How Megyn Kelly went from small-town cheerleader, to leading political journalist, to daytime talk show host

Megyn Kelly, the former star anchor of Fox News' primetime lineup, debuted her new show, "Megyn Kelly Today," this week under NBC's banner.

Kelly has long been a staple in the media universe, but she made headlines during the presidential campaign after then-Republican candidate Donald Trump hurled what many described as a sexist attack against her when she confronted him about his treatment of women during an August 2015 Republican primary debate.  

Despite Trump's comments, she continued gaining star power and recognition based on her refusal to back down from asking difficult and, at times, controversial questions to powerful and influential figures. 

In January, Kelly announced on the air that she would be leaving Fox News to "pursue a new challenge," and her role on NBC decidedly represents such a challenge for Kelly.  

Find out more about Kelly's remarkable trajectory from a small-town cheerleader to a leading voice in political journalism, to a daytime talk show host. 

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Megyn Kelly's rise to the top
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Megyn Kelly's rise to the top

Megyn Kelly was born in Illinois in 1970. She was a cheerleader throughout high school and told Katie Couric last year that at the time, she didn't have much ambition. Her father was a college professor and her mother was a nurse. Kelly's father died of a heart attack when she was 15.

Source: Elle Magazine and The Washington Post

tv.gawker.com

Kelly became more focused on her academics when she started college. She graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in political science in 1992 and went on to earn a JD from Albany Law School in 1995.

Source: Elle Magazine

FNC

Soon after, Kelly joined prominent law firm Bickel & Brewer as an associate. Later, she spent nine years working for Jones Day. She credits her background in practicing law with helping her stand her ground when interviewing politicians and CEOs.

Source: Fox News

(Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images)

Kelly entered the media sphere in 2003, when she started working as a general assignment reporter for an ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C. She covered multiple stories of national interest, including the 2004 presidential race.

Source: The Washington Post and Fox News

(LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images)

Kelly joined Fox News one year later, in 2004. Former CNN President Jonathan Klein told The New York Times in 2015 that he regretted not hiring Kelly when she was starting out because she was "the one talent you'd want to have from somewhere else."

Source: The New York Times

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Kelly quickly established herself as a leading voice in political journalism while at Fox. She provided wall-to-wall coverage of critical events like the 2013 government shutdown, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Source: Fox News

She also gained recognition for her take-no-prisoners approach to interviewing politicians and high-level officials from both sides of the aisle.

(Fox News)

In one attention-grabbing interview, she asked Republican strategist Karl Rove an awkward question when during the 2012 election, when he was forecasting the numbers Republican candidate Mitt Romney needed to win the election: "Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is this real?"

Source: Business Insider

Her tenure at the network was not without controversy, though. Kelly attracted sharp criticism in 2013 following a segment during which she told the "kids watching at home" that "Santa just is white" and that "Jesus was a white man, too."

Watch the clip on YouTube »

Kelly was roundly criticized for the segment's historical inaccuracy — Santa Claus can be traced back to a real-life monk named St. Nicholas who was from Turkey — and for its racial undertones.

Source: The History Channel

(Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

The segment was lampooned by late-night political satire shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

"Who are you actually talking to?" Daily Show host Jon Stewart asked after playing Kelly's segment, during which she addressed "all you kids watching at home."

"Children who are sophisticated enough to be watching a news channel at 10 o'clock at night, yet innocent enough to still believe Santa Claus is real, yet racist enough to be freaked out if he isn't white?" Stewart asked, drawing cheers from the audience. 

(Comedy Central)

Critics have also accused Kelly, who came out as an Independent in 2015, of adopting a double standard in her reporting.

Source: Business Insider, Variety

(The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 10: Megyn Kelly, host of America Live on set at Fox News studios in New York. Fox News Channel celebrated its 15th anniversary on the air on October 7th.

Things took a turn during a Republican primary debate in 2015 when Kelly became part of the news cycle itself. After she questioned then-Republican candidate Donald Trump about his behavior towards women, Trump implied Kelly had been vindictive and said she had "blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her...wherever."

(Photo by Eric Liebowitz/FOX via Getty Images)

The remark, which many perceived as sexist, drew immediate and sustained criticism from observers, while Kelly garnered support from both sides of the political spectrum.

(Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images) 

It wasn't all rosy for the Fox News anchor, though. Kelly told late night host Jimmy Fallon a few months later that she could "no longer go on Twitter" because of the harassment she experienced from Trump and his fans.

Source: The Tonight Show

(Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

The incident, and Kelly's pushback against it, made her something of a cultural icon during the election. She was even a featured guest during the 2016 "Women In The World" summit hosted by Katie Couric.

Watch Kelly's interview at the summit »

(Photo by Desiree Navarro/WireImage)

"It is bizarre, it's surreal," Kelly said of her experience with Trump and covering the campaign. She added that she didn't enjoy seeing her own name in the headlines and that she looked forward to moving on from it.

(Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Kelly again came under the spotlight later that year, when she defended former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, who had accused Fox News CEO Roger Ailes of sexual misconduct.

(Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for TIME)

While other network powerhouses like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly leaped to Ailes' defense, Kelly backed Carlson and even encouraged another female Fox News anchor to speak out about the alleged harassment she'd faced from Ailes.

Source: New York Magazine

REUTERS/Fred Prouser (UNITED STATES)

Kelly later wrote about her own experience with Ailes. At one point, he was "trying to grab me repeatedly and kiss me on the lips," she wrote in her book, "Settle For More."

Source: The Daily Beast

(Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)

After Carlson made her allegations against Ailes public, the network approached Kelly several times to defend the CEO, she wrote, but "there was no way I was going to lie to protect him."

Source: "Settle For More" via The Daily Beast

(Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)

Throughout the next few months, the network saw a string of high-profile departures that began with Ailes stepping down, host Greta van Susteren leaving to take a job at MSNBC, and finally, Kelly announcing her own departure to NBC.

(Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Her new, multi-year contract with the network gives Kelly several prominent roles, The New York Times reported earlier this year: she will host a daytime news and talk show, a Sunday night news program, and she will take point on covering prominent breaking stories and political events for the network.

Source: The New York Times

(Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)

Kelly had already stepped into her new position prior to debuting her daytime talk show on Monday. Earlier this year, she interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin in a segment that earned mixed reviews. Many critics felt she didn't press Putin hard enough on his record on human rights and Russia's election interference.

(Photo by Alexei Druzhinin\TASS via Getty Images)

She also interviewed Alex Jones, an alt-right icon, strong supporter of Donald Trump, and the founder of far-right website InfoWars.

Source: NBC News

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

On Monday, she told her new studio audience that she was "kind of done with politics."

(Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

However, Kelly wore a shirt that had a "pussy bow," a feature that gained traction after the infamous Access Hollywood tape, during which Trump demeaned women and said he could "grab 'em by the p---y," leaked last year. So whether she really plans to stay away from the political fray remains to be seen.

(Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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SEE ALSO: Meet Kayleigh McEnany, the 29-year-old who left CNN to make controversial, pro-Trump videos as an RNC spokeswoman

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