with them. He’s one of my core role models and I strive to motivate, inspire, and empower others as he’s done.
You can follow Hilary on social media:
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on December 3, 2017.