The moment Emeril Lagasse announced Amy Finley as the Season 3 winner of The Next Food Network Star, her life changed forever. Now, with her own TV show ahead of her, the mother of two from San Diego, California, plans on having fun even if she is overwhelmed. TVGuide.com caught up with the self-proclaimed "foodie" to talk about the intense ride that landed her in the No. 1 spot and why, even after considering dropping out of the show, she decided to stick it out for the long haul.
TVGuide.com: Congrats! How does it feel?
Amy Finley: Thanks! It's still sinking in. It's zero to 60 in about three seconds. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: I can imagine. I talked to Guy Fieri about how different this season’s competition was. Did you watch last season and expect things to be the same?
Finley: Yeah, I did. I think probably all of us came in expecting it to be much more like last season's show. The potluck was in the realm of the expected, but the minute they put us in a van and dropped us off at the Roosevelt Hotel, I was like, "Uh-oh, this is going to be completely different than anything we've seen before."
TVGuide.com: Guy said you were on point as a leader after the first challenge. Do you think being a mother and cooking for your whole family has brought that out in you?
Finley: You know what it is? Not only am I a mom, but I'm a big sister — there are eight kids in my family. I'm the second oldest, and if you're one of the eldest, you're used to bossing people around, but in the kindest way possible. And ditto with kids — the way that you move kids from point A to point B, you have to tell them what needs to be done. But also a big part of raising kids is trusting them, and that was very much how I felt. These are all professionals, they know what they're doing, they don't need me to hold their hands or babysit them. My biggest role is to keep everybody's spirits up and help hold the center together.
TVGuide.com: Which challenge do you feel best showcased your abilities?
Finley: I would probably say the Iron Chef challenge. Something just really clicked into place that day. I actually am one of those foodie-type people who has her head stuffed with random knowledge about food. It was the perfect opportunity to be able to put some of it out there — one full hour of brainiac, foodiac power. And then the cooking side of that was also one of my favorite ways to cook — it's a lot like cooking for a family at home. You've got one hour and you have to crank this stuff out, cook as fast as you can. And it was so fun having Tommy back again — I just adore him, so having him right there next to me was a good time.
TVGuide.com: A few fans have told me that the timing of JAG dropping out was possibly intentional, just for the drama. I think people couldn't believe that you wouldn't be in the finale. Do you think that's true?
Finley: Oh, no. This is a fantastic show. I just think it was an unfortunate and unforeseen circumstance.
TVGuide.com: It's good he came forward, though.
Finley: Yeah, he's a really talented guy. He's an incredible chef, his food is so fantastic, and I think he's going to have great things ahead of him in the future.
TVGuide.com: Did the Food Network chefs make you nervous? Doing an on-camera test in front of Giada? Going on Rachael Ray?
Finley: Well, they all made me nervous just because they put the perfect person with each challenge. I was the only person who had to grill during the potluck, so I was like, "Oh my god, I have to grill for Bobby Flay," and then turn around and do lasagna for Giada [De Laurentiis]. It was like, "Man, do I have to do the specialty of each person in front of them?" But they're all really supportive. They spent a lot of time trying to give us the inside look at how things were for them — things that they learned, any advice that they could pass along — and it was really helpful.
TVGuide.com: Definitely, because they were also at the starting gate at one point.
Finley: Sure, everybody had to start out as a rookie. Even Rachael Ray.
TVGuide.com: There was a point when you told the panel you weren't sure if you wanted to continue. What made you go on?
Finley: At that moment I was very emotional, I was missing my kids and my family so much, but then it was really thinking about why I had come on the show in the first place. I always said that I was doing this for my family, to change all of our lives. And it was like, if I give up now, I wouldn't want my kids to think I quit at something just because I was scared or overwhelmed, because there are just too many times in life when you're going to be scared and overwhelmed, so you just have to dig a little bit deeper. I didn't want them to someday think that I chickened out. So I was like, "OK, if you aren't going to send me home, then I can't send myself home." [Laughs] It had to be their decision, not mine.
TVGuide.com: I guess when Rory said she thought it would be easier to beat you in her XM Radio interview, she was wrong! How are you handling the press?
Finley: You know, it's funny. I think it's another one of those big-family things. My stepdad is one of 12 kids. We have this huge, gigantic family, and if you've ever been at a loud family Christmas party with 200 people and you're bouncing from person to person who you haven't seen in a while and you're giving them sound bites of what you've been doing, it's kind of a lot like that. I think that growing up in a big, social family is pretty good experience for [handling the] press. And certainly, thinking of it that way makes it a lot less nerve-racking. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Do you know exactly what your show will be yet?
Finley: Not exactly. Obviously during the show, we started working on each of our individual concepts, and I came up with "The Gourmet Next Door," which is based on the idea of making French-inspired cuisine more accessible for a home cook, which is the way I cook at home. I think we're going to roll with something like that. What the show title will be, I don't know. We don't have an exact date yet, although it will be premiering sometime this fall.
TVGuide.com: And you'll do several shows?
Finley: Six shows, the same as last year's winner.
TVGuide.com: Looking forward, what is your main goal when you’re put in front of that camera?
Finley: To have fun. When the camera comes on and there's an audience in front of you, my goal is to have a good time and teach. I have a teacher mom and a strong teacher side to me, because I am completely passionate about my food and about cooking and I want people to catch that passion.
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