JILLIAN MICHAELS WORKOUT
"Are you really going to chew my jeans?"
Late on a Thursday afternoon, Jillian Michaels is sitting crosslegged in an armchair in the study of her Hollywood Hills home. Her chestnut-colored hair is tied back in a loose bun, gray Havaianas flip-flops long removed. While her greyhound mix, Seven, stretches out on the floor, her other dog, Harley, has wriggled onto Jillian's lap and is gnawing at the fringe of her ripped jeans.
Wait…Jillian Michaels getting chewed out? Shouldn't it be the other way around?
As the merciless personal trainer on NBC's popular reality series The Biggest Loser, Jillian is a feisty drill sergeant who screams down contestants' defenses in their gut-wrenching weight-loss battles. It is a ferocious toughlove style that audiences love to hate, and hate to love. But Jillian's in-your-face approach doesn't just offer high drama—it yields results and has inspired a multigenerational fan following.
Today the 36-year-old is as animated as her Loser persona. Green eyes flashing, she passionately speaks her mind, casually fires off Fbombs, and has a tendency to smack her hands together in excitement. But unlike the Jillian we see on TV, this one is approachable, putting you at ease as she explains her new mission: to become an all-around life coach. "I want to empower people to find happiness via a healthy lifestyle," she says. "And when I say healthy, I don't just mean diet and exercise. Those are just tools."
A Lot on Her Plate
Those tools are helping Jillian build quite an empire. Along with The Biggest Loser, she's executive producing and starring in a new NBC series, Losing It with Jillian, set to begin airing this summer. She has two new books—The Master Your Metabolism Cookbook and The Master Your Metabolism Calorie Counter. Then there's her blockbuster workout DVDs, a line of diet supplements, and games for Nintendo Wii, as well as discussion of her own daytime talk show next year. Mention that 2011 is when The Oprah Winfrey Show goes off the air and those eyes widen in assent. "That's exactly when Oprah goes off the air!" she declares. So it's not a coincidence? "No, mama! It's been waiting for that moment. And now that moment is happening."
Ask where her desire to help comes from, and Jillian brings up a video she saw last year of a deer that had jumped into the lions' den at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The deer eventually escaped a lion's clutches, but its wounds were so severe it had to be put down. "I was hysterical," she recalls. "All I could think was, Why did no one come [to help]?"
She could be referring to herself. Jillian talks openly about her "troubled" childhood in the suburbs of L.A.: Her parents separated when she was 12, around the time their daughter's weight topped 175 pounds. "I was an only child at the time, so there was nowhere to go with any of it," she says. "I felt abandoned." Vowing to "never have that feeling again," she found a calling in comforting others when they feel their most vulnerable. "It's a desire to fix it," she says.
First she had to fix herself. After her parents split up, Jillian found strength in martial-arts classes and started shedding the weight. After graduating from high school, she attended California State University at Northridge before dropping out, bartending (she was the one with the fake ID), and falling into a fitness career as a fluke. "I was training for my black belt," she says. "People saw me at the gym and thought I was a trainer." A case of mistaken identity spurred her into getting her certification.
When her then-boyfriend suggested she get a real job, Jillian faked a college diploma to secure a position at the talent agency ICM. She left after about three years and was establishing her own gym and sports medicine facility when an ICM agent tipped her off to the auditions for a new show called The Biggest Loser. "Jillian was everything you could hope for," recalls executive producer Dave Broome. "She had the chops we wanted." Even better, he says, her early struggles with weight made her relatable.
The Biggest Loser, in which contestants compete to post the biggest weight loss, has made Jillian arguably the most famous female workout coach in the country. She's aware of her role as the Simon Cowell of exercise and doesn't apologize for her balls-out training techniques, which push contestants out of their comfort zones. Still, she says, "It would be nice if people could hear my logic. It would save me a lot of heartache in the middle of the night."