Kristina Kuzmic-Crocco has come a long way. She left her native war-torn Croatia at the age of 15, faced culture shock upon arriving in America, went through a divorce that left her a single mother of two, then put her dreams on the back burner to take a waitressing job. Last week, Oprah announced on “Your Own Show” that Kuzmic-Crocco had beat 15,000 other contestants to win a slot on the Oprah Winfrey Network (read about Kuzmic-Crocco's journey in our profile). Oprah made a surprise decision by selecting both finalists, Kuzmic-Crocco and Zach Anner, meaning the two will have their own TV shows. The Alhambra Source caught up with Kuzmic-Crocco to ask how it feels being on the cusp of stardom.
Hi Kristina, congratulations on getting your own show.
It still hasn’t hit me yet. I’m still registering the whole experience.
Coming from Croatia to America, then moving to Alhambra, does any of this makes sense to you – the contest, and winning it?
No, it absolutely makes no sense. It’s so hard to process it. Anyone who knows where I’ve come from and knows me, coming from humble beginnings, with a lot of struggles along the way. To me it’s a miracle… I don’t mean to sound cheesy, but I hope that some single mom – I’m not single anymore, but I was – but I hope if they hear my story they can keep dreaming and get somewhere.
What were your exchanges with Oprah like?
One of the things that touched me is the way she treats people. She’s one of the most powerful people in the world, yet she treated me as someone important. And she really gives off such warmth and attention. I can’t put into words how much it moves me. If it does work out for me in the industry and I do go somewhere, I want to take care of people like her. It really didn’t matter to her: If you’re a world leader or a single mom, you have to treat everyone fairly and right.
Did your children have any particular reaction to you winning?
I hadn’t told them before [the announcement]. Because you know kids can’t hold a secret. I told them right before I left for the viewing party (I had a viewing party for a number of my friends). Right before I left I told them. They were stunned. My son was just happy for mommy to win, cause you know, he’s at that part of life where winning is a big deal. But it really wasn’t no bigger for him to win at Monopoly. And my daughter asked me, “Does this mean that we can move into a house with stairs?” She’s at this phase where she wants to move into a house with stairs.
There have been so many parents from the school that would come up to me and they’ve been congratulating me as the show progressed and every episode went along. The city and the school and some of the teachers have been so supportive, and it feels like the entire city was behind me along the way with each episode. Also they were incredibly respectful. My kids weren’t being constantly bothered, I wasn’t either. They’ve been so respectful.
What future plans do you have for Alhambra? Is there any chance that you’ll be doing any episodes in the area?
I would love that. We’re going to be taping in a studio in L.A. I would love to give back to Alhambra, if we can, do some visits, find a way to feature it. It’s such a diverse city with so many great places to eat. The city has been so very supportive.
What type of butterflies were you experiencing before Oprah revealed to you that both you and Zach were getting a show?
I was really convinced that Zach was going to win. If I was at home, and I was watching the show, I would want him to win. I would be rooting for him. I sort of expected that he was going to win and I was going to be in second. I think I would have been more nervous if I thought I had a chance. But in the end, A: I was shocked that she would do a double whammy, and B: how everything just sort of froze for me.
I didn’t focus too much on winning. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Even when I first entered, I also thought I would drop. Like, drop. I thought I would cry. But in that moment, I couldn’t cry or scream. I was just there. If you look at my face at that moment, it’s just sheer shock.
Interview was edited and condensed.