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How Lilly Singh is making late-night TV history

In less than a decade, YouTube star Lilly Singh has gone from internet sensation to host of a broadcast TV show, "A Little Late with Lilly Singh," which debuts Monday on NBC. Amna Nawaz sat down with Singh recently on her show’s Los Angeles set to talk about being the only woman and person of color on network late night TV, what success means to her and how she writes for online viewership.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There's a new face on late-night television, and she is breaking all sorts of ground to get there.

    "A Little Late With Lilly Singh" will premiere on NBC, making the 30-year-old the only woman and person of color to get that slot on a major network.

    Amna Nawaz sat down with Singh on her Los Angeles set.

    It's the latest in our series Race Matters Solutions and a part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.

  • Lilly Singh:

    The 10 stages of diet grief.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    She's one of YouTube's biggest success stories ever.

  • Lilly Singh:

    What up, girl, Superwoman?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Lilly Singh, AKA Superwoman, first dipped a toe into Internet waters 10 years ago with basic video blogs.

  • Lilly Singh:

    When it comes to a boyfriend, we want all the attention we can get, which makes us, OK, a little bit of needy.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But she quickly dove deeper in, developing her comedic skill.

  • Lilly Singh:

    No, girl, I'm wearing slats. Ain't nobody got time for heels tonight. Wait, what?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And over the years, upping her production game, translating both into four million subscribers and over three billion video views.

    She's now going where no YouTuber has gone before, network television. Tonight, she will make her debut on NBC as host of "A Little Late With Lilly Singh," taking over the late-night time slot for Carson Daly.

    Singh made the announcement in march, welcomed by her fellow NBC late-night hosts Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers.

  • Lilly Singh:

    Indian Canadian woman also.

  • Jimmy Fallon:

    Breaking records.

  • Lilly Singh:

    So, I'm super honored and humbled.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    She built her fame by standing out online. And in her new role, Singh will definitely stand apart.

    When your show premieres, you are going to be the only woman on the major networks in late night in a sea of white male hosts. How are you thinking about that?

  • Lilly Singh:

    Honestly, it's exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. I mean, it's a huge honor. I'm so humbled to be part of creating that path, because let's be real, I wouldn't be here without the women that paved the path before me.

    But I think that's — for the same reason, it's so important for me to bring that authentic point of view, you know?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    She will also be the only woman of color on late-night television and the first LGBTQ host of any network late-night show ever. Singh came out as bisexual to her family last year, and to her fans just six months ago.

  • Lilly Singh:

    It's been tough, but, at the end of the day, I always think there's two ways that you can go. You can go the route that is scared. I'm scared. Or you can go the route of, I'm going to lead with love.

    And I think the route of leading with love is, even though this is scary, I'm going to share this about myself because it will help people. And all I want to do is encourage more people in our community, especially our South Asian community, to, even if something is scary, and you're not supposed to talk about it, talk about it. Talk about it. Lead with love.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That lesson was years in the making, tracing back to 2010, when Singh posted her first video on YouTube, with no clear career plans, struggling with depression, and living in her parents' suburban Toronto home.

    But right away, Singh says, she knew this was her path.

    And what was that conversation with your parents like? What is the line you deliver?

  • Lilly Singh:

    OK. It was like, hey, I don't want to go to grad school. I would like to make videos on YouTube.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That sounds reasonable.

  • Lilly Singh:

    Yes. They had a lot of questions.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Lilly Singh:

    But I think, in their mind, they were like, this is a phase. She's going to grow out of it, and next year she's going to do these essays, get into graduate school.

    I do not think they were expecting me to make a career out of this. I don't think anyone was, to be fair.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Branding herself as Superwoman, Singh set herself part on a crowded Internet by leaning into her view of the world.

  • Lilly Singh:

    Why you the bloody hell you wake up so late, huh?

    Good morning to you too, mom.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Posting campy impersonations of her parents, writing and performing hip-hop parodies, and delivering a steady stream of all observational humor in her signature over-the-top style.

    As her followers and her fame grew, Singh's reach extended far beyond the Internet. In just under 10 years, she ascended into entertainment's upper echelon, collaborating with Hollywood royalty like the Rock, pop culture stars like Selena Gomez, even interviewing then first lady Michelle Obama.

  • Woman:

    No, you hang up.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The Lilly Singh empire has now unfurled across media platforms. In 2017, she published a self-help book called "How to Be a Boss," or, as she would say it:

  • Lilly Singh:

    How to be a boss.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The book went on to become a New York Times bestseller. Her world tours sold out in dozens of countries.

    And her journey so far has even been documented in a 2016 film, "A Trip to Unicorn Island."

  • Lilly Singh:

    I'm going to take you all on a trip to Unicorn Island.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Unicorns, by the way, are sort of a thing for Singh.

  • Lilly Singh:

    I just like unicorns.

    Honestly, I am obsessed with them, because I feel like any time I talk about unicorns, people are so fixated on if they're real or not, and I feel like that misses the whole point.

    I feel like, if I want to say I'm a unicorn, then I'm a unicorn, and you can just believe and be. And, also, it's because my synonym for a happy place is Unicorn Island.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For her next chapter, Singh has brought along the team from some of her biggest viral hits, hoping they can create the same success for NBC.

  • Lilly Singh:

    Social media people are mine. The editor is mine.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Equally important, she says, is the history she's carrying forward.

    In 1986, Joan Rivers became the first woman given a shot at the late-night chair, but she failed to gain traction and was quickly taken off the air. It took decades before another woman was given another chance, and since then, no woman has made it past a single season in late-night on any major network.

  • Lilly Singh:

    And so it's a lot to deal with. But I always just remind myself that it's part of chipping away that path. And so regardless of what the outcome is, if I'm being super candid with you, it's kind of not going to matter, because it's going to help continue pave that path.

    And that's what my priority is.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You're saying, regardless of how this goes, the fact that you are here…

  • Lilly Singh:

    We want it to go well. There's no doubt we want it to go well.

    What I'm saying is like, my actual presence and everyone else being a part of this is already going to contribute to paving that path.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In some ways, Singh is uniquely qualified to succeed in the new world of late-night, one in which hosts are scrambling to turn television segments into Internet sensations.

  • Lilly Singh:

    When I'm sitting with my writers, and we're going through the show format, I think, great, that's a great show.

    And I think, by nature, my brain automatically goes, that's going to be the YouTube part of it, and this is what the title is going to be, and that's going to be great.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You can just see that?

  • Lilly Singh:

    So, it's kind of just — it's already built in. Like, I'm already sitting with my writers being like, perfect, and we will call it this, and we will frame the question like this, it will be done.

    So, I think it's just a different way of thinking. It's about thinking about two formats, rather than just one.

    Come on. We're out here making statements, statements on statements out here. I love it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    When her show premieres tonight, Singh says she knows she will be speaking to a largely new television audience, one she won't have much time to win over.

  • Lilly Singh:

    I want to go out there and be like, this is my point of view, this is what I'm going through, these are my thoughts and feelings, this is the person I am, this is the person I want you to get to know, not just talk show host, but, like, I want you to get to know Lilly.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz in Los Angeles.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for those of you who like to get to sleep a little earlier, you can stream the premiere of "A Little Late With Lilly Singh" tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on YouTube, before it airs on NBC.

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