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Debra Poneman- Hold True to Your Passions through Life’s Detours

The Canadian leader Douglas Everett once said, There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality. Then there are those who turn one into the other.

Debra Poneman has been turning dreams into reality for a long, long time. Not only has she done it for herself, but for hundreds and thousands of others, as well. She is the mentor of people like Dr. Deepak Chopra, Janet Attwood, co-author of The Passion Test and co-founder of Healthy Wealthy nWise, and Marci Shimoff, a number-one New York Times bestselling author and author of the current number two book, Happy for No Reason.

Debra is an award-winning keynote speaker, seminar leader, business owner, and author. As founder and president of ‘Yes to Success’ seminars, her breakthrough methods for how to create true success and prosperity, how to enjoy deep and lasting happiness, and how to realize your biggest dreams have been instrumental in transforming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

She’s also a wife and mother, and she attributes her current publishing success to her son, Daniel, who not only was recently featured in Sports Illustrated, but who seven years ago asked his mom to watch American Idol with him. Debra, happy to find any way to spend time with her son, soon became a die-hard fan, not only because she loved the singing, but she loved watching people’s dreams come true.

She ended up writing the recently released Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul. In writing this book Debra spent six months interviewing top-10 idols from every season, as well as backstage crew and fans. The book chronicles 74 powerful stories of obstacles overcome, lessons learned, and principles to live by that not only guided the Idols to fulfill their most cherished dreams, but that can guide every one of us to fulfill our own dreams.

For those of you who can’t wait to get a copy of that book, just go to www.HealthyWealthynWise.com/AmericanIdol.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Debra, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

DEBRA PONEMAN: Thank you for inviting me, Chris.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: This is one of the biggest treats. I know you and Janet have been friends and colleagues, and of course, she took your ‘Yes to Success’ seminar some 20 or 25 times. Is that right?

DEBRA PONEMAN: Yes, she holds the record.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: I think it’s just a statement of how powerful what it is that you teach, and have taught, is. I wonder as we begin if you would tell us the story of how Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul came to be, and how your passions, the things that mean the most to you, led you to the work that you do today?

DEBRA PONEMAN: Great. Before we start talking about the Idols, I’m happy to talk about myself and share my own story, which I think has its own dose of inspiration. As you said, 25 years ago I founded my company, Yes to Success. It started when I began reading books by great motivational masters like Napoleon Hill, Earl Nightingale, and Emmet Fox. I had the inspiration to take this knowledge of how to manifest your dreams and put it into a seminar, a step-by-step package that taught how to utilize these age-old principles of manifestation and make it accessible to everyday people.

It was basically because I saw that the world needed this knowledge that I launched my seminar company, put up my shingle, and within three years I went from seminars that had 10 or 12 people-and I know you know that, because Janet always talks about that; she was there!-to speaking to crowds of thousands, appearing on radio and TV talk shows around the country, and doing trainings and keynotes for major US corporations.

I was negotiating deals for my own daytime talk show. I had agents literally warring over who was going to represent the book I was writing based on my seminar. It was all incredibly fulfilling, because my passion was not only to lift and inspire, but to teach people how to discover and then manifest their dreams. Another one of my cherished goals was to write a book that would also inspire millions of people.

I was really, really living my passion. Then in 1988, something happened that turned my world upside down. None of our listeners have to brace themselves, because it wasn’t any kind of tragedy. That something was the birth of my daughter. I actually put my seminar activity on hold a little bit, because I did not have an easy pregnancy. The minute Deana was born the phone started ringing off the hook. When are you starting your seminars up again? The baby’s born; let’s get going! When are the first three chapters going to be finished? Bernie is waiting to talk to his people about the TV show. You’ve got to come to LA.

Chris, I’m telling you, I took one look at that little girl, and I knew that there was no way. I then had a new passion. I have to say right now that it’s the passion that Chris, who is interviewing me right now, is going to have any minute, because his wife literally is due any minute. I hope she doesn’t go into labor in the middle of this interview, but you’ll see exactly what I mean.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: I think we’re safe. I do know. Debra, it’s so great to hear you say it, because in The Passion Test, one of the things we say is it’s not only important to be clear about what your passions are, but then to choose in favor of your passions. What a great story of yours. Here you were with this huge success and people wanting you in all directions.

Many people would have found it very difficult to say no to those things. Yet you, in the light of this whole new creation in your life, this whole new soul in your life, were so clear. That’s the thing: when you’re clear, what you want will show up in your life, and only to the extent you’re clear. You were so clear that she was your passion. What a great story of choosing in favor of your passion. What happened after that?

DEBRA PONEMAN: Needless to say, Chris, a lot of people said I was absolutely nuts to stop my career when it was just about to explode. Again, I was the one who was teaching the principle that when you follow your heart creation rejoices, and eventually everything will fall into place. I was the one who was trying to teach the people that your dreams are waiting for you, and they will be there in divine timing. You don’t have to push.

I knew that my passion was to be a transformational speaker, and I knew that my passion was to write a book and inspire millions. I also knew my passions would be waiting for me on the other side, because right then my passion was to watch my daughter take her first step and speak her first words, to take my daughter, and later my son as well, to school in the morning and tuck them in at night. That’s what I did for 19 years.

I also had, and still have, a wonderful home-based business, as you know, with a wonderful company, Melaleuca, but it was a business that I worked around my family. As you know, Chris, the seminar industry involves a lot of traveling and being in hotel rooms, and that was no longer a part of my passion. Then how did this book come to be? As you said in the introduction, that was because of my son. When Daniel was 10 he started watching American Idol Season One.

He was totally transfixed, which is unusual, because we’re not a big TV-watching family. One day he said to me, Mommy, you have to watch this with me. You’re going to love it. Of course, my first thought is, Please don’t make me sit and watch a talent show. Then, the consummate mother that I am, and as you said, appreciating that I could spend some time with Daniel doing something that we both could enjoy, I said, Great, Daniel! I would just love to watch that show with you.

Truthfully, it didn’t take me more than two shows, and I was a full-fledged Idol fanatic. Of course, we went to the ‘Idols Live’ tour, the concert, that summer together. Then the next season, which was the Clay-Ruben season, my husband and daughter joined us to watch the show, and then whole family went to the concert the next summer, twice. This is actually another very cool thing; all along the way, I would always say to my kids, I’m going to get to know those Idols personally.

I’m going to do something with those Idols. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I’m going to do something with those Idols, and my kids believed me. One of the greatest principles I teach-and I know you teach it in The Passion Test-is to just know what you want. Don’t worry about the how. Let a power greater than yourself organize the how. If you know what you want, the how will come to you. I knew I wanted to meet those Idols.

Fast-forward to the end of Season Two, and what do I discover? Our dear mutual friend, Marci Shimoff, author of Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul, Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul, and, of course, now Happy for No Reason, I discovered that she was also a closet Idol-oholic. We started emailing each other back and forth every week our weekly reviews, complete with editorials. We swooned, Did you just die when Clay sang Bridge over Troubled Waters?

We were outraged, Do you believe Jennifer Hudson got voted off? and, of course, the ever popular, I’m never watching again. Of course, all the Idol fans on the line are laughing right now. Then, of course, we were very petty. What was with Carrie’s hair this week? We thought our editorials were so brilliant that we should publish them. We kept talking about that all the time, and then one day we both said, Oh, my gosh! Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul!

I know that was a long story, but you have to remember that my passion over 20 years ago was to write an inspirational book. My desire over the last six years was to meet and work with the Idols. Why did all that come together? Because I followed my passion of being a mom, and I made spending time with my kids my top priority. Now, 20 years later, I’m starting where I left off, and I’m starting to give seminars again. It’s just perfect.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: That’s just fabulous. It’s a fabulous story, an incredible story, and also a great hope to everyone on the line who finds that it seems as if they’re going in a direction that’s opposite, sometimes, when they’re choosing their passions. What a great reminder that it’s always available, as long as we’re clear. Years and years ago in your ‘Yes to Success’ seminars, you were already talking about concepts like the Law of Attraction.

As you said, these are all principles that Janet, myself, Marci, Deepak Chopra and so many others have also picked up, adopted, stolen from you in one form or another. Now you’re telling me that you actually learned something from talking to Idols on American Idol? You’ve got tell us how that’s possible.

DEBRA PONEMAN: On to the Idols! Yes, 100%. I absolutely learned principles of success from the Idols. The difference is this. I had to learn these principles by reading books and going to seminars. What I discovered when I was working with the Idols is that they live these principles intuitively. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have gotten to the top, because the truth is hundreds of thousands of people audition.

There were undoubtedly better singers and more attractive people; but the ones who became household names, when you read their stories in my book you’ll see they live these principles of success without knowing that they were living principles of success. I’ll never forget when Jennifer Hudson was voted off. The whole country was in shock. That year, for those people who watch Idol, the three divas were in the bottom three, and Jennifer Hudson was voted off at six.

Everyone said, That shouldn’t have happened! This is an outrage! There was Jennifer in her interview the next morning, because they always had the interview the morning after. The interviewer asked her how she felt. Did she think it was a racial thing? Did she think it was injustice? Jennifer just peacefully and calmly said, It’s always perfect. If God didn’t have another plan for me, I wouldn’t have been voted off. Come on! Did God have another plan for that woman, or what?

Of course, that’s also what our dear friend Byron Katie teaches in her book Loving What Is. It’s the absolute perfection of all things. Actually, I remember being with Katie when someone asked her what was the difference between what she teaches and the knowledge in the film The Secret, which is a wonderful film, but I loved Katie’s answer. She said, ‘The Secret’ teaches that you can have exactly what you want. I teach that you can want exactly what you have. Jennifer apparently lived that principle.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: She did, didn’t she? The Academy Awards and all. I’d like you just to clarify for our listeners regarding these stories of all the Idols who are in your book. You wrote those stories for the Idols, or they wrote their own stories?

DEBRA PONEMAN: It’s a good question. Actually, some of the Idols wrote their own stories. Carrie Underwood, for example, is an excellent writer. She was a journalism major, so I didn’t have to do but a word or two of editing with her stories. Kimberly Caldwell wrote her own. Carmen Rasmusen wrote her own. A lot of the kids wrote their own. A lot of the Idols are not great at writing, or they were too busy.

Last season’s Idols were too busy to write, so I went backstage, and I personally interviewed all of the Idols from Season Six. That was also when I went backstage and I interviewed bandleader Rickey Minor; Debra Bird, the vocal coach; Nigel Lythgoe, who’s the producer; the directors; and the hairstylists. The other kids from the other seasons, who weren’t great writers, I interviewed most of them over the phone.

I do want to add that I interviewed them, I recorded their interview, I wrote down their story almost word for word, and then we edited it together. I don’t want anybody to think, Come on! Could everybody be that good of a writer? Definitely their words and definitely their heart is in every story.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: That’s so cool. This sounds like it was a terribly tough job, Debra.

DEBRA PONEMAN: I know!

CHRIS ATTWOOD: You’re having to go backstage at American Idol and having to interview all of these contestants. How did you bear it? I just don’t know!

DEBRA PONEMAN: Yes, it was really tough, but someone had to do it.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Someone had to do it. You said that every Idol you worked with demonstrated a principle of success in their story. Can you give us some examples, at least one?

DEBRA PONEMAN: Yes, absolutely. Let’s start with Gina Glocksen, because I love Gina. She was the rocker from last season with a little red streak in her hair. Her passion, obviously, was singing; but when she auditioned for Idol she was working as a dental assistant. She auditioned second season, and didn’t even make it past the first round. She was told that she was a rocker; they didn’t really think she was right for the competition.

She went home and she did an audition for Season Three or Four, but watched religiously and thought, Wait a second! This isn’t for rockers? It sure looks like it’s for rockers. What’s with Constantine and Bo Bice? They’re rockers. When Season Five rolled around she decided, and this is what she says in the story, She didn’t want to suck saliva the rest of her life. She’s a stitch; I love the girl.

She auditioned again and made it all the way to Hollywood Week. When she was doing her final audition that would have gotten her into the top 32, she forgot her words. You all know that that is an instant goodbye. She says in her story that she was so devastated that she said she would never do it again; but when Season Six rolled around her boyfriend said to her, Gina, don’t lose sight of your passion. I have a feeling this is your year.

She went to LA hoping the judges would remember her, and they did. She went to LA, and she didn’t even make it past the first round. They said to her, You just brought back what you did last year. You didn’t up it at all. Now really, wouldn’t most people give up at that point?

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Yes.

DEBRA PONEMAN: Not Gina! In her story she says, I wasn’t going to let anybody tell me I couldn’t follow my dreams. Take note of that. The next week, she was off to the auditions in Nashville, and the rest is history. Not only was she in the top 10, but she is now-newsflash-the new anchorperson this year for Idol Extra. I have to tell you one other thing about Gina. I love what she said last weekend.

Last weekend we were doing some book signings together in Chicago-and we’re actually going to do another one in Evanston this weekend. It was being covered by Prime Time Chicago, a TV station here in Chicago. The interviewer asked her, Didn’t it cost you a lot to fly around to four different cities to audition four times? Gina said, You can’t put a price on a dream. What’s the principle here? You know. Winston Churchill’s six-word secret to success: Never, never, never, never give up.

May I add that when you do what you are put on earth to do, creation rejoices. Another correct piece of the puzzle of creation is put into place when someone fulfills their destiny.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Fabulous. Debra, isn’t this the case when someone is so deeply passionate? I just have to ask you this. Sometimes it sounds like if I’m really committed, then I’ll never give up. Don’t you see, in people like Gina and some of the other Idols, that their passions were so deep in them that they almost couldn’t give up? It was as if it drove them from the inside?

DEBRA PONEMAN: Yes. I absolutely believe that, and I do absolutely believe that everybody has a destiny, even if you’re not going to fulfill it this week, this month, or this year. Remember, Gina was not going to audition for American Idol anymore, because she believed what the judges said, but it just kept coming up and kept coming up until she fulfilled it.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: That’s so cool. It occurs to me that it may be a way of knowing that something really is your passion, that in spite of all the times you try to give up, you simply can’t.

DEBRA PONEMAN: Yes. Absolutely, 100%. I hope that everybody listening is listening very closely to that.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: You said you were going to share the Law of Success that got Clay Aiken and Mandisa to risk everything, and the resulting miracles that came from that. Will you tell us that story?

DEBRA PONEMAN: Yes. I love Clay’s story, but I have to tell you, Chris, the Idol fans on the phone are a little upset with you calling her Mandisa.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Oh, dear! I’m in trouble now! Thank you. I’ll never do it again, I promise.

DEBRA PONEMAN: That’s okay. I forgive you, and actually, this is about forgiveness. I love the stories in the book. I’ll tell you about each one separately, and how Clay and Mandisa demonstrated some powerful principles of success, specifically being true to yourself. You’ll see. Do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to read you an excerpt from Clay’s story. I want everyone listening to see if they can see the principles at play here. Is that okay, Chris?

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Absolutely.

DEBRA PONEMAN: Again, Clay is talking about being in Atlanta on tour, and here goes. Remember, Clay is writing this. I just have to say it was so fun interviewing Clay, because he was on a cell phone when we were talking, and the call kept dropping. He kept having to call me back. Then he would say, Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?

I thought, Oh, my gosh! I am saying ‘Can you hear me now?’ with Clay Aiken! Anyway, so here are Clay’s words: As I’m signing autographs, a very petite, pretty girl walks up to me and says, Your ‘Invisible’ video made such an impact on my life. I didn’t want to argue with her, but I thought she must have gotten that confused with some other video I’d done.

I thought it couldn’t have been ‘Invisible.’ That was just a self-congratulatory video of me singing on the stage in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard with a bunch of people cheering. There was no story line; there was nothing inspirational about it. How in the world could that video have impacted anybody? Are you sure you don’t mean some other video? I asked.

No, I’m sure it was ‘Invisible, she said. I asked her to please explain, and she did. Well, Clay, I used to weigh about 200 pounds. She paused. You look great, but what does that have to do with ‘Invisible’? When I saw the girl on the stage with you in that video and you put your arm around her, it made me feel so much better about myself, because you had an overweight girl in your video, and you accepted her.

Because of that, I was finally able to accept myself. After that, my whole life changed, and I lost 90 pounds. Then it dawned on me what she was referring to. While we were making the video, the music director had pulled someone out of the audience and put her on the stage with me. She wasn’t hugely overweight; she was just a healthy-looking girl, but I guess she didn’t exactly fit the image of what people usually see on music videos.

She wasn’t stick-thin or model-gorgeous, but I never thought anything of it. Thank you so much for sharing that with me, I said, but a simple thank you was hardly adequate for the gift that young lady had given me. Her words led me to the realization that you never know the one thing you do that is going to impact someone’s life. I try to set the right example, but that day I realized that even things I would never think would make an impact do.

I never would have thought that video would have affected anybody in any kind of positive way, and lo and behold, it did. The person it affected most was me. I realized that from then on, I was going to have normal, average, everyday-looking people in all my videos. I literally had to fight with the people from my record label. They were not going to let me do it.

They said that the video wouldn’t sell, but I wouldn’t budge. When we made the video I told them I didn’t want any anorexic-looking girls or model-perfect guys. If we did have beautiful people, I wanted the beautiful girl to be with the overweight guy, and the average-looking girl with the model guy. I wanted people to know it doesn’t matter what you look like, that everyone is good enough.

I realized that’s why Idol has the impact it does. You never see a contestant with that music-video look. It’s about real people, and I think the reason why Season Two was so exciting is because not only were Ruben, Kimberly, and I all from out in the middle of nowhere, Podunk, but we were all extremely normal, average-looking people. We would have never gotten record contracts if it weren’t for that show: Ruben being such a big guy; Kimberly, who was gorgeous, but a plus-size woman; and me. I was a dork, and I still am a dork.

We’re all just normal people from down the street and around the block. The final realization I had that day in Atlanta is that it’s not just people who are in the public eye who have an impact on others. You don’t have to make a music video to make a difference in someone’s life. You can be a bagger at a grocery store or a teller at a bank. You never know when something you do is going to impact someone’s life without you even knowing it.

You don’t have to be Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, Kimberly Locke or any Idol. My fan in Atlanta is proof of that. That’s Clay’s story, and there are two very important principles that are in it. I’ll bet your listeners picked them out. One is being true to yourself and standing up for what you believe, as he did to the producers of his video, even risking his career.

This wasn’t done before, having everyday people in music videos. The second is that you don’t have to be Clay Aiken to impact people’s lives. Every single one of us has an impact on so many others, no matter what you do. Also, everyone has a gift to give. If you didn’t have a gift to give, you wouldn’t have come on the planet. Every one of us is a container for some purpose.

Clay’s purpose is to sing. My purpose may be to be a mom and write inspirational books. Someone else’s purpose might be to bag groceries. Whatever you do-and here’s another important principle-do it with your whole heart. As Martin Luther King said, and I just heard this quote yesterday, If your gift is to sweep floors, then sweep and sweep and sweep until the angels come down and say, ‘Good job!’

CHRIS ATTWOOD: What a great quote. What a great story. Thank you so much.

DEBRA PONEMAN: Isn’t it?

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Fabulous story. I know that our listeners are wanting to get this book after hearing these stories. I just want to let everyone know, again, you can get Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul, from where these stories come, by going to www.HealthyWealthynWise.com/AmericanIdol.

DEBRA PONEMAN: Can I tell the Mandisa story? I got so carried away with Clay.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Yes, if you would.

DEBRA PONEMAN: I didn’t tell you about Mandisa.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: That’s right. Please.

DEBRA PONEMAN: I know that the Idol fans on the line know her story, but the future Idol fans on the line don’t, so I’m going to tell it quickly. Mandisa was a contestant on Season Five. She was this amazing singer who was known because she was very vocal about being a Christian, and also because she struggles with her weight.

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