Going into the second season of OWN's documentary-style series Our America, which premieres Sunday at 10/9c, host Lisa Ling will always remember the moment from Season 1 when she sat beside a man who admitted to sexually abusing two young girls under the age of 10.
"I molested them over the course of a year and a half," said Steve, 36. "How did it happen? I haven't come up with a clear answer. I don't think it was a desire to have sex with a small child. It was the ease of opportunity. I can't blame it on the alcohol and drugs. I wasn't intoxicated. I knew what I was doing."
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Ling was filming an episode for the series focusing on sex offenders. She calls that conversation one of the most uncomfortable and disturbing experiences of her entire life.
And that's saying a lot for a woman who has documented the lives of amateur porn stars, lived with heroin addicts and traveled to Colombia for a show about online brides. Each episode of Our America explores a different American subculture — groups that lie beyond the boundaries of societal norms. As the host, Ling says her job is "to better understand why people do what they do and live the way they live."
She spends a significant amount of time with her subjects during filming, often up to two weeks. "Part of the experience of Our America is that we get immersed. We don't drop in and drop out. We're really enmeshed in people's lives," she says.
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Many of the topics are so provocative, they beg the question: Why would people agree to be a part of this? For example, in the premiere of Season 2, we meet 50-year-old Sierra, a suburban housewife who's been creating pornographic web videos for over a year without her teenage daughter finding out. Once the episode airs, she will no longer be in the dark about her mother's other life.
"I think that a lot of the people who have shared with us may not have shared their lives with any other outlet. They believe that we're going to treat their issue with dignity and respect," Ling says. "While I can never promise people that a show is going to turn out a certain way, I'm not in the business of exploiting people or sensationalizing people's stories."
Ling, 38, hopes that the show will expand viewers' horizons. "We always do go into things with a very defined set of preconceived ideas," she says. "I would just like people to be provoked and to possibly think differently about an issue or a culture than they may have thought otherwise."
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Previously a special correspondent on Oprah and co-host of The View from 1999 — 2002, Ling says Our America is the most creative freedom she's ever had on a project. "I'm grateful to OWN for the opportunity to tell these stories and I'm grateful to the people who have shared things that, in many cases, they have never even shared with their own family," she says. "In this business it's hard to be really proud of something you've done. And I could not be more proud of this show."
Our America premieres Sunday at 10/9c on OWN