Children sometimes hide away in the seclusion of a closet, engrossed in make-believe and play. But for 8-year-old Sydney Catanese, the quiet closet in her parents’ bedroom has served a more professional purpose.
Sitting across from an invited guest, the third grader opens up a smartphone app and presses record before kicking off conversation with a single request: “Tell me about your job.”
Moments like this are a natural occurrence in the Catanese household. Residents of San Dimas, Sydney and her mother Dr. Shiloh Catanese have honed their talent as podcast hosts in recent years, finding success through the popular auditory medium.
While Dr. Catanese dissects true-crime stories using psychological concepts on “L.A. Not So Confidential: The Premier Forensic Psychology Podcast,” Sydney’s show, “Career Quest with Sydney,” facilitates illuminating conversations with adults, helping those her age learn about different career choices.
Dr. Catanese is a forensic and law enforcement psychologist, who works specifically with individuals who face the criminal justice system. She has spent 14 years working with high-risk sexual offenders, administering psychological assessments, facilitating therapy and mentoring early career psychologists.
After growing up in a family involved in law enforcement, Dr. Catanese attended Cal State Fullerton majoring in criminal justice, knowing she wanted to stay in the “family business.” As a cadet for the Glendora Police Department, she developed a laser focus toward joining the FBI, earning a doctorate degree in forensic psychology. However, in the final stage of her degree, an internship working with offenders coming out of prison led her down a different path, convincing her to pursue psychology instead.
A natural fan of true-crime podcasts, Dr. Catanese observed a distressing trend in popular shows she would listen to, eventually sharing her thoughts over lunch with her long-time friend and colleague Dr. Scott Musgrove.
“I told him, ‘You know, there is such a void of true-crime podcasts out there where there’s actually professionals working in the field, talking about what they’re doing. It’s a lot of two girlfriends together, reading Wikipedia pages about crime,’” she said.
When she suggested that the pair utilize their knowledge and expertise to start their own podcast, Dr. Musgrove initially rejected the idea as “insane.” Minutes later, he had come up with a name for the show.
“Let’s call it ‘L.A. Not So Confidential,’” he said.
Equipped with laptops, over-ear headphones and Blue Yeti microphones, the pair quickly got to work churning out episodes from Musgrove’s apartment, packing the show full of “true crime, psychology and snark.”
Since 2017, the duo have produced 58 episodes, garnering thousands of listeners from across the country and world.
The hosts delve into topics such as cults, Disney crimes, serial killers, crisis negotiations, and cannibalism, using classic and contemporary cases to explore the subjects. The show has also featured appearances from guests such as Jennifer Haley, a writer for Netflix’s “Mindhunter,” and retired FBI criminal profiler James R. Fitzgerald, known for his role in the UNABOM domestic terrorism investigation.
As recording became consistent in the Catanese household, Sydney started to become interested in the podcasting process as well.
Initially, Sydney’s interest seemed to stem from a desire to be where the adults were. A creaking door during a “L.A. Not So Confidential” recording session would give away her presence in the room before she turned to run away giggling. Before long, Sydney began to ask technical questions about how podcasts get recorded and why equipment like headphones and microphones were important.
“I remember her putting on the headphones, playing in the microphone and her face lighting up with this amazing curiosity of like, ‘That’s what my voice sounds like?’ It was very cool,” Dr. Musgrove said.
Before long, Sydney approached her parents with the idea to start a podcast of her own.
“My mom did one. I wanted to know what it was like, and it was actually really fun for me,” Sydney said.
Sydney’s first guest on “Career Quest with Sydney” was, fittingly, her mother.
“I’ve done a lot of different things in psychology,” Dr. Catanese told her daughter on the show. “But essentially, I am there for someone when they need someone to talk to and when they’re having really tough times and struggling in their life.”
Sydney jumps into her conversations asking guests a slate of questions covering topics like professional attire, the work that it takes to go into their career and what they wanted to be when they were a kid.
After her many interviews, Sydney remains unmoved in her aspirations to become an astronomer.
“It was kind of funny to have guests come in and then say, ‘Here, come to our studio, which happens to be a closet,” recalled Sydney’s father, Anthony Catanese. “It was a funny, funny experience at the beginning but it turned out to produce really good quality sound.”
Searching for rooms conducive to recording can be tricky, as different materials can create variances in acoustics, such as echos. After spending time recording at Dr. Musgrove’s apartment, in the Catanese closet and even in a soundproof interrogation room within a law enforcement building, the Catanese family has transformed their home office into a recording studio, complete with sound blankets.
During the era of COVID-19, the “Confidential” duo are using the video-conferencing program Zoom to continue their face-to-face dynamic in conversation. A quick download of the virtual meeting’s audio allows the pair to import the file to GarageBand where the episode is edited before publication.
While Dr. Catanese and Dr. Musgrove maintain a running list of episode ideas, they frequently tap suggestions by their audience to cover requested topics. Inquiries, such as those on the QAnon or Incel movements, have even required the hosts to do additional research to understand questions like, “What kind of personalities are drawn to conspiracy theories?”
“The most surprising thing is how incredibly engaged our audience is,” Dr. Catanese said.
Numerous requests for advice pertaining to grad school applications and programs have even led the pair to record an episode titled “So You Want to be a Forensic Psychologist?”
From professionals in the field to casual listeners, fans of the podcast praise the doctors’ ability to entertain while sharing their wealth of forensic psychology knowledge. However, the hosts’ appreciation for and willingness to engage with fans is really what sets the tone for the relationship between themselves and the listeners.
Over the past few years, Shannon Nishioka of Meridian, Connecticut, has kept up with the podcast’s episodes and participated in the show’s GetVokl interactive live streams.
A moment that really stood out for her, though, was when Nishioka wrote in seeking help to understand the “defund the police” movement. After receiving the note, Dr. Catanese compiled a series of articles for Nishioka to read and texted them to her.
“They were just very approachable and open to communication, and I have to tell you, that really meant the world to me,” said Nishioka in a recent phone call.
Last year, “L.A. Not So Confidential” joined CrawlSpace Media and has since held conversations with networks about a television adaptation of the show. However, Dr. Catanese holds that the networks will have to work around her schedule, as she’s not dropping her day job for Hollywood.
Meanwhile, the Catanese family is celebrating “Career Quest’s” placement on a new application called Storier. The recently launched app, which features kid-centric music and podcasts, highlighted Sydney’s show on their homepage.
While Dr. Catanese and Anthony often joke that Sydney is “the third adult living in the house,” they emphasize that she’s also very much an 8-year-old kid into things like dolls, fashion, and chatting with her friends via Messenger Kids while playing Roblox.
The two of them have made it clear to Sydney that there’s no pressure on her to continue podcasting if she loses interest, but for now, Sydney is excited and preparing to launch her second season in 2021.
“We’re just lucky to have a kid like her,” Anthony said.