The world of celebrity journalism is quite small where many of us (present company included) are aware of who our competition is as we often see them at the red carpet events we (used) to attend.
Evan Real is one of those guys that this writer happens to look up to. He’s worked for a myriad of iconic publications like Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter where the North Carolina native has interviewed a ton of notable people in the entertainment world. He’s also appeared on major talk shows and has developed a stellar reputation as his career continues to soar.
He’s someone that we can look up to in the gay community for many reasons. Evan came from a strict religious upbringing with a mother who was originally against who he authentically was. Through luck and understanding he was able to change her viewpoint regarding his sexuality for the better which catapulted him into a much different life in the years to come where things really kicked off for him the minute he stepped foot in The Big Apple.
Evan talked about all of his in our exclusive interview below. Take a look.
What inspired your journey into the world of celebrity journalism?
Pop culture has occupied my mind from a very young age. I remember being in kindergarten and I was completely obsessed with the Spice Girls. My whole world revolved around them — until Britney Spears came out. Then she became my everything. Not only was I a massive fan of her music — and still very much am — but I religiously kept up with her in the press. While I was picking up Us Weekly and People to read about Britney, I learned so much about all these other public figures. So by around age 11, I had this encyclopedic knowledge of celebrities. From Madonna to Pamela Anderson to Princess Diana, I had all my facts together. Looking back now, it kind of makes me laugh because people — especially my teachers — probably thought I was really weird.
I also loved to write as a kid, kept like a thousand journals and entered every writing contest I could. Things clicked for me in 6th grade, though. I had written an essay about why Britney’s “I’m a Slave 4 U” was the best song to ever exist and one of my classmates — a really sweet kid named Ryan — read it and told me it sounded like something he’d find in Rolling Stone. Not only did that make me want to cry tears of joy at the time, but it put this idea in my mind that I could maybe one day be a journalist. So, thank you Ryan! Shout-out to him. I wish I could find him on Instagram.
Cut to seven years later and I’m in college in New York City, a sort of clueless 18-year-old from North Carolina who wants nothing more than an internship at a magazine. Any magazine. It really didn’t matter. I just wanted to write, interview celebrities and make my dreams come true. One day I arrived early to a communications class and overheard this girl Taryn talking about how she interviewed Khloe Kardashian the night before. I immediately turned around, asked her a hundred questions and later figured out that she had an internship at OK! Magazine. She couldn’t have been kinder and shared the contact info of the editor who managed the internship program. Three months later, I started interning for OK! and then it all snowballed from there. After I graduated, I landed my first full-time gig as the TV Reporter for Life & Style and In Touch.
You’ve worked for so many fabulous publications. Did you learn something different from each place you wrote at?
Definitely. I lived in the celebrity weekly world for a while at the start of my career. After Life & Style and In Touch, I worked for Us Weekly. During my time at those publications, I developed my skills as an interviewer and learned how to be super resourceful. Remember Amber Portwood from Teen Mom? I was hell-bent on securing her first interview after she was released from prison in 2013. I got the exclusive, but it’s because I started writing letters to her in jail.
And then, later, when I began working at places like The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard, I was able to really flourish as a writer. I had to match the talent of everyone on staff and I had great editors there who paid close attention to my work and let me tackle some really important stories.
I’ve also done on-camera work at every outlet I’ve been at, but I feel like some of my best hosting opportunities came during my time at THR and Billboard. I was able to do on-camera interviews with everyone from Robert De Niro to Cardi B, so I feel really grateful to have been able to polish my skills there.
Who has been your favorite celebrity you’ve interviewed so far and why?
That’s a really tough question. But one that really stands out is a sit-down I did with Wendy Williams last year for The Hollywood Reporter. She was a blast to chat with, of course, but it was also this amazing full-circle moment for me. Back when I was at Life & Style, Wendy had a column that I would interview her for every single week over the phone. So, it felt really special to finally have some face time with her. And then a portion of our THR interview aired on The Wendy Williams Show and she gave me a nice little shout-out, so that will always go down as one of my favorites.
Another would be Jamie Lynn Spears. She was an absolute sweetheart and totally candid with her answers when I spoke with her for The Hollywood Reporter. She was down to talk about anything, even about her teen pregnancy and Britney. I love it when an interview subject is an open book. And then, like I mentioned earlier, I was able to report on some really meaningful topics at THR, so talking to Janet Mock and Ryan Murphy about their decision to highlight the issue of violence against Black trans women on their show Pose was very moving for me.
Other favorites include Paula Abdul, Willa Ford, Pia Mia, Paris Hilton, Madonna, Lindsay Lohan and Jennie from Blackpink. I love me a pop girl, honey. Also, I’m not sure if this counts as an “interview” — but I once got a quote from Britney over email for a piece I wrote for Billboard about her song “Mood Ring.” That felt like a big win.
What would you say to people who want to enter your industry but are unaware of how difficult it can be?
If journalism is your true passion, then the good will always outweigh the bad. There are absolutely going to be moments where you second-guess yourself or catch a case of imposter syndrome, but it’s important to just keep going and never give up. And never take offense to constructive criticism from an editor. In most cases, they really do want to help make your work the best it can be. Let them be your mentors. Having good mentors is so crucial for success in this industry.
And then when you finally find yourself in spaces you always dreamed about, don’t be intimidated and don’t be scared. Know that you’ve worked hard and that you deserve whatever pinch-me moment comes your way.
Also, I won’t lie and tell you it isn’t absolutely crushing when a celebrity refuses to answer a question or a publicist cuts you off during an interview. But don’t take it personally. Everyone is just doing their job.
Can you tell us about your coming out story?
Yeah, so it’s been 11 years. After moving to New York at 18, I finally felt free enough to come out. A few months into my first semester of freshman year, I was out to my friends in college and a few of my friends back home, but the last — and most important — person on my list was my mom. When I came home to North Carolina for winter break in 2009, I wrote a super long letter to her, telling her I was gay. And let’s be real, it was no surprise. Initially, she reacted as well as one could hope — but I made the mistake of telling my mom that I was also in a relationship with someone who was nearly 10 years older than me. I felt like it would validate me if she knew I had a boyfriend, but the double whammy of “I’m gay” and “I’m dating an older man” did not go over well with her. Basically, she lost her mind and threatened to not let me return to New York. She even took me to a local community college to see about getting me enrolled in classes and transferred as soon as possible. I’ll never forget walking through the halls of that community college with a face full of tears trying to dodge old classmates I recognized from high school. So tragic.
Obviously, more arguments and tears came. And then my mom told me she wanted to go with me to chat with a priest. I grew up Catholic and religion was a really big part of my upbringing. I thought meeting with the priest was going to be the nail in the coffin, ending my big city dreams. But that priest actually came to my rescue. He told my mom that God created me perfectly and — I kid you not — he emphasized to her that intergenerational relationships are common in the LGBTQIA+ community! My mouth was on the floor. I’m sure my mom’s was too. The rest is a blur, but the priest said what my mom needed to hear to send me back to New York. A true miracle. I was really lucky.
Looking back, I feel so silly that I even told my mom about that guy I was dating because I dumped him not long after I got back to New York. I think her reaction was so intense because she was just worried for me, which I didn’t see at the time but can understand now. And I do want to add that my mom, who is such a special human being who I’ve been incredibly close with my entire life, quickly came around and now she couldn’t be prouder of her gay son. She is so informed, so supportive and a true ally. I love her.
Are you single or in a relationship? If the former, what do you look for in a guy? If the latter, how did it start and how has it been going during COVID?
I am in a relationship! My boyfriend, Brian, and I are about to celebrate nine years together in a few days. We met during college. We knew of each other but hadn’t officially met when the flirting began. Embarrassingly, it started out on Facebook. This was before all the dating apps, so we would write these really cringey statuses, hoping each other would like them. I’m not even sure the “poking” feature was a thing yet? Anyway, he made the first move and finally messaged me directly on New Year’s Eve 2011. A few days later, we had our first date at a Mexican restaurant on the Upper East Side and the rest is history.
Brian is the absolute best thing in my life. He is everything I could ever want in a guy: kind, thoughtful, hilarious, generous, handsome, fun — the list goes on and on. And I am so grateful to have had him by my side throughout 2020. We’ve spent most of the year up near Buffalo, where he’s from, and it’s been great to spend time away from the city. It sounds so cheesy, but I really don’t mind all of the alone time that COVID has forced on us. I love it.
Also, how do you stay in such fantastic shape?
Thank you for even saying that. That means a lot. To be honest, 2020 has been rough for me in the fitness department. I won’t lie to you — working out and maintaining a good diet has been very inconsistent for me lately. There have been stages this year where I’ll commit to intermittent fasting, eat salads, drink tons of water, do a million pushups and then run five miles a day on the treadmill. But then there have been spans where I don’t lift one weight and bake cookies every night with my boyfriend. I’m hoping to get back on track, for real, in 2021. Before 2020, though, Brian and I really fell in love with fitness when we joined EPIC Hybrid Training in New York. The trainers there were so amazing, and we owe so much to them. I feel like I’m in my best shape when I’m consistently doing high intensity interval training.
Finally, what are you looking forward to in your bright future?
I’m really big into manifestation so I feel like if I share this with you here and put it out into the Universe, then it might happen for me: I want to write a book and win an Emmy. I’m not sure how, when, what about or what for but those are two big goals of mine.