As a child, Yesi Ortiz was so shy that she would opt for an F rather than speak in front of the class. "I always felt like I was an outsider. I used to talk to myself — I still do!" says the petite, bubbly Ortiz, bursting into laughter and wrapping her hands around a steaming cup of spiced apple tea one brisk evening.
By necessity, her stage fright is a thing of the past. As midday host at the city's biggest hip-hop radio station, Ortiz's voice is beamed to an audience of almost 3 million listeners daily. Her bright chirp as Power 106's first lady is so warm, familiar and self-assured, she has even been dubbed the "Voice of L.A."
But her most impressive title might be "Mom." In addition to her duties on air and as Power's assistant music director, she juggles being adoptive mother to six kids. "I'm very successful because of the drama in my life," says Ortiz, who's in her early 30s. Her lips are curved into a perma-smile. "There's no time to have a pity party."
Born in San Clemente to Mexican immigrants who spoke little English and divorced when she was a baby, Ortiz had difficulty making friends. The town was predominantly white, and she was one of a handful of Latinos taking ESL classes. To make blending in trickier, Ortiz and her mother, stepfather and sister all lived in a single room they rented in someone's apartment.
Adrift after graduating high school in the late 1990s, Ortiz was listening to Power 106 and heard a commercial advertising the Academy of Radio and Television Broadcasting. She and her mother had a stormy relationship, but watching her mom learn English by singing along to the radio was its one sunny spot. So she signed up, and in less than six months had landed a gig as the "Latin Diva" at a new station in Las Vegas.
Her career was taking off, but there was trouble at home. Six of her sister's children had been taken into foster care.
Ortiz found a radio job in San Diego, but the station was located in Tijuana. Having spent a good chunk of her savings on hiring a lawyer to fight for the kids, she moved into a cheap apartment in TJ and survived on peanut butter–and-jelly sandwiches. Her perseverance paid off — within two years, she had become the 25-year-old foster mother of three boys and three girls, all of whom she later adopted.
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After wrestling with the foster-care system, wrangling a job at Power 106 was comparatively easy. Her mentor from Las Vegas had gotten a job there and told her to send over an air check. She was officially hired in February 2006 and moved her family to Alhambra.
Since then, Ortiz's schedule has only gotten crazier. Last fall, she appeared on the popular VH1 show Love & Hip-Hop, but the fame hasn't gone to her head — her kids are a built-in equalizer.
"They don't care that I was just on air with J.Lo," Ortiz says, hopping into her mom van. "They just want to know what's for dinner."