Debbie Matenopoulos Talks The View, Motherhood, and Ikaria Beauty
In this very candid interview, five-time Emmy nominated television host, journalist, and lifestyle expert, Debbie Matenopoulos, opens up about her much publicized and decades-long television career, her journey to motherhood, and how her Greek heritage inspired her skincare line, Ikaria Beauty.
Matenopoulos pulls back the curtain on her relationship with former boss and mentor, Barbara Walters, her experience being one of the original co-hosts of ABC television juggernaut, The View, serving celebrity tea as co-host of E!’s Daily 10, and her latest stint as a co-host on The Hallmark Channel’s morning show, Home & Family (after a decade-long run, the show was canceled in 2021).
Paying homage to her Greek heritage, Debbie Matenopoulos launched the skincare line, Ikaria Beauty, with pure ingredients sourced directly from Greece’s Ikaria Island.
Allison Kugel: What are some significant life events that have made you the human being you are today?
Debbie Matenopoulos: I feel like every single day there are significant life events and it’s your choice to see them, hear them, take them in, and do something with them or not. Listen, growing up in America I looked like your typical white girl, but I’m 100% Greek through and through. My parents didn’t speak English when they came to this country. I’m as immigrant as they come. My sister and brother were born in Greece. My parents had two suitcases, two kids, and $50 in their pocket. They managed to put themselves through night school to learn English to then have successful careers and be able to help their kids go to school and help pay for college. One moment that I always think about is when I was six years old and at the grocery store with my mom. My mother obviously has a very thick accent and could hardly speak English properly, but she was trying and doing her best. She was asking something of the saleswoman at the store, and the saleswoman kept saying, “What?!,” and being really dismissive and rude. She said to my mom, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand you.” And she kept talking louder and louder as if speaking louder and with an aggressive tone was going to make my mother understand her. I remember seeing my mom look so deflated and so ashamed. And I remember looking up and saying to the saleswoman, “My mother is not stupid. She just speaks a different language. Please stop talking to my mom like that.” That moment, for me, I think helped me empathize with immigrants so much in this country.
Allison Kugel: We are a nation of immigrants, but in recent times there is an animosity towards immigrants, like a hostility towards you if you don’t speak English well, and if you are trying to get your foot in the door but you don’t fit in.
Debbie Matenopoulos: Exactly. This country is a melting pot. The country was born out of immigrants. It’s interesting, I’ve never said that to anybody before. That was big for me.
Allison Kugel: Wow! That is a big deal then.
Debbie Matenopoulos: Another big life moment would be getting hired for The View (Matenopoulos was an original co-host on The View from 1997 – 1999). That was life altering, and nothing I expected at that time. I was at a party uptown with some guys that said, “Come audition for this show.” I was working at MTV, I had pink hair, and I was going to NYU Journalism school. Barbara Walters was doing the show and I said, “Are you out of your mind? Barbara Walters is going to want me to go work for her?! You must be crazy!” I didn’t think about it twice. I was at school in the morning at NYU, and I went to MTV after school because that was my job. My roommate told me that the same guy from the party called to continue to persuade me to go for this interview for this new show. He was a casting director for Barbara’s production company, and she had hired him to cast her new show. I go up there and maybe I thought I didn’t have anything to lose. Perhaps that was one of the reasons that I was not anxious about it. I figured it didn’t matter if I got hired for this. That is probably why, looking back now, they actually hired me, because I was so…. not in my head about it.
Allison Kugel: I pictured that part of your story so much differently. I pictured that you are working at MTV and somehow you met Barbara Walters somewhere, and she was like, “You.” (Laughs) I guess that’s not how it happened.
Debbie Matenopoulos: Completely different. I mean I showed up thinking this is nuts. And there is a big difference between MTV and ABC. ABC was very corporate. MTV was like working at Romper Room. They asked me about my life and to come back and audition. I go back to audition two weeks later at one of the hotels near Central Park in New York. They had rented the whole suite and all of these people show up. All of these women who were famous, except for me.
Allison Kugel: They were all seasoned journalists, correspondents, known personalities.
Debbie Matenopoulos: All of them. I’m thinking, “Okay I’ve had enough.” So, I turn around to leave and as I’m walking out of the room Barbara Walters is walking in. I open the door and she is standing there at the hotel room door, and she says, “Oh baby, I’m so happy you came.” She guides me back in and addresses the room with her hand on my shoulder.
Allison Kugel: Oh wow. I love those moments. So, you’re 22 years old, you’re a college student and you worked at MTV for a little bit. What did Barbara Walters expect from you? he puts this 22-year-old on the panel of The View. What were her expectations of you, exactly?
Debbie Matenopoulos: I don’t know that she even knew. Nothing like The View ever existed before, but now you see so many imitations have come after. It was an experiment and something she had wanted to do for years, and she finally was at a place in her life and had enough respect at ABC that they would allow her to do this. She wanted to just have a bunch of women sitting around, from different generations, different backgrounds, and different views, that would talk about topics of the day. The show has become super political now, but it wasn’t supposed to be political. It was just meant to be, “Here’s your mom, your grandmother, your aunt, your cousin, your younger sister, all sitting there chatting about the same topic. And they are all going to have different ideas, because they are coming from different generations and different backgrounds. It was about having a fun conversation and seeing where it comes out, and for all of us to learn from one another.
Allison Kugel: You were basically hired just to be yourself?
Debbie Matenopoulos: That’s it. In the initial interview with Barbara and with [showrunner] Bill Geddie, that is what they loved. They loved that I was just myself. Media has changed immensely since then. You can only be yourself right now, and so can I, because we don’t have Tide, Downey and Coca Cola breathing down our necks to say. “Oh my gosh, what are you saying on that show?” Yes, they liked it, but then when you get in front of the world and the network is selling advertising dollars, they’re saying, “Who is this wild child saying these things?” that perhaps don’t align with corporate sponsors. The sponsors were still [Barbara’s] boss, and the network was still her boss. Now it is different. Now people say the craziest stuff, and the crazier the better, and people like that because it garners publicity and people love that.
Allison Kugel: It goes viral.
Debbie Matenopoulos: It goes viral. Back then, they wanted to sweep everything under the rug. They were like “Yes, we like you, just be you… with a little less you.” (Laughs). There is so much you, and we’re not sure if daytime TV is ready for all of that. Then the Kardashians came, and all this craziness, and I was thinking, “I wasn’t nearly as wild as they were.” It’s just that at the time I was 22 years old, on national television, and going out to concerts, going out to clubs, being a 22-year-old.
Allison Kugel: We’re the same age, and I remember watching you on The View back then. I thought you were funny, irreverent, interesting, and they had you doing some really cool and fun things. Then things took a left turn. I started hearing in the media, “Would you believe what Debbie said on The View?” Then people are parodying you on SNL and late-night TV and picking you apart as if you were supposed to be this seasoned politico and journalist. It was very weird, what happened to you.
Debbie Matenopoulos: It was very hard to deal with, because suddenly I get all of this fame and notoriety very quickly. It’s all fine and great and then like you said it turned on a dime and everyone started attacking me. I said, “Wait a second. You hired me to be this. You hired me to be the kid from MTV. That is all I ever told you I was.” It was hard to understand why it was all happening. It was also hard to read that stuff and hear that stuff. I really retreated and I didn’t want to work in this business anymore. I have a very strong family unit, thank God, because if I did not have such a strong family and wasn’t so supported by them… it was a safe haven. I really leaned on them a lot during that time, and I went back to Virginia and just moved back into my parents’ house and said, “I don’t want to do this.” The press was calling, and the paparazzi was trying to find me. I am not a person who likes to fight. I’m not a person that likes to make other people feel uncomfortable, and I’m not a person that likes to debate just for the sake of debating. That is kind of what that show had become. You were debating, but it wasn’t like that in the beginning, I’m telling you.
Allison Kugel: How was your firing from The View presented to you, exactly?
Debbie Matenopoulos: I was told the network was going in a different direction and yada yada yada. They did try to point things out to me like, I was young, I was going out to clubs, and at that time it was really intriguing to the paparazzi. They didn’t have anybody young in New York that was on a daytime show. I was the youngest person in history to be on a daytime show, so for them they were thinking, “Oh, she’s a loose cannon. At any moment we are going to get something good for the press.” And they were not wrong. I was a kid. Thank God there was no social media. Oh My God! Ooooh boy! I would have lasted two weeks, because the paparazzi would follow me around and Page Six… it made Barbara embarrassed as opposed to her saying, “Oh, we should talk about this on the show. We should say, “Well Debbie, it appears you are in the paper today for dancing on the bar at Hogs and Heifers.
Allison Kugel: Laughs.
Debbie Matenopoulos: My friends came into town, and I wanted to show them a good time. We go to Hogs and Heifers. I’m dancing on the bar. The paparazzi are there. And Page Six, who by the way, how did they know I was going to be there? Somebody tipped them off. It’s not like they just show up. And then it’s in the paper the next day. I go to the show the next morning and I’m saying “Hey” to everybody, and literally no one is talking to me, because they know I’m about to get in big trouble.
Allison Kugel: That would have been a perfect conversation starter though. That would have been like this is what is going on and gotten your perspective on it.
Allison Kugel: From dancing on the bar at Hogs and Heifers to sex tapes launching careers a few short year later (laugh)…
Debbie Matenopoulose: I was dancing on a bar. I’m not Kim Kardashian.
Allison Kugel: Did you ever watch Lisa Ling, who replaced you, or Elizabeth Hasselbeck, or were you not interested?
Debbie Matenopoulos: Lisa is still my friend. I love Lisa and I love Elizabeth. I’m not as close to Elizabeth as I am to Lisa, but I love both of them. It wasn’t their fault they got a job. They got the job because there was a spot. They wanted to hire someone different than me, so they hired Lisa, and it didn’t work out for her after two years. Then they hired Elizabeth and it didn’t work out for her. I would say I was just the first to be voted off the island. I was the original Survivor. Something about that was really healing for me. It was sort of validation and vindication that wait, it wasn’t me. It wasn’t me at all. For a minute you think it’s you and your like, “Gosh what have I done? I messed this whole thing up.” I always say was almost like a public beheading. It was like they called everyone down to time square and let’s put Debbie’s head into the guillotine and oh my gosh cheer. It was almost like gosh you guys are aggressive. I’m just a kid. Having had that done so early in my career prepared me for anything. I’m like Teflon now. The truth is it wasn’t me. I did everything they asked me to do and it just… the show was trying to find its footing.
Allison Kugel: You eventually moved to LA and went over to E! and hosted The Daily 10, which was very different. Were you personally heavy into celebrity gossip culture, or was it just a job?
Debbie Matenopoulos: I worked at MTV before, so initially the only reason I started working for MTV is because I’m such a music head. I love music. I’m tone deaf and I don’t play an instrument. I’m just a fan and I really love music. I told E!, “I was at MTV for the music, not for TV. When I got to E! a lot of the stuff we had to report on, I was thinking, “C’mon, this is so not right and not nice. I said to the producers, “So, I’m supposed to now deliver this to people at home about somebody. Who’s going out with who? Who’s having sex with who? God y’all, this is hard.” When I would do the interviews, I knew a lot of these [celebrities] already because I was already on The View, and they would come on The View. So, when I would go do the interviews with them, before I would get mic’d up, I would say to them, “Look, I have to ask you this. You don’t have to answer me.” I would say, “I can’t go back to my boss without asking you this, but I really don’t want to. This is an awful question, but you see it here [on the card].”
Allison Kugel: That is hilarious.
Debbie Matenopoulos: You know what’s interesting about that? Because I took the heat off of them and the heat off myself, and I let them know that I wasn’t there to make them feel bad or make them feel uncomfortable about what was happening in their personal life, because I did that, 90% of the time they would answer it. You’re not being mean. You’re not a threat. You’re not trying to make them look bad. Then, I would go back to [editing] and I would say, “Guys take care of them. Don’t make them look bad. Don’t make it ugly when you cut this piece together.” All of those moments were defining moments in my life. The third one would be my dad passing away from ALS. That brought me to my knees.
Allison Kugel: Oh my gosh! I am so sorry. When was that?
Debbie Matenopoulos: We are going on 9 years now. It seems like yesterday.
Allison Kugel: ALS is a brutal disease.
Debbie Matenopoulos: So hateful. With ALS, the person knows what is happening to them, and they are a prisoner in their own body. They do understand what’s going on, and there is nothing they can do about it. They feel guilty, because everyone else has to take care of them. He couldn’t move at the end. I fed him. I bathed him. I would have to pick him up. I left Hollywood and I went home. I quit [my career] for three years. I quit E! and they would say, “Are you crazy? You are ruining your career. No one is going to hire you when you come back.” I said, “I don’t really care. If you don’t hire me when I come back because I went to take care of my dad, I don’t want to work for you. That is just disgusting. What kind of human are you?” I don’t want to work for a company like that. I have one dad. There will be a gazillion shows, and you know what, I don’t want to grieve thinking I worked at E!, but I didn’t go home to take care of my dad.
Allison Kugel: You did the right thing. It goes without saying.
Debbie Matenopoulos: I was taking care of him one day, and it would take him a long time to speak and to get the words out. I had just heard about Fiji on the radio, and I said, “Gosh, I would really love to go there someday.” My dad was trying to say something, and I said, “What?” Struggling to speak the words, he manages to say to me, “Not someday. Today!” I said, “Dad today I’m taking you to physical therapy. How am I going to go to Fiji today?” He adamantly repeated, “Today. Look what happened to me. Not someday. Today!” He said, “Tomorrow is not a promised.”
Allison Kugel: What a life lesson. Right?
Debbie Matenopoulos: I’ve never forgotten. I was always so strong. I was looking out the window like, “Do not cry. Do not cry in front of him. Be strong.” I said “You know what? You’re exactly right.” I stayed as strong as I possibly could in front of him, but I would walk out of rooms sometimes and just lose it.
Allison Kugel: Let me ask you this. Do you pray? And if so, who or what do you pray to?
Debbie Matenopoulos: Growing up I was brought up in a Greek Orthodox family, and we went to church every Sunday. We did the Greek Easter and Christmas. We Fasted for 40 days which is why Greek people are so healthy. When they talk about the Mediterranean diet, I laugh because what most people don’t know about the Mediterranean diet is that Greek people fast for the holidays, which is like 180 days a year that they’re fasting. Fasting to them means no animal products at all. So, at different times of the year, they become vegan. No wonder they are so healthy. People don’t get it (laugh).
Allison Kugel: Damn, I didn’t know that.
Debbie Matenopoulos: What they don’t get about the Mediterranean diet is that they reset their bodies. But yes, we were very spiritual and religious growing up, and I was brought up in the church and I prayed a lot. I still do, but I pray to God and to the universe. I talk to my dad and my relatives that have passed. I think when you’re praying, you’re putting something out in the universe that is a desire, that you want to have fulfilled, whether it’s healing, happiness, or whatever it is. No matter what you believe in, you can put it out in the universe whether verbally, through meditation or with a manifestation board. It is all the same thing. You’re just calling it different things.
Allison Kugel: I was going to ask you what was the best is advice you’ve ever been given? But I really think that what your dad said is the best advice. That one word: “Today.” That is great advice. Tell me about the nine years you most recently spent, hosting the morning show, Home & Family on the Hallmark Channel.
Debbie Matenopoulos: What a great show. I had the most amazing nine years of my career. People would ask me, “But what about The View? What about E!? What about Entertainment Tonight?” And I would say, no. With Home & Family, our job was to spread joy. Legitimately, my job every day for nine years was to go to work and make people smile. Not discuss politics, not discuss religion, but to just say, “Hey, how are you doing today? Spend the next two hours with me. We are going to bake a cake. We are going to talk about celebrities and their pet projects.” There wasn’t digging into anything personal, ever. What are you doing to better your life and better the lives of the people around you? It was how to grow some herbs, garden, fix something in your house, make yourself look better for $20. It was a huge love bomb every day. We would laugh so hard to the point where we would cry.
Allison Kugel: Let’s talk your skincare line, Ikaria Beauty. I’ve been using your serum; the ageless beauty balm and exfoliating mask and I am in love. My skin feels like I’ve just had a facial, every day.
Debbie Matenopoulos: I am so proud of this, Allison. I’m so happy that you are saying that. This was such a labor of love. I have worked so hard on this thing and the world does not need another celebrity backed skincare line. I didn’t even put my name on it, because I don’t want people to think of it as just another backed line. I want people to see it and to experience it for what it really is. In my opinion it is phenomenal, and I did this because I have really awful, awful sensitive skin, to the point where I would get massive hives and crazy pimples. I went to so many dermatologists and spent so much money trying to fix my skin. No one was telling me what is happening and how I can make it better. I started to talk to my mom and my aunts, and they said, “The same stuff we’ve always been using. We tell you all the time. Look at our beautiful skin. Honey, olive oil, and goat’s milk.” I said, “I’m not putting goat’s milk on my skin.” (Laughs) But they were right. I started to look at my cookbook (It’s All Greek to Me/ BenBella Books) and I saw a lot of the same things that they were putting inside of our bodies are going on our bodies. If you live in Greece, it all makes sense. I told my chemists, “The main thing I want you to put in there is olive oil and honey.” We messed around with it. We went back and forth, and I said, “This is incredible.” So, I started giving it to everyone in the make-up room and that is how the Ageless Beauty Balm was born. There is honey, olive oil, royal jelly, and holy basil. It was very important to me that all of these things came from Greece because this is the basis of why I’m doing this. It is as good in my opinion or better than “La Mer” and so many of those other things because all of those things have chemicals in them. So that means you can wear it during the day and not worry about having light sensitivity.
Allison Kugel: And the serum has a retinol?
Debbie Matenopoulos: It’s plant retinol, which is another thing these companies don’t tell you. Why don’t they use plant retinol? Because they can make it in a lab for less money. If we use the plant retinol it will take a little bit longer, but it is not going to be so irritating to your skin as a chemical retinol would. Also, the collagen powder by the way that is a marine based collagen powder vs a bovine based collagen powder. Bovine based collagen powders don’t absorb into your body as quickly as marine based.
Allison Kugel: I want to go to Ikaria, and I want to use it while I’m there, (laugh) and have the full experience.
Debbie Matenopoulos: What an amazing place. One of the only five Blues Zones on the planet.
Allison Kugel: You have a seven-year-old daughter, right?
Debbie Matenopoulos: That was another defining moment in my life. When she was born. I mean God that will change you, won’t it? Having a child deeply changes everything.
Allison Kugel: Everything. You had your daughter at close to 40 if I’m doing the math right. Did you feel like when you were in your 30’s did you ever have a time where you felt like maybe that wasn’t going to happen in your life or because it did happen a little bit later or you just weren’t there yet?
Debbie Matenopoulos: I just wasn’t there yet. Looking back now I think geez had I known I was going to like being a mother so much I would have started much earlier. I would have been a teen pregnancy. If I knew I would love being a mom like this, I would have had 20 kids if I could. Who is going to pay for these people obviously? But I just think my life from the time I started at MTV until I kind of slowed down with my dad and when my dad passed away was so work focused. Everything was about work. Everything. It wasn’t until my dad got sick and I slowed down that I realized, “Gosh there is so much more to life than me just focusing on this career. Why am I doing this? What is the point of doing it if I’m not going to have anyone to share it with?” I have so many nieces and nephews and that is when I started thinking, “I want a family.” I guess maybe I was naïve although growing up in a Greek household my mom would say, “My god. You’re 28 years old you’re never going to have a baby. It’s too late.” (laugh)
I was fortunate enough to be able to have Alexandra and after unfortunately which I have not talked about, but after Alexandra I had such a hard time staying pregnant. I had 9 miscarriages. I was pregnant for like five years straight. Like pregnant and no one knew except the stylist I was pregnant. I would lose them. Always. The first three were super hard. The first three were really hard than after that I got to like “Is this a joke?” I’m thinking, “Really?!”
Allison Kugel: It gets surreal.
Debbie Matenopoulos: I just didn’t believe it. It didn’t matter. I would get pregnant like quick. Doesn’t matter. It turned out my blood type is such that after the first baby and the bloods kind of mix your blood kind of mixes so after the first baby because I have O- blood I needed to get a shot every time I was pregnant immediately the minute I knew because your body will try to attack a foreign object. Try to attack it thinking it was poisoning you or something.
Allison Kugel: So now that you solved the mystery are you going to try again?
Debbie Matenopoulos: I don’t know. My heart was broken so many times that I got to a point where I said, “Okay this is what the universe and what God wants, and this is just how it is supposed to be.” So, I just stopped trying. I stopped trying because I just felt so defeated and God, I love babies. When I look at little babies my ovaries hurt. I say, “Oh my God a little baby I just want to smoosh you.” The smell of them I love everything about them. I’d love to be able to give her a sister. I would have loved to have had… even adoption. You know what I mean? That is not out of the question either. But going through that like that I have a soft spot for anyone who’s ever had a miscarriage. Probably the worst one for me I was probably about 4 months at that point, and I had to host the “Golden Globes Red Carpet” for The Insider.
Allison Kugel: Like right after it happened?
Debbie Matenopoulos: I had the DNC on Saturday and had to host the Golden Globes on Sunday.
Allison Kugel: Oh God.
Debbie Matenopoulos: I still had anesthesia in my body because they put you under, so I was still breaking out. My make-up artist knew, my hair stylist knew, and the producers knew and I’m standing there trying to do these interviews thinking, “Who cares. What am I even saying right now?” I really have a lot of empathy for people who are trying to have children and can’t. I thank my lucky stars every day. Instead of turning it into why me I said thank you God. Thank you, universe, for giving me Alexandra.
Allison Kugel: Your daughter.
Debbie Matenopoulos: One healthy beautiful child because once you have a child you realize why people call it the miracle of childbirth. For the love of God, the fact that we are all walking around with ten fingers and ten toes and something tragic didn’t happen during the pregnancy or during the delivery is mind boggling. Your thinking, “Yeah of course. People have babies every day.” Once you’re in it your thinking, “Oh my. This is a situation.” (laugh)
Allison Kugel: What do you think you came into this life to learn, and what do you think you came here to teach?
Debbie Matenopoulos: Oh wow. I think we all come here to learn how to love and how to be loved. I really believe that. I know it sounds so simple, but no. Life is hard, man. Life is really hard. I don’t care if you are a billionaire or a pauper. Life is hard. I think we are all meant to learn how best to love one another and how best to love ourselves. How to give love. How to be loved and how to appreciate what we have been given. Because every single one of us is so fortunate that we woke up today because a lot of people didn’t. That is not lost on me, and I really hope that after this pandemic that it’s not lost on a lot of other people.
Allison Kugel: What do you think you’ve taught those around you, or those who have watched you, so far, in this life?
Debbie Matenopoulos: Maybe acceptance. I hope. I hope I can teach some people about acceptance of themselves. Resilience and being a good person. I just don’t think enough emphasis is put on that. What happened to just being a good person? That is enough. You are enough. You are enough as you are waking up today right now in this moment. You’re enough.
Allison Kugel: That is beautiful. I love that.
Debbie Matenopoulos: There is no such thing as perfection. If there was, perfection is boring. Who wants to be perfect? The world loves you as you are, and everyone has different circumstances, and everyone comes from different places. Everyone believes the stories in their head because of what somebody told them at some moment in their life, and for whatever reason that moment rang true, and it plays like a broken record. I would like to say scratch all of that. If I could teach anything, it is that you are your thoughts. Think good things.