For anyone around in the late 90’s and early 2000s, Miss Cleo defined what it meant to be psychic. Appearing on television infomercials as the spokeswoman for the Psychic Friends Network, she became a kind of celebrity, and with her Jamaican accent, her tribal regalia, her smiling, beatific pate, and her exhortation to call her, it was as though she were the kind of archetypal post-modern, pop art, Jamaican patois, Judge Judy version of Whoopi Goldberg in the movie “Ghost” that Jung wrote about so extensively.
Then, in 2002, the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Cleo and the Psychic Readers Network, alleging that they engaged in shady business practices. Miss Cleo naturally absorbed a lot of the media attention even though she was dropped from the suit.
Since then, she has been pretty much laying low, except for coming out of the closet to The Advocate in 2006 as not only a lesbian, but also as a shaman. She wrote, “I’m more of a shaman, an elder in a community who has visions and gives direction to people in their village. My clients and my students are my village. I take care of this community. If you sit down at my table, you have to take away a lesson and not just learn what is going to happen tomorrow. I also perform weddings — both gay and straight marriages — and house cleansings and blessings.” Then, recently, she’s re-emerged to take part in a documentary called “Hotline”, which is about the role hotlines play in the world.
Vice met up with everyone’s favorite hotline psychic in Toronto earlier this week to discuss her history with voodoo and mysticism, what actually happened with the Psychic Readers Network, and the tricky business of her controversial accent.
VICE: Were you into hotlines before you start appearing in those infomercials?
Miss Cleo: I was a very well-known psychic in the United States on a hotline for two years out in public, and about two to three years just on the hotline itself.
VICE: How did you get into the business?
I come from a family of spooky people. I don’t know how else to say it. I come from a family of Obeah—which is another word for voodoo. My teacher was Haitian, [a mambo] born in Port-au-Prince, and I studied under her for some 30 years and then became a mambo myself. So they refer to me as psychic—because the word voodoo scares just about everybody. So they told me, “No, no, no, we can’t use that word; we’re going to call you a psychic.” I said, “But I’m not a psychic!”
Then they would take me somewhere to do an interview, and as soon as I’d say, ‘I’m not a psychic, and I don’t own the company,” the handlers would say, “No, no, no. Tell her to shut up.”
VICE: Tell me about the mechanics of the operation. Did you work in a call center?
Well, most of us worked from our homes, not one big room. I was doing television, they had me touring everywhere, and I was always bothered by the fact that, you know, people took the “Call me now” quote very earnestly.
I was at Best Buy one day, and a gentleman said, “Miss Cleo, aren’t you supposed to be on the phone?” I said, “Honey, do you really think that I do that while I’m traveling and doing press?” I said, “You have a better chance of talking to me right here than you do if you called.” I still remember my extension number, though. My extension was 16153.
Read the rest of the interview here: