The untold truth of Carson Daly

As American Bandstand‘s Dick Clark was to baby boomers or VJ Martha Quinn was to generation X-ers, Carson Daly is to millennials — the latest in a long line of friendly faces delivering music to the kids in America. As the host of MTV’s Total Request Live (but never not called TRL), Daly appeared, well, daily, in the homes of millions during the teen pop explosion of the late ’90s and early 2000s. He helped make stars out of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and himself — Daly was such a prominent figure that the era’s dominant rapper, Eminem, referenced him in a hit song.

When Daly moved on from TRL, he turned that gig into jobs hosting shows aimed at a broader, more grown-up audience. He joined NBC’s morning juggernaut Today, hosted Last Call with Carson Daly for nearly 20 years, and continued his apparent lifelong mission to bring up-and-coming singers to the masses as the host of The Voice. He’s basically an institution at this point, and so here’s a look into the life of the affable, omnipresent Carson Daly.

Carson Daly could've been a professional golfer

Carson Daly has logged thousands of hours on American television as the host of various music and morning shows, but he wasn’t even supposed to be an on-air personality. Had Daly stuck to his original plan, he may have still been famous, but via the radically different method of professional golf. Daly was really into the sport of big greens, tiny balls, and funny pants as a teenager. “I played a lot of golf between 13 and 18; that’s pretty much all I did,” Daly told Kingdom. He was also immersed in golf, because of Richard Caruso, the stepfather who helped raise him, who also ran a golf shop, chaired a tournament, and worked for the PGA for a spell.

Practice makes perfect, and all that time on the course paid off: Daly earned himself a golf scholarship to attend Loyola Marymount University in California. After just one year of school (and one season of golf), Daly dropped out of college in 1993 so that he could take an internship in the field that had displaced golf as his passion: radio. Another mitigating factor in Daly’s ill-fated attempt to become a professional golfer? When given the opportunity to become one, he blew it. “At 18 I tried to qualify for the U.S. Open and, I don’t know, I just had a blowup hole and I kind of just burned out,” Daly explained to Kingdom.

Jimmy Kimmel gave Carson Daly his big break … in radio

Before his career in TV — which included shows on NBC in the morning, evening, and late night — simultaneously — Carson Daly was a radio guy. It makes sense. “My mother was in radio, so I grew up around it,” Daly told Variety, referring to Pattie Daly Caruso’s work when he was growing up in Santa Monica, Calif. 

In 1993, the younger Daly dropped out of college to pursue his passion — radio — and found a position as an intern at a station in Palm Springs, according to Forbes. His direct superior: morning show host Jimmy Kimmel, an old friend he’d met when he was on vacation in Hawaii with his family and Kimmel was on his high school senior trip. “We met, and became friends, and long story short, when I dropped out of college and moved out to Palm Springs to try and play professional golf, I re-met with Jimmy,” Daly said on Late Night with Seth Meyers. “And I was his intern. … and I ended up falling in love with radio and I sort of owe everything I have to him.” Just three years later, Daly secured an on-air hosting gig on KROQ, one of the country’s most popular and influential alternative rock stations.

Carson Daly became an MTV host almost by accident

In 1997, Carson Daly decided to follow his mother’s lead and make the jump from radio to TV. That summer, as it had many times before, MTV taped its programming on a beach, and this year the network was doing it in California. For a show called Motel California, Daly was paid about $600 a day, according to Forbes. MTV was so impressed with the radio star and TV neophyte that they offered him a $100,000, one-year contract.

With a six-figure salary in tow, Daly quit his KROQ gig and relocated to New York, where MTV’s regular studios were located. MTV installed him as the host of two brand new daily shows: a talk and variety program called MTV Live, and the video countdown program Total Request. Less than a year later, MTV merged the two shows into Total Request Live, or TRL. Produced live at MTV’s fishbowl-like studio overlooking Times Square, Daly welcomed every pop starlet, boy band, and rap-rocker that resonated with America’s youth, becoming a star in his own right. He stayed with TRL until 2002 because by that point he’d parlayed his clout into multiple jobs, and something had to give.

Last Call with Carson Daly was seemingly unkillable

After The Tonight Show and Late Night, NBC programs one more show in the wee small hours. In 2002, NBC gave that 1:35 a.m. time slot to Carson Daly, creating Last Call with Carson Daly. At first, the show followed the standard late-night talk show format — monologue, an interview with a celebrity guest, and a performance by a band or comedian. The ratings for Last Call were never great, but that’s probably more of a function of it airing during a time when the vast majority of Americans are asleep. And yet, NBC didn’t cancel Last Call, and it kept not cancelling Last Call for 17 years.

In an anomaly for television — where a show picks a format in the beginning and sticks to it — Daly’s series reinvented itself on the regular. In 2009, it dropped the desk-in-studio format in favor of long-form interviews and remote segments. A few years later, Last Call hit its final evolution — Daly appeared only at the beginning of the show and to introduce original segments, which were more on-location interviews (with questions asked by never-seen producers) and club performances by semi-obscure indie rock bands. In 2019, NBC and Daly finally parted ways, ending Last Call in favor of the Last Call-esque (circa 2002) A Little Late with Lilly Singh.

Carson Daly dated a lot of celebrity starlets

TRL was the pre-eminent youth-oriented TV show of the late ’90s and early 2000s. As such, it was a very important stop on media tours for pop stars and young actors promoting their albums and movies, respectively. As the host of TRL, Carson Daly was constantly surrounded by celebrities and soon became one himself, his visibility and status bolstered when he serially dated a couple of actresses best known at the time for starring in the kinds of movies that would get promoted on TRL.

According to Entertainment Tonight, Daly started dating Jennifer Love Hewitt in 1997. She was the star of that year’s teen horror hit I Know What You Did Last Summer. They broke up in 1998 — Hewitt dumped Daly via her publicist, and so Daly found out he was single when he heard it mention on The Howard Stern Show and on E! News.

But Daly soon found love again, and with another rising actress of the era: Tara Reid of the American Pie and Sharknado franchises. According to ABC News, the couple got engaged in 2000, but delayed the wedding because Reid had to film a movie, then split up entirely. According to Good Housekeeping, Daly finally found lasting love with food blogger — and former Last Call with Carson Daly writer’s assistant — Siri Pinter. They married in December 2015, and in March 2020, Pinter gave birth to her fourth child with Daly.

Ryan Seacrest v. Carson Daly: Rivals or secret friends?

The careers of Carson Daly and Ryan Seacrest run parallel. Both work in radio, both have headlined annual New Year’s Eve TV shows, and both have hosted a singing show — Daly with The Voice and Seacrest with American Idol. Since they run in the same circles and land the same gigs, the relationship between these two men could be either a bitter rivalry, or a friendship built on commonalities. The truth: It’s complicated. 

“Ryan is in his own stratosphere of business and operates on such a higher level,” Daly told Salon. “Our career paths and our wants in life are different, as proven by choices each of us personally make. I won’t work past 6 p.m. because it’s important for me to be with my kids and my girl.” Compare that to Seacrest who seemingly never stops working, what with a daily radio show, TV talk show, American Idol, and producing duties.

But at the end of the day, or the beginning of the year, rather, Daly and Seacrest are pals. Around New Year’s, the two meet up. “It’s our annual event that the public doesn’t know about,” Daly told the New York Post. “We are both in New York for a couple of days, and we always make a point of getting together and at least having a drink.”

Carson Daly has lots of tattoos

Carson Daly doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would have a lot of tattoos. Perhaps it’s because he hosts family-friendly shows like TRL and The Voice, which don’t mesh with the rebellious spirit so commonly associated with getting inked, or maybe it’s because he generally works in and appears in long-sleeved shirts, making all that potentially tattooed flesh out of sight and out of mind.

Well, according to Good Housekeeping, Daly has gone under the needle at least 10 times, and unlike a lot of celebs who have tattoo regret, Daly’s proud of his illustrated skin. “All mine mean something,” Daly said on The Golf Channel’s Feherty, and they mostly have personal, familial significance. On his upper arm, Daly has a jack playing card with the date March 15, 2009 — a tribute to his son, Jack Daly. Elsewhere, Daly rocks a “Leo the Lion” with a rose, a nod to his paternal grandmother and daughter (whose astrological sign is Leo). To honor his father, who went by the nickname Curly, Daly got a tattoo of his old man’s favorite spirit, Cutty Sark Blended Scotch Whisky, altered to read “Curly Sark Original Pops Whisky.” Daly even has a military tattoo — it’s of the Green Beret, for his grandfather Bill Jones, a member of the elite Army Special Forces.

The Voice didn't initially appeal to Carson Daly

Having established himself as a known name with a large, built-in audience from his four-year stint at TRL and his time as the host of NBC’s Last Call, Carson Daly earned some major TV clout. No longer the kind of TV personality who had to audition for things, producers and networks instead came to Daly with jobs, from which he could pick and choose.

In the early 2010s, the team behind a new, American Idol-like TV singing competition approached Daly with an offer to host. Like its popular predecessor, this series would also feature unknown singers performing familiar tunes, and for that reason Daly said no thanks — he later said on The Tonight Show (via HuffPost) that it all seemed like a “karaoke show” to him. When the persistent producers showed him a tape of the show’s lively Dutch iteration and told him that Survivor producer Mark Burnett was on-board, Daly changed his mind, and agreed to host a little show called The Voice.

Carson Daly suffers from generalized anxiety disorder

Anxiety and other mental health disorders can strike anyone, even those that theoretically, from the outside looking in, would be the people happiest and most satisfied with life — such as a rich, successful, family man like Carson Daly. But in May 2019, Daly alluded to a long bout with anxiety via a comical, self-deprecating tweet about how he’d put on a few pounds.

“Fun fact: I assumed recent weight gain was a side effect from an anxiety drug I started,” he wrote (via Prevention). “Turns out it’s just working. The calmer/happier me is in a better mood & appetite increases.” A year earlier, Daly participated in a segment about anxiety on NBC’s Today, explaining that the issue had affected him for decades. “My father died when I was 5. I had an ulcer when I was in high school. I’ve been nervous my whole life,” Daly said.

He suffered his first panic attack at MTV, and just a few moments before he was supposed to go live on TRL. “I had a hard time breathing. I was terrified for no apparent reason.” After confiding in a friend who also dealt with anxiety, Daly sought out the help of a cognitive behavioral therapist. In addition to finding an effective medication for Daly’s generalized anxiety disorder, the doctor taught the TV host anxiety-killing skills like deep breathing and muscle relaxation.

What is Carson Daly's net worth?

Carson Daly works very hard, and makes a lot of television shows, appearing almost around the clock on NBC at one point, including his gig as a feature anchor on Today, hosting The Voice, and introducing Last Call with Carson Daly. This means that Daly has done quite well for himself financially, and continues to do so.

In addition to his TRL salary in the early 2000s, he was rewarded for his youth-influencing abilities with endorsement deals. He earned about $2 million a year promoting Cingular and Starburst, according to Forbes. Daly also has his own production company and record label called 456 Enterprise & Entertainment. In 2017, he walked away from his seven-year-long, high-profile gig as the morning host of major Los Angeles radio station KAMP (“I just want to have breakfast with my kids,” he told Variety), and in 2018, stepped down from Last Call. That all adds up to lots of paychecks for the low-key, amiable media gadfly.

According to Celebrity Net Worth, he pulls in around $10 million a year — mostly from his salaries for Today and The Voice. All in all, Daly boasts a net worth of about $40 million. Not bad for a guy who Jimmy Fallon called, when portraying Daly in a Saturday Night Live sketch, “a massive tool.”

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