Reality competition shows on television are everywhere these days and one of the best out there is Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance, which just wrapped its eighth season with winner Melanie Moore and runner-up, out dancer Sasha Mallory. While it’s easy to think only about the dancers, one of the unmistakable draws of the show is host Cat Deeley. Whether she’s standing up to a judge’s harsh assessment of a performance or simply gushing like us over a particularly moving or jaw-dropping dance routine, Cat seems like the sparkly girl next door that we could easily get to know and, oh yeah, she’s also unbelievably gorgeous.
Thankfully, Deeley is much more than an extremely pretty package. During her recent chat with AfterEllen.com, the Emmy-nominee (for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program) is charmingly self-deprecating, laughs often (usually at herself), oozes joy when talking about her gay fans and gets exasperated with herself for getting on a soapbox to discuss a contestant’s right to come out of the closet (or not) on television. Bring it, Cat. We’re listening.
AfterEllen.com: How are you today?
Cat Deeley: I’m good! I’ve had the day off and I’m reading the Keith Richards autobiography. I love it! I’m literally hanging out with Keith all day!
AE: I picture you lounging by the pool reading — am I right?
CD: I was! How did you guess? Being an English person and having a swimming pool is something in your wildest dreams could imagine as a child. We were in this small industrial town outside of Birmingham. Lovely people, but not the prettiest of places. To have a pool to lounge beside is a very, very exciting thing and something I haven’t gotten over even five years after buying my house.
AE: Congratulations on the Emmy nomination. What do you make of it all and your chances of winning?
CD: I’m so excited! I know that I’m supposed to be very blasé about it like a show biz type and say “Oh, it’s no big deal at all!” But then I’m just not! I’m not Fonzie. I’m much more Richie Cunningham and I just have to get used to the fact that I’m a slightly awkward, geeky, overexcited teenager about the whole thing. I never imagined that I would be working here in America, let alone working on a great show! I come from a very small town with my Mum and Dad and I never knew anyone famous and I never even went to stage school. There isn’t really a reason why I should be doing this other than the fact that I really love it.
AE: What do you think are your chances of winning?
CD: I really don’t think I’m going to win and I honestly really think that Ryan Seacrest should win. American Idol is the biggest TV show on the planet and he handles it so brilliantly every single week. He’s stylish and smart and charismatic and he makes it look completely effortless and that’s exactly how it should look. I think it’s time he was recognized.
AE: You’re always dressed so well on the show but how are you handling the pressure to get just the right outfit for Emmy night?
CD: It’s very exciting but I do feel the pressure a little bit, I have to say. Once I’ve got it, I’ll be absolutely fine and I’ll have a good time but until that point I’m a little bit like “What am I going to go for?” I am very lucky and have some very lovely, very generous, completely creative genius type designer friends so I think Matthew Williamson may knock me up something of stylish fandango of gorgeousness!
AE: I interviewed Sasha Mallory recently for AfterEllen.com and we talked extensively about the brouhaha about contestants being out on shows like American Idol, The Voice and, of course, So You Think You Can Dance. What is your opinion on all this?
CD: Listen, I think if they want to come out then they can. If they don’t, then they don’t have to. I just think that we need to kind of move on from that in this day. It definitely shouldn’t be the most important thing, you know? The two really important things on [SYTYCD] are you have to be a good dancer and the second one is that you have to have something — that star quality, that something special that is almost indefinable and that’s the thing that makes people get off the couch and vote for you. You have to connect with people in any way, shape and form you want and I really do mean that.
We’re very careful but we are a reality show but at the same time we’re very much about celebrating people’s talent and, for me, we have the knowledge that the American dream is alive and kicking and you can come from any background as long as you have a talent. If you’re passionate and you’re prepared well then you can dream big and be anything that you want to be. It’s a personal choice and it’s one I applaud either way. It’s all about the individual.
Speaking for myself personally, I know from watching the producers and Nigel [Lythgoe] that we have the utmost respect for these people and whatever their decision is we absolutely respect.
AE: Sasha was very open about being out and talked about how it was her choice not to bring it into the show.
CD: Quite often, these are kids who are finding their way still. I’d just look back at myself at 18 and I had the skinniest legs you’ve ever seen, a really awful perm, I had one eyebrow that went straight across my forehead and I basically talked monosyllabically. It isn’t necessarily the place that you want a whole “Ta-da! Everybody look at me!” Just because at that particular time, and I can only speak for myself, I wasn’t that comfortable in my skin. And I’ve got a lot of friends who are gay and a lot of friends who are straight and I hope we’ve moved from that whole kind of scenario that was years ago. I think we have. I feel as though we’ve very much moved on.
AE: You know you have gay fans, right? Do you hear from them?
CD: I do! I’m very, very proud of that! I actually say “You’re one of my people.” That’s what [Brits] say: “You’re one of my people!” So many of my friends are gay and they love the whole thing and the dressing up and the show itself. I’m more than happy! They’re a very discerning audience, by the way! Who’s going to tell you better than your gay best friend whether the dress you put on is fabulous or needs to be taken off?
AE: There’s so much that you’re doing whether it’s hosting, hosting the Royals (at a BAFTA event this summer) — what’s your long-term plan? Or are you just riding the ride?
CD: I love the idea of chat shows. I recently hosted with Regis [Philbin] and that was amazing and I love that feeling of anything can happen and it’s not really scripted. It’s like the last day of Wimbledon on Court One and you’re hurdling balls at each other over the net at 60 miles an hour and you kind of catch it and throw it back.
I also like the idea of fashion and everything that has to do with it but I think so often from the magazines, women are constantly bombarded with this idea of perfection and I think quite often the thing that makes you fall in love with somebody is the imperfections. It’s not just the perfect ones otherwise we’d just fall in love with George Clooney and Cindy Crawford, you know what I mean? It’s something else and I’ve got an idea to do something about that but what I don’t want to do is keep this idea going of perfection. It’s being force-fed to people and I don’t want to advocate that. I want to advocate the right to be different and daring and have an opinion.
AE: One thing I don’t know is how did your name Catherine become Cat. Was it just a nickname or a more professional choice?
CD: My full name is Catherine Elizabeth Deeley and my mother had delusions of grandeur, clearly. The same as Katherine Elizabeth Middleton and my mother tells me all the time, “It could’ve been you!” [laughs] Then, because Catherine was a big name for a little girl, I became Catie and then Cate. Then I started modeling and there were too many Cates, Caties and Catherines so they just lopped off the end and called me Cat so it’s been Cat since I was about 14 but my family still calls me Cate.
AE: What are you watching on TV right now? What’s on the DVR?
CD: I love America’s Next Top Model. I absolutely love it! I always need to catch up because I’m always traveling all the time. But last week I actually met Tyra because she has the same agent as me. I stood there &mdsah; you know how Hugh Grant is super bumbly and very English?
CD: I kind of did that in front of her, which resulted in me actually doing an impression of her to her! [laughs] It went something along these lines, [lowers voice, gets overly serious] “I have eight beautiful girls in front of me but I only have seven photographs. One did not make it.” She was a very good sport and she laughed. I think it’s the most flattering thing, emulation, and I’m hoping she took it that way and I think she did. I think she did. I think I got by!