Sammy Jaye is living proof that you’re never too young to have a point of view. At seventeen, Jaye just became the youngest person to have a nationally syndicated podcast. The fact that she is so young might give her an edge in a world obsessed with youth culture and courting Gen Z, but Jaye isn’t here to speak on behalf of a generation. Her newly-launched iHeart Radio podcast includes interviews with Finneas, Kesha, and Meghan Trainor, during which her goal is to have relaxed and honest conversations that aren’t bound by age.
Jaye often transitions with the phrase “let’s be real,” and it's also the name of her podcast. And in the spirit of transparency, she admits that it was a family friend who helped her first get her foot in the door. She cut her teeth interviewing artists like Jordan Fisher and Julia Michaels when she was 13 and worked as Radio Disney’s East Coast correspondent for three years. At this point, she’s proven herself enough times to be confident in her abilities and built up a support system of mentors that have pushed her to pursue her dreams. Her podcast is a record of just how smart and disarming Sammy Jaye is as an interviewer. Refinery29 caught up with the high schooler a few days before her podcast launch to talk about everything from mood boards to dream guests.
Refinery29: How did you first get into podcasting?
Sammy Jaye: I fell into it by accident. I started listening to podcasts on YouTube, first just because it was a long form of content to listen to while I was cleaning my room. I eventually discovered the wide range that there was and then, last year when I was a sophomore in high school, I wanted [to create] something that was dealing with what I was going through with my anxiety. When I was too anxious to go out I would just listen to podcasts. And it was a very weird coping mechanism, but I taught myself Keynote and I wrote my dream podcast in a presentation. I never thought it’d get picked up, but it was a good distraction. And I pitched it to iHeart because I had done a few interviews for them and they were interested and they agreed that there wasn’t anything like this.
R29: How did you work your way up to a place where you could just pitch your dream podcast?
SJ: I started writing for my [school] newspaper in the seventh grade. I wanted to try something new and it became something I was really interested in and through that, I started interviewing people. And keep in mind, I have a learning disability, a processing disorder, so you wouldn’t think on paper, that a girl with processing issues enjoys talking to people to an extent where I’m following up, I’m listening, because that was something I used to struggle with a lot.
I was talking to a family friend who worked at iHeart, I was thirteen at the time, and she liked my personality. She told me to come by and do an interview at Z100 from a thirteen-year old’s perspective. I didn’t want her to do me any favors because we were friends, but she insisted. I got an email a few weeks later about interviewing an up-and-coming artist and it was Jordan Fisher. So I did a test interview with him and we got along really great.
When I sat down in the Z100 guest chair, Maxwell, who’s the host and whom I love said: “No, you’re sitting in the big girl chair, you’re sitting in the hosting chair.” And I just had fun. That September I started working with iHeart.
The second interview was a Facebook Live with Hailey Steinfeld, with 30,000 people watching and I had this adrenaline rush. Because I used to struggle with talking to people and interacting with people. Then, that September I was doing social content for iHeart and I saw Jordan again, he introduced me to the head of Radio Disney and that November I did my first event for them at the Thanksgiving Day Parade and I’ve been working for them ever since.
R29: So what is your vision for your podcast? What are you hoping your listeners find?
SJ: The guests get interviewed all the time and the question is how do you change it up? When you change it up you take this censor down of people who have millions of followers. They’re media-trained and they have their rehearsed answers. I think what I have working in my favor is that because I’m 17 I can break down that barrier a bit and it’s really fun to see what’s behind that.
For instance, with Kesha, I grew up on [her song] TiK ToK — we listened to that at camp — and when she came on my podcast we had this 45-minute conversation and I felt like I’d known her for years. And it’s getting to rehumanize these people and it's putting them in a room and just talking.
It’s crazy for me because I’m a fan but you get to stop and think that they’re not just what the media says about them. They cry like real people and it’s so easy to forget that. That’s what so great about this, for me at least, it’s a reminder that we’re all just people.
R29: How do you deal with being the youngest person in the room?
SJ: I think it’s a matter of people being, “Okay, why is this 17-year old pitching this? Why should we trust her?” and I think it’s a matter of first gaining their respect and letting them know that I do have an opinion and my opinion is valid no matter my age. But let’s be real, our generation is kind of badass and we’re fixing the world – from March for Our Lives to Greta Thunberg – and I think now more than ever that shows. So it’s mainly after I show them what I can bring to the table then, it’s all good. But I have to prove myself to them first.
R29: Do you ever feel like you’re put in this Gen Z box? Do you ever feel responsible for speaking on behalf of a generation?
SJ: I think that’s how it started. People wanted a different perspective and it wasn’t like I’d be the voice for everybody. Because let’s be real, everybody is different and one of the things you need to do is embrace that everyone is different. So with the podcast — we go from people who are 16 to 25 because age doesn't matter because it’s all about what they have to say.
R29: Does being the “youngest person with a syndicated podcast” feel like a big hat to wear? Does that achievement weigh on you in any way?
SJ: It doesn’t feel like a big hat to wear because I’m just doing what I love. So it doesn’t feel like work or this thing that I have to uphold, because at the end of the day I just have to remind myself that they like me for me. If I bring that to the table that’s all I can do. And with the pressure to be perfect and cancel culture, all you can really do is be yourself. And I just try to remind myself of that.
R29: Who were you listening to when you first got into podcasts?
SJ: I was really into Shane Dawson’s podcast, Fullscreen, and then I started listening to Cody Ko’s Tiny Meat Gang podcast and I kind of went down the wormhole. I really love Dax Sheppard’s podcast.
I really love watching interview shows, like the Zach Sang show or Hot Ones. The questions are so insightful and inspired me to do better.
R29: Do you have any role models or peers you turn to for career guidance or to commiserate with?
SJ: Role models, in general, are really important to me. Like when I’m down, I’ll just watch videos of Lin Manuel Miranda or Michelle Obama or Oprah and I get rejuvenated and inspired. I generally like to talk to people who are more experienced than I am just so I can learn and get their advice. I definitely think having mentors is so important because it gives you someone to bounce ideas off of creatively, it’s someone who you trust, they can teach you what to do in a situation and I like finding multiple people you can trust. Especially in this industry where some people don’t have the best intentions.
I had people that, when I was creating my presentation they gave of their time to review it and see what to change and those little things make all the difference. Mentors are a huge part of my career, whenever I have a question or an idea about something I text or call them and ask to meet to run some ideas. Plus you don’t know who they know, so it’s good to stay connected and meet new people.
R29: Who do you count as your dream guests?
SJ: I have a mood board. I made one this summer because my cousin forced me to. It has dream interviews. My top three in life are Lin Manuel Miranda, Oprah, and Michelle Obama.
R29: Do you see yourself branching out? Like beyond the show, do you see yourself trying anything new?
SJ: I think everything and anything. If I interviewed a beauty guru I’d love to do their makeup; Jaqueline Hill would be one of my dream interviews. [I want to continue] working with Radio Disney, they’re my other family. I love them. I’d love to make a documentary on the educational system. I’d love to write a book, I’m not sure about what yet. I just have a few ideas bouncing around but I just want to try everything because I'm young and I think the more things I try the more I’ll find things I love.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.