In the early days, every sprinkle of a job, an opportunity or a door opening for me was opened by an Armenian connection of mine.
Jill Simonian likes to say that she owes her career to Armenians. From her first television job for an Armenian entertainment news show in Glendale to starting her blog TheFABMOM.com, to her current television spot as ‘The FAB Mom’ on CBS Los Angeles and her first book out in April 2017, none of it would have been possible without an initial boost from the Armenian community.
An alumna of the AGBU New York Summer Internship Program with a smattering of involvement in the AGBU Western District, Jill was a seasoned professional in the world of television entertainment news and has reinvented and expanded her brand into family lifestyle print and digital media. In our conversation, Jill talks about her sense of belonging to the Armenian community, her career in entertainment media in Southern California and her successes in the digital parenting and mom blog universe.
Can you tell me about your early life?
I was born and raised in Fresno, California, where my family has been for over a 100 years. All four of my grandparents were born in California and their parents came from the Ottoman Empire between 1908 and 1913. Despite how long my family has been proud to be Americans, I have always felt strongly about being Armenian. My parents raised my sister and me to be very involved in our Armenian church and my mom taught me to cook Armenian food, which I continue to make frequently. It was only when I moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA that I realized that there were different ways to be Armenian. The first questions I was asked were always “Why don’t you speak Armenian” and “Where is your family from?” In Fresno, you were Armenian and that was the end of it. In Los Angeles, I felt like a misfit because I was Armenian American. A lot of people didn’t understand why I identified as Armenian if I didn’t speak the language.
How did you come to feel like you belonged to the Armenian community of Los Angeles?
It actually came from a weather forecaster competition that I was a part of on our local Los Angeles television station KTLA. I always loved performing—I had danced and done musical theater since I was a little girl—so at 27, I decided to send an audition tape to KTLA, which was looking for its next weather forecaster. It was an American Idol kind of process, so each week viewers would vote for their favorite contestant. The whole Armenian community in Southern California seemed to be watching and voted for me each week. At the time—in 2005—there were no Armenians on Los Angeles television. In the end, I didn’t win the competition, but I finally felt like I was accepted as a true Armenian! Being one of the riders on the very first American Armenian Rose Parade Float in 2015 also made me feel more connected to my heritage than ever before.
What did the weather forecaster competition teach you?
First, I learned that I loved being on television. At the time of the competition, I had been working in event planning at the shoe company Skechers. I knew that I needed to figure out how I could entertain, perform, write and do everything I liked to do. It was now or never. I ended up getting a job at an Armenian-run station in Glendale, doing red carpet interviews at Hollywood premieres—all after hours while I worked my full-time job at Skechers. I loved it—I started learning to write news packages and scripts, be on camera and conduct interviews. This led to other jobs in television journalism at ReelzChannel and Travel Channel. I wouldn’t have done any of it had it not been for that on-air competition. The best part about the journey was that the person who submitted my name and tape to the bosses at ReelzChannel was my cameraman from the Armenian show I started working with years before!
Can you tell me how TheFABMom.com came about?
In 2010, my husband and I found out that we were going to have our first baby. I wanted to keep the momentum of working in TV and media, as I was starting this next chapter in my life. A friend who worked in digital media suggested that I start a blog. She said that mom blogs were a growing industry and were beginning to garner attention. One day, after my daughter was born, I started searching for available domain names (TheFABMom.com was the only available option to purchase, so I interpreted it to be Focused After Baby) and I went full force on the blog. In the beginning, I would use my daughter’s naptime to sit at my computer, learn how the new digital industry worked and write about life as a new mother. I was also reaching out to every mom blogger and parenting website I knew to draw attention to my own blog and it paid off. I got a sprinkling of jobs based on my work on the blog—the Hallmark Channel and local LA stations all asked me to make guest appearances to talk about all things motherhood. At the same time, I also did a 6-month stint at CNN/HLN as an entertainment reporter, but I had a feeling that the blog was eventually going to shift the direction of my career. My most exciting break came in early 2015 from the local Los Angeles CBS station.
What do you do at CBS?
I have a segment that airs twice weekly on CBS Los Angeles called ‘The FAB Mom,’ which discusses parenting trends, family issues and lifestyle tips. It’s become my most favorite career achievement to date because it combines the stage I’m at in my real life with working on television and informing and entertaining people. I also like to crowdsource topics on social media to make sure that our issues are relevant to the lives of my viewers and readers. I’ve gotten a lot of fun feedback from local Armenian moms—my daughters think it’s funny when a viewer or reader recognizes me if we’re out shopping or running errands!
What is next for you?
I’ve written my first book, which is my other most favorite achievement. It’s called The FAB Mom’s Guide: How to Get Over the Bump & Bounce Back Fast After Baby, and will be out in April 2017. Being an author has been on my bucket list since college, and it was only after my second daughter was born in 2012 when I realized what my book would be about—how to bounce back, mind body and spirit, after having babies. Expanding TheFABMom brand is my focus now—I’d love to expand my CBS segments into a full-length show and eventually start developing products for new moms.
What has your relationship been with AGBU?
In the early days, every sprinkle of a job, an opportunity or a door opening for me was opened by an Armenian connection of mine. I’ve been thankful to have a long relationship with AGBU, from when I was an AGBU New York Summer Internship Program participant back in 2000. I even met my husband at AGBU FOCUS in 2007 in New York. During my 20s, I was involved with the AGBU Young Professionals and, these days, have emceed a few galas for some of the local AGBU schools. Another goal of mine is to put together and host a panel discussion of local LA Armenians working in media/entertainment for the YPs to help guide them through working in the industry. Maybe next year…