She's the woman we all want to know. Or to be. Or to strangle -- depending on how much sleep we've had the night before.
Jodi Johnston is the reigning queen of television's morning news in Buffalo.
She has spent the last eight years honing her skills as co-anchor of the popular "Daybreak" program at WGRZ, and sending Channel 2 to the top of the ratings heap, especially among Gen Xers and younger boomers, in the process.
At the same time, she's gained a unique level of public prominence in the community -- with involvement on many civic boards, her seeming omnipresence as the host of local benefits and charitable events, and her high-profile marriage to a Hamburg elected official and hospital spokesman.
We can forgive Johnston all that. But can we forgive her for appearing so perfectly put-together while doing it? For being so darn perfect?
There's the legend about how she received an A in every class she ever took -- from kindergarten through college. Then there's the sleek blond hair. The restrained makeup. The classic clothing. The winning smile.
How can anybody, male or female, manage to look and act so flawless -- at dawn?
In other words: Who is Jodi Johnston, and how does she do it?
We offer a peek into Johnston's jam-packed day that provides answers -- some of which might surprise you.
>Up and at 'em
It's 3:45 a.m. A waning moon hangs suspended in a cloudy sky above Hamburg.
Johnston, clutching a pair of black ballet flats, tiptoes silently through her darkened house. Even at this hour, she's already partway down her day's to-do list.
She's rolled out of bed at 3:15 and gotten dressed -- today, in a camera-friendly pale-yellow blazer and black pencil skirt.
She's packed a lunch and laid out clothes for her son, Max, for nursery school.
She's located Max's backpack and placed it by the door, to make the morning a little easier for her husband.
Now it's time for Johnston to leave for another long -- make that very long -- work day.
She won't be done with her last shift until nearly 7 p.m. And she'll need to be in bed by about 9 to do it all again tomorrow.
"Three o'clock," says Johnston, in a decisive tone, peering at her reflection in a mirror near her side door as she hoists her Louis Vuitton bag, "is not morning."
"Three o'clock is the middle of the night."
>Caffeine and concealer
Johnston's commute has good points and bad ones. The good: driving in is a breeze, because the roads are deserted this early. The bad: in winter months, she's on her own.
"I'm out before the plows are," Johnston explains, shrugging.
This morning, she climbs into her black BMW and backs it down the driveway of the spacious, columned home she shares with her husband, Tom Quatroche Jr., who is vice president of marketing at Erie County Medical Center and a Hamburg Town Board member.
The Quatroches -- in private life, Johnston uses his name -- built the home in 2005. It's located in the tony Briercliff subdivision.
On the morning commute, Johnston, who turns 35 in a couple of weeks, detours for a stop at Tim Hortons -- "Just wakin' up," she tells the woman at the drive-thru as she grabs a cafe mocha -- and then heads for the WGRZ studios on Delaware Avenue.
She arrives at 4 a.m., which gives her an hour to get ready: by reading e-mail, writing news pieces, fixing her appearance.
"A great concealer. And caffeine -- they work wonders," Johnston cracks, as she smoothes on Nars blush in front of a bulb-lit mirror.
These days, Johnston anchors two daily news programs for Channel 2: "Daybreak," from 5 to 7 a.m., and the early evening news at 5 p.m. She gets a break of a few hours between the shifts.
So, do the math: Her broadcasts start a full 12 hours apart.
The fact that she works that kind of extreme split shift makes a difference in Western New York's competitive media circles.
Her presence on "Daybreak" since 2001 has helped drive WGRZ's morning news show ratings up considerably. The show battles for supremacy among households in Western New York with WIVB's "Wake Up" program, but WGRZ managers point to their wins in the desirable 25-54 age demographic as a sign that they're in the top spot.
"It takes a unique person to carry that kind of broadcast. Two hours is a long time," said Jim Toellner, general manager at WGRZ. "We were the last [local channel] to start a morning show, in like 1996. And this is the first time we've been in the No. 1 spot."
Johnston has also made the station's 5 p.m. news -- which she's helmed since 2006 -- a favorite.
"Since she's been at the 5, our ratings have grown there," Toellner said.
>'You learn by doing'
Every day, just before she goes on, Johnston gets a flutter of nerves. "The adrenaline starts running," she confesses. But by 5:30, she relaxes. She refills the "Daybreak" coffee mug that sits in front of her -- with water, not the coffee favored by co-anchor Pete Gallivan -- and jokes around with the crew on commercial breaks.
While the cameras are rolling, Johnston is calm and effective. She reads the news with gravity. Her voice -- low and mellifluous -- is one of her clear assets in the business, those who've worked with her agree.
Johnston has been in the TV business since she graduated from college in 1995 -- first at Adelphia, then at WIVB before settling in at WGRZ -- and she says she's still learning her job.
"You learn by doing in this business," Johnston says. "When I first started, I was so nervous. It was so hard -- even learning to mask that nervousness.
"But I love it. I love waking up Western New York."
Johnston won her anchor's chair pretty soon after she started at Channel 2. She didn't put in decades -- or even years -- as an on-the-street news reporter first, although she points out that she did a 3-to-11 reporting shift for a while early on, and that her first on-air job was as a "news update" reader from midnight to 7 a.m.
"I have paid my dues," said Johnston. "I've worked every horrible shift there is."
Insiders in the industry said Johnston's rapid ascent to a starring anchor role is partly a function of the changing TV news game.
"When I started out, more than 30 years ago, you started out in radio, or you started as a reporter, or you started as a producer," said Susan Banks, president of Susan Banks Image Consulting in Clarence, who worked as evening news anchor at WKBW in Buffalo for many years.
"Now they're basically grabbing them off the street and putting them in anchor jobs. But I don't think its fair to measure the skills of Jodi against today's standards. The business has changed. The standards have changed. The economics have changed."
Banks said Johnston presents herself as smart, savvy and quick on her feet.
"I saw her on a breaking news story once, and I was like, 'Wow,' " said Banks, who left the airwaves in 2006. "It was a scenario where she was on air for a period of time, and the way she handled herself was very good."
Johnston, eating a Kashi bar and apple after she's finished the morning show, says she prides herself on an off-air personality that matches her on-air persona.
"There's no gap," she says. "I don't want to be pretending to be somebody else."
That attitude occasionally results in funny -- or offbeat -- moments in private life.
"People will come up to me and talk to me as if we'd just had coffee together," she says, laughing. "Or people will say I'm much taller in person. Or thinner. That's a bad sort of a compliment."
Johnston acknowledges that she's always wanted to be liked. She's also always been a perfectionist and hard worker.
Growing up in Snyder, Johnston's dad worked in the steel industry and her mom managed an ob-gyn medical office. She has one sister, Kendra, 32.
"My mom is my role model," Johnston said. "She always worked."
After attending Christian Central School, Johnston chose Canisius College over bigger-name schools because Canisius gave her academic and athletic scholarships. She played tennis on the college team for three years, before a knee injury sidelined her.
Along the way, she earned a 4.0 GPA in the college's Communication Studies department.
"We don't have too many of those," said Dr. Barbara Irwin, chair of the department. "She was in my class the very first semester I taught at Canisius -- I taught a Broadcasting in America course. And you could just tell. Here was a student who really took things seriously -- who was committed to her schoolwork and the college. Who wanted to do all the right things."
>A familiar face
Johnston, as a teen, carved out a nascent career in another tough arena: modeling.
At 16, she joined a Buffalo modeling agency headed by Pat Wright, whose claims to fame as a discoverer of local talent also include Chad Michael Murray, the star of "One Tree Hill."
Wright took one look at Johnston -- 5' 10'', with shiny blond hair and a naturally rangy build -- and saw her as a beauty who had exactly the kind of clean-cut, all-American image that advertisers and fashion houses were looking for.
Johnston found immediate, steady work as a catalog and runway model. She became a familiar face in newspaper ads for AM&A's and L.L. Berger's.
Better yet, Wright said, in an industry where talent can be temperamental, Johnston impressed her employers by her good attitude and punctuality.
"That girl is the hardest working young lady I've ever met," said Wright, who sold her Buffalo business and now runs a similar agency in Newport News, Va. "So together -- all the way."
Before too long, Johnston won a spot with the prestigious IMG talent agency in New York City. She traveled to Manhattan on the weekends to model; IMG put her up in an apartment there with other young hopefuls. She did a TV ad for Dr. Pepper, another for the rollout of the Ford Ranger pickup.
"It was me in the Ranger," she says, grimacing. "Yeah -- Different Image Jodi there."
Johnston's path toward a serious modeling career ended when she realized it would mean a break with the academic side of her life.
She chose college over IMG -- and said she hasn't looked back since, except with a gritty determination to prove herself, in order to show she made the right decision.
"I really pushed myself to succeed academically, because I was giving up a lot," she says. "It made me want to work really hard. It made me really disciplined."
Of course, Johnston gained a lot by staying in Western New York, too.
In the past 10 years, she's become one of the most recognizable faces in local TV news.
She's much in demand as a host for events, and she's become a member of boards including Project Flight, Camp Good Days and the Canisius Board of Regents.
She's also found happiness in family life with her husband Tom -- whom she met on a blind date -- and son.
Would she ever leave?
Johnston's never been the type to set limits. She doesn't there, either.
"For a network job in a Top 20 market?" Her eyes twinkle. "Yes, I would go for that."