Seventeen again: alum relives her last year of high school in new podcast

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The artwork for “SEVENTEEN”

By Karissa Schaefer, Emerson Los Angeles Bureau Chief

Seventeen is an age that resonates with many—an age full of friendships, appearances, and emotional ups and downs—and that’s no different for Laura Leigh Abby ‘07, the creator of a new podcast called “SEVENTEEN: Conversations with My Teenage Self.” 

Premiering Feb. 7, released on all podcast platforms, the podcast features Abby reflecting on her 17-year-old self’s diary, alongside teen influencer Leia Immanuel, who voices excerpts of the journal. “SEVENTEEN” is an original production for Paradiso Media, a global podcast studio with locations in Paris and Los Angeles, and it will be the brand’s first original show in the U.S. 

“Paradiso kind of gave me a lot of freedom to figure out what we’ve created here,” Abby said. “We created the podcast from there based on my 17th year and everything that happened, the choices I made, and what the world looked like back then. That was back in 2003 and it was a weird place to be a teenage girl.”

Abby described her last year of high school as a “defining moment” in her life that “catapulted” her progression into the woman she is now. Although her world ultimately looked culturally different in the early 2000s, Abby emphasizes the many relatable moments of growing up as a teen.

“It’s not just a podcast for women over a certain age,” Abby said. “Adolescence and teenage life, wherever you are, however your experiences are, there is this similarity in growing up and so many feelings and emotions come out in the podcast. You could listen to it and be like ‘I relate to that’ even though this happened almost 20 years ago. I feel like it’s for anyone.”

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Creator Laura Leigh Abby (left) and producer Molly O’Keefe (right).

Fellow Emerson alum and a friend of Abby’s, Molly O’Keefe ‘06, who serves as the head of development for Paradiso, was initially inspired by a similar format for Paradiso’s French series. She instantly knew Abby was perfect for the job.

“I’ve always been a fan of her writing, so you know you always want to work with your friends, especially when they’re super talented,” O’Keefe said. “[The main character] Laura’s quoted from her journals throughout her career. She went off and looked and came back with what is our show now, really essentially the bones of it.”

O’Keefe serves as the producer of the narrative nonfiction show, which is fully written by Abby, who also conducted all of the interviews ahead of time. The guests feature people from both Abby’s past and present—from family members, to friends, to old love interests. 

“I really went through those journals and the people that were in them, I called them up, and some of them are still my best friends, one of them is my mom, some of them I haven’t spoken to in a long time, so I was like, ‘Would you be interested in being on my podcast?’” Abby said. 

Though there’s a connecting theme throughout the eight episodes, each one serves an individual purpose, covering a specific incident in time. Although Abby focuses on creative writing and O’Keefe in visual media arts backgrounds, this podcast allows these women to have fun while experimenting with a new medium. 

“It’s ignorant to call podcasting new anymore, but coming from TV and film, it’s still a place for exploration and playing with different formats and concepts,” O’Keefe said. “Podcasting is still a safe place to explore and play with format. That’s something that really excites us about the podcast is this back and forth conversation.”

Young Laura, the main character from the journals, is described as a character of her own, contrasting with who Laura is today in any way possible. She recalls being a serious teen, respecting her values from back then, and acknowledges how she has lightened up as a wife and mother of two. 

“As much as when you launch things into adulthood, things do get more challenging, but they also get easier once you know who you are and you have yourself a little more figured out, that’s where I am now,” Abby said. “You have to live through it and learn it all.”

Despite the differences, Abby has kept at least one constant in her life: journaling. Her journey as a mom influences her more recent entries, and pages filled with memories of her children growing up just as she did for herself. 

“Especially with making this podcast, I’ve really committed to journaling and I can’t stress it enough, everyone should do it even if it’s sometimes at the end of the day,” Abby said. “Just to have those moments to go through, and then you start thinking about other things.”

As a story of relatability that spans across multiple generations, O’Keefe notes Immanuel’s own intrigue for Abby’s life as a 17-year-old herself. “SEVENTEEN” plays into nostalgia for the target audience of older women, while also serving as a case study of a point in time for younger women. 

“[Leia] was fascinated by that time and specifically about a lot of the insecurities that young Laura had,” O’Keefe said. “Especially seeing Laura as this confident, successful woman in front of her and then to be reading these journal entries. I’m just so happy to see this younger generation that will be fascinated by this, and just to see not that long ago what women were going through.”

The podcast touches a lot on memory and revisits both the good and the bad parts of being 17. Some are fresh in her mind while others that were repressed are found again. 

“There’s some buried trauma that she discovers when she goes back into her journals, and she talks about the moments that she looks back on,” said O’Keefe. “We can all kind of relate.”

While rediscovering her old self has been mostly fun, Abby also relives the insecurities and harsh culture of the time—a world with strict constraints on what it means to be a woman. 

“It’s hard to look back at myself and be like ‘Oh, you were so insecure. Oh, you thought you had to hook up with guys and do things you don’t really want to do,’” Abby said. “Pop culture was heavy on misogyny and raunchy on these heteronormative movies, TV, and even in music. That’s what we were living back then.”

Typically, Abby is a writer who works in solitude on drafts and editor notes, but the audio format has proven to be a new learning curve—a rewarding one at that. 

“For a podcast, I’ve never written something that’s supposed to be read aloud necessarily, and I’ve never written with a team,” Abby said. “It was kind of intense. I worked with Molly and our other producer [Yael Even Or]. We kind of wrote it together. I’m really lucky to have them.”

Similar to the close-knit relationships described in the journal, Abby’s friendships forged at Emerson are still connected with her today—particularly her Alpha Epsilon Phi sisters, which include O’Keefe and Abby’s wife. The college provided her the steps to network and later go on to get her MFA at The New School. 

“We can say I kind of planned my whole life based on my experiences at Emerson,” said Abby. “Those are just things that help me grow as a person and really prepared me for everything that was to come. I just couldn’t have done any of that without Emerson laying the groundwork for me. I think fondly of those years.”