Exit Interview: Natalie

Often introduced as the "World Famous USC Song Girls," USC's take on the college cheerleader has long been a mainstay of Trojan Football. With their traditional white sweaters, oversized Cardinal and Gold pom-poms, and synchronized dancing, the USC Song Girls are a major source of traditional collegiate spirit for USC fans around the world.

Beyond the picture perfect smiles and endless packets of energy that seem to possess the Song Girls at events lies a strong commitment to excellence by these individuals who are chosen to represent the University on some of the most public stages available to any college student.

For the past two years, Natalie, USC Song Girl co-captain, has consistently been one of the most taped, photographed, and well-known members of USC's Song squad. While many excitedly jump at the opportunity to take a picture with a Song Girl, few have the opportunity to learn about what goes into being one of the most visible representatives of USC.

After speaking with Natalie, whose poise and warm personality would impress even the coldest of college admissions counselors; it became even more obvious why the Song Girls have become such a beloved part of the Trojan Football experience. After the interview, Natalie donated an autographed Song Girl poster that will be sold at a future WeAreSC dinner to raise money for the Mario Danelo Memorial fund as well.

WeAreSC is proud to present its first ever Song Girl Exit Interview: Natalie.

WEARESC: We're here with Natalie, our USC Song Girls co-captain for the 2006-2007 year. First off, thanks so much for taking some time out of your busy schedule to talk to us during basketball season.
NN: No problem, thanks for having me!

WEARESC: You've been bestowed with the co-captain title this year, can you tell us what that entails and what your relationship is with the other co-captains of the squad this year?
NN: Basically what it means is that I'm appointed to run all the practices. So I'll do the routines, count, lead stretching, and pretty much run a large portion of practice. Also, when it comes to doing interviews or if someone needs to represent the squad, I'll usually fill that role. If I can't be there for any reason, I turn to my co-captains, Kim and Anasheh. Also, if I feel like they'll do a better job at something, then they'll take over as well. I basically end up running practice, in terms of fixing routines and cleaning them up, and they'll be right by my side.

WEARESC: What has been the big change for you now that you're in your second and last year of being a Song Girl?
NN: Last year, I was really nervous and I stood in the back. Kristin was captain last year and she always ran practice. I really looked up to her and her leadership because it is a hard job to be captain. It's hard because you're trying to be best friends with all these girls because we're so close, but at the same time, you're trying not to be too silly because you do have to get things done. Last year, I would be hanging in the back. But this year, I've been in charge of leading the group and doing all that comes with it. I think that's probably the biggest change, but we have such a great time.

WEARESC: You've been quoted numerous times as saying that your relationship with your mom is something that's really important to you and that she is the most important person in your life. Tell us about that relationship and how it works having your mom also be your boss.
NN: My mom is definitely the most influential person in my life. I know for everyone on the squad, she is like a second mother to everyone on the squad. When I walk in the practice room, she's my coach. I had to learn how to separate her being my mom to her being my coach. Basically, she's always there for everyone. It's an awesome experience to be in the same room with her every single day. Some people wonder, "How do you do it?" But she's coached me from Pop Warner all the way up, so I'm used to it and we have a great time.

WEARESC: We see the pom-poms, the white sweaters, the blindingly perfect smiles, and the rhythmic victory signs on and off the field, but a lot of us probably don't know about all the hard work that you guys put in during the week. Can you take us into a football game week in the life of a Song Girl?
NN: We have Monday, Wednesday, Friday practices from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM, then on Tuesdays and Thursdays our practices are from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. On Fridays, we have jock rallies in Heritage Hall. Usually on Fridays, we go straight from practice to Heritage Hall. That's basically our practice schedule during the week. Then Saturday mornings, we generally get up at 8:00 AM, but that changes depending on the game time, and we have "band practice" where we practice on Cromwell Field with the band. We run through pre-game, halftime, post-game, just pretty much everything. After practice, we go home, get ready, and get ourselves to the game. That's just a typical game week, but that doesn't include gigs and performances that we're hired for on the side. So we could have three or four other events going on, like rallies during rivalry weeks, events for other sports, and those can all be on the same day. It varies from week to week.

WEARESC: Tell us a little bit about Song Girl boot camp. I've heard that you guys go through this before the season. USC has been known to pull in strong recruiting classes, so what are you guys looking for in new Song Girl recruits during boot camp?
NN: Basically, we're ambassadors of the University and we need girls who are excited to carry on all the pride and tradition of the Song Girls. There's definitely a certain type of girl that we need to have in order to carry on the pride that we have as Song Girls. Boot Camp is awesome. It's our biggest bonding experience before the football season starts. We go from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM doing practices for Boot Camp – running, learning routines – we're just trying to perfect everything before the year starts. That's when all the new girls and veteran girls really get together and everyone becomes really close.

WEARESC: What are some of the squad's traditions?
NN: We have one tradition called "Secret Song Girl." Every game, you bring your Secret Song Girl something that you would want on gameday – snacks, drinks, maybe throw a little present in there. We choose in the beginning of the year by choosing brown paper bags with everyone's names on them. Then at the end of the year, we reveal who is everyone's Secret Song Girl. We have a big party and you get your Secret Song Girl a big present.

WEARESC: Does everyone know who her Secret Song Girl is before the end of the year?
NN: *Laughs* Yeah, definitely. This year, one of the girls didn't make the first game, but I had her bag, so I instantly knew. I think I had everyone figured out this year, except for maybe two girls. It's still a lot of fun.

WEARESC: I know you guys get a lot of funding from donations, but how can fans best support you guys?
NN: Basically, my mom and Justine do a really great job at fundraising. I've had the chance get involved with great activities like our Junior Song Girl Camp, where I got to help coordinate the camp and help teach dances to the "future Song Girls," which is a lot of fun. People can also go to the official USC Song Girls website [http://www.usc.edu/student-affairs/IMREC/spirit/song/] and donate to the program. But it's the fans support and people standing there cheering us on that is just unbelievable. We go to away games and it's just crazy. People at away stadiums say what they want to say, even though they don't mean it. But it's our fans' support for us on and off the field that just makes everything so great.

WEARESC: What would a typical fan not know about you guys?
NN: That's a tough one. But we always have a Senior Send-Off dinner where we take a limo, bring dates, and go to a restaurant together. We do little side parties, dinners, but I don't really know what else people would want to know about us *Laughs*

WEARESC: How many pictures do you think you pose for before and after every football game?
NN: *Laughs* Oh my gosh, I cannot even tell you how many. Even when we're marching to and from the Coliseum, people are asking us for pictures. And we'll stop really quick and take one before Art Bartner [USC Band Director] gets mad at us for holding up the band. I cannot even tell you because there are so many pictures of us being taken. Even if we're not even looking, we'll see pictures of us on the Internet that we didn't even notice being taken! *Laughs*

WEARESC: Do you ever feel like Mickey Mouse?
NN: *Laughs* Yeah, sometimes you're standing there and worrying, "Does my smile look real right now?" For instance, during the Rose Bowl parade, we were trying to stand on the float, smile, and look all pretty, but it's not as easy as you'd think to smile for that long.

WEARESC: While there's a lot of hard work that goes into being a Song Girl, a lot of doors and opportunities seem to open up for the Song Girls as well. What opportunities have come your way from being a Song Girl?
NN: Being on Song has provided me with so many great opportunities. I was honored to do the cover of Los Angeles Magazine and do that with a UCLA cheerleader. That was just an awesome experience. We're always asked to do commercials and movies day in and day out. We get to participate in fundraisers, speaking opportunities, you name it, chances are we're all over it *Laughs*. Sometimes, it's long hours, but when we all get together, even though we get kind of silly, it always makes everything so much fun.

WEARESC: I consider the Song Girls to be celebrities at USC. Do people recognize in class or when you're walking around on campus?
NN: You don't want to think that way, but sometimes you see people looking at you and know that they recognize you. We get a lot of looks especially when we're wearing our practice clothes because a lot of times we go straight from practice to class or vice versa. We don't want to think it, but we realize that people recognize us sometimes because we're out in front of thousands and thousands of people for games. Then the Internet, I'm guessing some people know who we are off the website.

WEARESC: What are some of the more weird interactions you've had with people recognizing you, even when you're in "regular" attire?
NN: I know Lauren went to Hawaii recently with her family for Christmas. She was in a Wal-Mart with her family and some guy came up to her and asked, "Are you a USC Song Girl?" She was in her sweats, no makeup, and she said, "Yeah, how did you know?" The guy told her, "Oh man, I love the USC Song Girls!" I guess he knew us just from the website. I haven't encountered anything like that.

WEARESC: What about High School Natalie? You're a Song Girl co-captain today, many of us would think you were racking up the Prom Queen and Homecoming Queen awards in high school. What were you like over there, did you win any awards, or were you known for anything in particular?
NN: I was actually on two dance teams in high school. I was also really involved in modeling. I was really concentrating on that. I wasn't even sure if I was going to be a Song Girl because I was really into modeling and was doing really well. When I came to USC, I had the idea that I just had to do it [be a Song Girl] for one year. I didn't try out my first year, but of course, I ended up eventually loving it. But I was up for Homecoming Queen and I won senior year's "Best Dressed" or something like that *Laughs*. I just did little things here and there, but mostly was just involved with dancing and modeling.

WEARESC: You've said on a few occasions that you grew up on the steps on Heritage Hall. Tell us about your connection with USC and what made you enroll?
NN: My mom has coached since I was about three years old, so I basically lived in Heritage Hall. I brought my bike, my baby dolls, my roller skates – you name it, my mom had it in the back of the car for all three of us kids. She'd pick us up from school then go straight down to USC. My whole family went to USC, so I had no other choice. I applied to schools in New York, Miami, and USC, hoping to go to USC, but I wasn't sure. I was actually a second semester admit, so I was wondering, "Should I go? Or not?" It's wonderful getting in, but when you're a second semester admit, you're wondering, "Should I go somewhere that wants me?" Deep down, I knew I wanted to go to USC and stay close to home.

WEARESC: Did you always know that you'd end up a Song Girl?
NN: I think when I graduated from high school, I was just so focused on my [modeling] career. I was so driven because I was doing so well. I was wrestling with whether I should model, make money, or be a Song Girl. I got to USC and didn't know if I wanted to be a Song Girl because it is a huge commitment. I took a step back and thought "Maybe I'll just try out next year," which is why I didn't up trying out my first year. Then I decided I would just try it out, thinking I could just do it for a year. I tried out and of course, it was the best experience of my life. I have no regrets, except I wish that I would have done it for three years. It has been the most amazing experience ever.

WEARESC: Who were you closest with on the squad? You don't have to choose favorites, but I'm sure you were closer with some members of the squad?
NN: Honestly, we are all pretty much like best friends. I mean, last year's squad, we clicked so fast and we were all immediately best friends. We still do mass emails and stay in contact with everyone. This year, I think there's seven new girls, so it took longer for us to bond, but I can't think of one girl that I'm not close to. Obviously, I'm probably closer with the girls who were on the squad last year. But for instance, Lauren, I grew up with her. Kim was my roommate. Pretty much, I just know all of them really well *Laughs*.

WEARESC: You guys come blazing out of the tunnel before every game. Has anyone ever fallen down and are you racing any of the other Song Girls to a spot?
NN: You know, that's funny because I don't think anyone has ever fallen coming out, but I know everyone is freaking out because they're thinking, "I know I'm going to fall. It's the first time, so I'm going to trip." Everyone is super paranoid. If you watch us, we start by the football team, and we always say the fastest ones stay by the team and the slower ones go out toward the middle of the field. Usually, I'm one of the fastest. I usually pass by Lauren or some of the other girls, but it's so funny and it's like a race for us.

WEARESC: Last year, you chased down a would-be thief who tried to steal your purse while you guys were practicing. What happened? And if he didn't drop your purse, how long would it have taken for you to catch up to him?
NN: It was during summer camp, I think. We run on the track every morning. We were running and we set our purses and bags down on the bleachers. While running, I saw a guy up there and thought, "That guy is about to steal our stuff." The benches were on the other side of the track from where we were and I told the other girls, "Watch this, that guy is going to steal my purse." The guy slowly dropped down and picked up my purse and I was thinking, "Oh my gosh…" I started running, screaming – I cannot even remember what came out of my mouth. He saw me and the look on my face, all the girls were telling me to stop and I was thinking, "Heck no!" I've grown up on this campus and people might think it's scary, but to me, it's not. So I just take off after this guy and the look on his face is just that of total shock. I take off after him, and I knew that football had practice so we're coming out of the track and I ran, pushed the door to the field open and yelled for DPS [Department of Public Safety] because I knew they were at practice, and I kept running after the guy.
Two track runners crawled under the fence, DPS was running fast behind me, but I was way in front of everyone else. Everyone started yelling at me because they thought he was going to pull a knife on me, but I literally could have reached and grabbed his shirt and pulled him because I was so close. I thought, "What if he does have a gun? Or has a knife?" Everyone kept yelling at me, so I stopped and DPS took care of it. If no one else was there, I still regret that I didn't catch him because I wanted to catch him so bad. It was so funny, but all the girls were just screaming at me the whole way.

WEARESC: Probably one of the best stories I've ever heard.
NN: It was funny *Laughs*. But we did get the purse back. He ended up throwing it on the ground because he got scared. But they never caught him because he ran into an apartment building. Apparently, he had his route all planned out.
WEARESC: Was it a Prada bag?
NN: No, it was a Louis Vuitton little purse *Laughs*.

WEARESC: Clearly, you're pretty athletic and I read somewhere that on your perfect date, you would play sports all day. Based on that, if you were to choose five members of this year's squad, one being yourself, to get into an athletic competition with five members of the Trojan Dance Force – Track, Football, Volleyball, Soccer, and Swimming – which four other members of this year's squad would you choose? Who would win?
NN: *Laughs* Definitely Anasheh, for sure. She's tough. Kim, Jacquelyn, I would think because she'd be tough. Maybe Allison or Lara, she's the feisty one.
WEARESC: The Delta Gammas stick together.
NN: Yeah *Laughs*.

WEARESC: You claim you can get ready for anything in 20 minutes, would you still attest to that?
NN: Yes, definitely.
WEARESC: Even for pre-game?
NN: Pre-game is different because you have to curl the hair, spend some time on yourself. People don't believe me, but I think anyone can be ready in 20.

WEARESC: Over the past five years, my personal favorite dance is the "BootyBootyBootyBooty Rockin' Everywhere" dance. Who made up the dance and who generally makes up routines?
NN: We actually didn't know the band was going to play that song. Then all of a sudden, at practice we were trying to think of something to do, then Teni came up with that cheer. We always do "Lean With It," so we just thought to do it in a group. It's funny because now we see people in the stands getting in a line and doing it. We love that. We just love it. We actually hire choreographers to come in and do the routines. We make the sideline routines, but if we need something the day before the game, I'll bring in something, or someone else will bring in something and we'll throw it all together last minute.

WEARESC: You've done a lot of modeling and you've gotten recognition from Athlon Sports, CNNSI.com, tons of Cheer-related shoots, and you've been the unfortunate victim of Internet Photoshopping. Is modeling something you're hoping to pursue?
NN: Yeah, that's one of the reasons why I graduated early [to pursue modeling]. Now that I'm done with school and Song, I can finally give it my all. Now I can put everything into modeling and just see where it goes.

WEARESC: Do you ever think you were ever going to get this much recognition? Because whether you like it or not, your face has ended up all over the place.
NN: *Laughs* No, never. Never. Never. It's funny because we don't even know where so much of it is coming from and it's awesome.

WEARESC: What are the toughest parts of being a Song Girl and what will you take out of it after you leave USC?
NN: One of the toughest things was definitely the Photoshopping. It was hard to see myself that way because none of the referees hands are up and I'm just there trying to get the crowd pumped up because everyone in the stands was nervous we were going to lose because they were right in front of us. What's disappointing for me is that I really know football, maybe even more than anyone on the squad. I've grown up around football and I know the sport. It was hard because I know the sport and the picture was just taken at the wrong place, wrong time, and then Photoshopped. From the experience, before I started Song, I was so nervous to even speak. One time, I had to go to this lunch and speak and I thought, "I can't do this…" But after you do some interviews, you get more comfortable, and the people you meet and connections you make are unbelievable. It's just such a great opportunity to meet people.

WEARESC: You're a Sociology major and you've said you want to get into commercial real estate, work with children, and maybe even non-profits down the road. Not that you couldn't model for the next fifty years, but where do you see yourself?
NN: I'm actually in the process of getting my real estate license right now. I'm doing that right now. I'm thinking about going to Uganda to do things for Invisible Children after we all had the opportunity to watch the documentary as a team. So I'm hoping that will work because it's always been a dream of mine to go to Africa. If not, we have a family member through our church who works with orphanages over there. Somehow, I want to get involved with children over there. After that, I don't really know. There's a lot of things I want to do.

WEARESC: What are the most rewarding parts of Song? What's your greatest memory?
NN: I can't give a single most memorable experience, but definitely Europe this summer and the Notre Dame game two years ago. They were both incredible. Then obviously, the Rose Bowl, even though we lost that first one I was at. It's definitely an experience I'll always remember.

WEARESC: You guys jumping all over Chris McFoy is one of the happiest moments I've ever seen.
NN: He actually accidentally hit Erica. She had to pull out because she clicked heads with his helmet and thought she was going to pass out! Looking back, it was such a funny moment for all of us.

WEARESC: If you had a moment to just say anything to the fans, your family, and your supporters for the past few years, what would you say?
NN: First to my family, thank you for supporting me through this whole experience. My mom, she's the one who brought me up through this whole experience and who I am is because of her. To the fans, you guys are amazing. You all are so great. We are the Song Girls because of the fans and we appreciate all the support. Thank you so much to everyone.

Natalie holds autographed Song Girl poster

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