Mary Larsen, 29, got an early Christmas present when she won the two-month long FOX Providence 2012 “Search for a Star” competition to be the newest co-host on the Rhode Show, a show that deals with statewide news. In fact, she said she’d be content if it’s the only gift she receives.
“I don’t need anything else,” she said in a phone interview yesterday morning while driving to the station. “I couldn’t have started off this holiday break any better.”
Larsen also said it’s a Merry Christmas for her former co-worker at local film company Verdi Productions, as the office manager is being promoted to her old position as executive coordinator.
“I’ve got a new job and she’s getting promoted so it’s great,” said Larson.
While her position officially starts in January, the 2004 graduate of the University of Rhode Island who studied music education will be visiting the studio this month to get the gist of her job. A Rhode Island native, she attended Greenwood Elementary School, Winman Junior High and then Toll Gate High, all in Warwick.
“I have such a love for the state,” said Larsen.
After college, she taught in various schools in Groton, Conn., often covering for teachers who were out on maternity leave, before taking a position at Providence Country Day School. She worked there for five years but her program was cut and she was laid off. She had trouble finding another teaching job given the poor economy.
Still, that didn’t kill her motivation and she landed a gig with Verdi Productions, a local film company that produced Inkubus starring Robert Englund, as well as Loosies.
In fact, Larsen said her former boss Chad Verdi was one of her biggest cheerleaders through her Rhode Show auditions. He encouraged her from start to finish.
“When I told him I was planning to try out for it he told me, ‘I believe in you and I want you to swing for the fences,’” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without his support. Otherwise it would have been more difficult.”
For Larsen, being confident and self-assured is part of her persona. She thinks these traits are the reasons she was selected.
“When you’re in a competition you have to believe in yourself 110 percent and you have to know you can do the job,” she said.
Of course, there were a few other key factors, too.
“I’m not camera shy at all and I’m a people person,” she said.
Larsen began the intense audition on Oct. 6 at Twin River Casino in Lincoln for a live tryout along with nearly 100 other competitors, while video auditions were also mailed in. She auditioned for the singing show American Idol a few years ago and paralleled the experiences.
“There were people from all different walks of life with different personalities with excited energy,” she said. “We knew the next person in the room was going to be the next co-host.”
Four judges reviewed their resumes and asked questions about why they think they should be the chosen one. They were then escorted to another room and tested to see how they reacted to being filmed.
Shortly after, more than 150 videos were posted online for fans to watch. Each time a video was viewed in it’s entirety counted as a vote, which made up 25 percent of the decision. The rest depended on judges. A few weeks later, the top 20 were picked and contacted, including Larson.
“I couldn’t believe it because I thought I tanked the audition,” she said. “They asked me to sing and I sang, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing.’) I felt like an ostrich and wanted to bury my head in the sand. I didn’t even want to show my friends.”
But two days later one of her best friends e-mailed her and said she found her video online. Larsen said she was embarrassed and her friend soothed her nerves. Thanks to her friend’s comforting words she began sharing the video with as many people as she could.
The next step was visiting the studio for a 30-minute interview. Judges asked her how her background in music and the film industry would work with a news-casting job. She also did a few interviews and practiced speaking in front of a teleprompter.
From there, it was narrowed down to a top 10 and finally top five, which consisted of all women. She said that’s when it became more rigorous and she had to create a biography segment so the judges could get to know her better.
Larson made a video that took a spin on the Wizard of Oz and how, “there’s no place like home.” She put on her favorite pair of crimson pumps, clicked her heels together and took the judges on a virtual adventure of her dining at restaurants. She then put on red rain boots and went clam digging. Finally, she tossed on scarlet sneakers and was filmed working out and cooking.
“I thought it would be a fun video to watch so people could get to know me better,” she said.
One of the last assignments was visiting a charity and filming a news segment. She spoke with Boys and Girls Club members and was pleased to incorporate them in her audition.
When she was announced as the winner on FOX last Monday night during a primetime special at Jackie’s Waterplace in Providence, she said it felt, “amazing.”
“There was confetti flying around and my husband and my parents came up,” said Larsen. “It hasn’t completely sunk in yet but think it’s going to start to set in now because last week was more of a celebration and I was still in my normal day-to-day routine.”
Her one-year position hasn’t officially started and she has already been recognized. But she’s eating it all up with pleasure.
“A Fed Ex man came up to me and said, ‘I think I saw you on television but I’m not sure,’” said Larsen. “It was really cool.”
If for some reason Larsen cannot fulfill the terms of the contract, the runner-up, Sarah Robinowitz, will be offered the opportunity.