Two years ago, when Regis Philbin announced that Kelly Ripa had won the job as the new co-host of his morning talk show, few people knew much about her.
Watch the full interview on 20/20 this Friday at 10 p.m.
At the time, when the producers of Live with Regis were searching for a co-host to replace Kathie Lee Gifford, even considering Kelly Ripa for the job seemed like quite a gamble.
The gamble certainly paid off. Philbin said, "She's got the sense of humor, the curiosity, the spontaneity — pretty. All those qualities, and she was the right one, and boy, she was."
Since she joined Live with Regis and Kelly, the show's ratings have soared.
Today, Kelly Ripa lives in New York's trendy Soho neighborhood, where she recently moved with her family into a 5,000-square-foot loft.
Ripa had ambitions to perform since childhood. "I would put on a show for anyone passing by. I mean anytime, anywhere, put on a show. literally," she said.
While she was still in high school, Ripa was a regular on a local version of American Bandstand called Dance Party USA.
Her decision to pursue acting came when she realized college wasn't for her. "I think it was the realization that I couldn't do anything else. I mean, honestly, I had no other talents, and I just knew school wasn't my thing. I went to community college for about two weeks," she said.
From ‘Human Barbie Doll’ to Soap Star
Unlike most actors who work for years to get their big break, Ripa seems to have a charmed life in the entertainment world. She said she actually approached her career looking for "the least amount of work possible that it would take for me to become an actress." Ripa said, "I kept thinking, 'hmmm, well, what if I just become an actress and then I sort of learned as I went?'"
So she started making frequent trips from New Jersey to New York to audition for acting jobs — anything she could find. "I really believed there were no small jobs. I would do any job. I auditioned to work at the toy fair to be like a, a human Barbie doll."
With virtually no acting experience, 19-year-old Ripa was still living at home when she went to audition for the soap opera All My Children, thinking she'd be lucky to get a job as an extra. To her amazement, she got the job.
But Ripa soon realized that a few acting classes would probably do her some good. "It wasn't until I got there and started working that I realized I can't act," she said.
The show's producer ended up paying for Ripa to take some acting lessons.
The lessons paid off. Ripa spent 12 years on All My Children, playing the part of Hayley Vaughn, an alcoholic with a split personality. She became one of the most popular characters on the show.
Five years into her stint on All My Children, she met the man who would become her husband, actor Mark Consuelos.
And she said Consuelos made quite a first impression on her. "I just was dumbstruck, thunderstruck, at how beautiful he was. He was right up my alley."
On-Screen Romance Continues Off-Screen
Consuelos was soon playing Kelly's love interest on the soap opera, and before long, life was imitating art — and an off-screen romance began.
They kept the relationship secret for a while. Then, one day out of the blue, Kelly said, Mark had an idea. "We were having pizza and Mark said, 'You know, we're not working on Thursday. Tomorrow, you want to fly to Vegas and get married? And I said, 'Oh, ask me when you're serious.' And he said, 'I'm serious. We could go to Vegas tomorrow and get married.' I thought, 'Oh, well, OK.'"
So just like that, they eloped — and a little more than a year later, their son Michael was born. She and Mark were both going strong on All My Children and life was good. Until, her younger sister Linda was seriously injured in a terrible car accident when she was hit by a drunk driver. Linda was pregnant at the time. She and her baby came through the accident, but she has undergone numerous surgeries in her recovery.
Ripa has said that her sister's accident has had a defining impact on her family life. "Every day of my life that I feel like I'm going to complain about something small, minute, I think of my sister. And it makes you appreciate what's important in life. We, Mark and me, have three beautiful, healthy kids and if everything we've achieved together disappeared tomorrow, we would still have three healthy, beautiful kids. And who could ask for anything more than that?"
She may not ask for more, but she seems to keep getting it. She's left All My Children, but is still Regis' co-host, and now she's got another gig — the new sitcom Hope and Faith, co-starring Faith Ford.
In the comedy, which will air on ABC on Friday nights, Kelly plays the role of Faith, a washed-up soap opera star. After she loses her job and spends all her money, she moves to the Midwest with her sister and her family. The early buzz on the show has been strong, but Kelly knows winning in prime time is by no means a sure thing.
"I'm nervous in a way that I feel is positive," she said, "I was nervous like this for All My Children. I was nervous like this when I was offered the job of Regis' sidekick … I was nervous like that when I got married. It's a positive nervousness."
Marriage Is Going Strong
But when people have it too good, there are always those who say it's not as good as it seems. And Ripa has faced her share of rumors about her marriage to Mark. Is the marriage good? Does he resent her?
Consuelos and Ripa have now been married for six years. She's now 32 and he's 31. They say they spend almost all of their spare time at home with their three children: Michael, Lola and the baby, Joaquin.
Consuelos and Ripa say their relationship is strong and supportive, but they're well aware of the rumors that their hectic work lives are destroying their marriage.
Ripa said she wouldn't have achieved all of her successes without Consuelos' support. "I wouldn't have had the courage to do Regis. I wouldn't have had the courage to do the sitcom. The only reasons that I've gotten this far is because of all he's been willing to do for me, to help me do this," she said.
Consuelos said he and Ripa, like most couples, have challenges. "We do argue and we do fight, and we're not the best parents all the time, and we do juggle Kelly's schedule — and my schedule. … But at the end of the day, we look at each other and I know I have someone, my best friend, and someone who's always got my back."
Ripa said she feels the same way.
"Let me tell you something that, with all honesty. If we can survive, being married and working on a soap together, commuting, back and forth when we lived in New Jersey and we didn't get divorced then, we're never gonna get divorced," Consuelos said.
Ripa agreed, "If that didn't kill the marriage, nothing will."