By Christl Dabu
“In five, four…” the floor directors says in a booming voice, counting down the start of the shoot. A woman sporing a bright orange, full length skirt and a teal baby T-shirt with the word “Snug” across her chest lounges on a candy-coloured platform. “Three, two…” The mini-stage made up of green, blue and red platforms is festooned with S-Club 7 dolls wearing bikinis and shorts. Purple-tinted starry lights sprinkle in the background. And as the camera focuses on the woman, she looks up and flashed a glowing smile that lights up the set.
“Welcome back. I have in my hot little hands here the ‘N Sync Backstage Pass game,” she says, holding up the board game with teen heartthrobs plastered on its glossy cover.
Exan Auyoung is co-host of Hit List, a weekly top-20 countdown of the hottest pop music videos. Broadcasting since 1991 and now in its tenth season, it is the longest-running show on YTV. The show, which airs Friday nights and Saturday afternoons is just the latests stopover in this Ryerson RTA alumni’s career.
“A lot of pop fans would kill for this position — then they’re get to meet the Backstreet Boys,” say Auyoung. Not to mention flying to cities such as Los Angeles and New York to interview ‘N Sync and Britney Spears.
Auyoung has been co-hosting the show for the past three years with Leslie Bosacku. She also researches and writes all on-camera scripts and interviews, and works as a post-production producer. Each 90-minute episode of Hit List takes a week to create, with a typical four-hour shoot each Thursday in addition to post-production work.
“She’s a pop expert. She does the research and she knows how to ask questions that are unique and interesting,” says Terri Diachok, the shows’ supervising producer and director.
The irony is that although she has a coveted job that focuses on pop music, Auyoung is actually a huge Beck fan and prefers the edgy sounds of indie rock music. “I think pop music is good, but it’s not something that I listen to,” she admits. “Pop music is becoming less substantial — but to each their own taste. I prefer music that has more depth to it.”
Clive Vandeburgh is an RTA professor who teaches an advanced TV lab and children’s television. “[Auyoung has] the combination of knowledge and talent, and the capacity to deliver material in an intelligent and engaging way,” he says. “[She’s] able to demonstrate that she is innovative and creative [and] has a real capacity to relate to kids in the MuchMusic generation.”
Auyoung won an award for best interviewer at the Houston World Festival Awards in 1998 for her interview with the Backstreet Boys — then budding pop stars — the summer they released their self-titled album in the United States.
Born in Hong Kong, Auyoung moved with her family to Ottawa when she was five years wold. As a teenager she started collecting records, at one point topping 5,000. She also played bass keyboardist in a high school band. At 17, she got a gig doing record reviews and interviews with bands at a local university radio station. The experience convinced her that even if she wasn’t a musician, music would be part of her career.
“I’ve just always been a huge music fan,” Auyoung says. “I realized my calling in life as more so to be the observer.”
In 1986, Auyoung moved to Toronto to study at Ryerson. While in school, she hosted and produced a do-it-yourself style underground music show for Rogers Television called Y.G.B.K. (You’ve Got to Be Kidding). Then in 1989, the year she graduated from Ryerson, she interned at MuchMusic as a production assistant for all of its programs. She also produced Fashion Notes, a weekly fashion segment profiling Canadian designers. In 1991, she landed her dream job as an entertainment reporter and anchor at YTV News.
“Volunteering is extremely important,” says Auyoung. “I didn’t get paid for [MuchMusic], but I put my heart into it. You may not end up with the position that you really want [but] eventually that led me to the job at YTV News.”
“One of the fun things about YTV is that we’re wacky and weird,” Auyoung says. When she interviewed movie star Leonardo DiCaprio in New York for YTV News during Titanic mania, she got away with asking Leo whether he kisses on first dates. “Someone from CNN would not be walking in and asking that question,” she says.
Auyoung keeps her exact age a secret because she doesn’t want her viewers to identify her as a number. Although she is at least 30, having worked in the media for 11 years following her graduation from Ryerson, she says, “You have to have the ‘Peter Pan syndrome.’ As long as you’re a child at heart… they [youths] can relate to you and you can relate to them.”
As poised as she is when describing her job, Auyoung’s teenage spirit shines through in some of her stories about work, especially when cute rock stars are involved.
She describes Jakob Dylan, the lead singer of the Wallflowers, as “the most attractive” star she’s ever met. It was “the only time I was actually really nervous,” she says of interviewing the singer. “I could feel myself turning pink and heating up because,” she says, lowering her voice to a whisper, “I have a bit of a crush on him.”