Text by Gavin Edwards
If you’re a professional poker player, you know not to chase an inside straight and are careful not to get bluffed out of a pot on the flop. But some dangers will blindside you—like appearing on NBC’s Poker After Dark and finding yourself completely distracted by the vision of your hostess, Leeann Tweeden.
"A lot of the poker players are math whizzes, MIT grads with multiple doctorates," Leeann reports. "They’re brilliant, and they’re cool people, but a lot of them are not socialized. They spend their time online." So when she interviews the players, she says, the reaction is often hormone-induced paralysis: "Ooohhh, pretty girl."
Leeann may not have advanced degrees, but she was smart enough to graduate high school early, at the age of 16, in Manassas, Virginia. She then won a model-search contest and moved to Hollywood. "I never had to be a waitress or a call girl," she says. Instead, she became a model for Frederick’s of Hollywood, a regular on ESPN2’s Fitness Beach and, for nearly seven years, a correspondent for Fox Sports’ Best Damn Sports Show Period. On segments for that show, Dontrelle Willis taught her how to throw a curveball, Jeff Gordon instructed her on the fine points of driving 200 mph, and the Golden Knights (the Army’s parachute team) let her jump out of an airplane with them. "I’m definitely a daredevil," she says with a winning grin.
Leeann’s latest thrill: posing for Playboy. It’s not her first time. Back in 1996 she appeared on an Olympics-themed cover but declined to do a pictorial. "Growing up, I was sort of prudish about being nude," she explains. Now, at 38, she’s ready: "I’m secure in who I am now. I’ve always been a goody-two-shoes girl, but I’m making a choice to shake things up. Posing for Playboy is iconic. All these women I look up to have done it, like Cindy Crawford, Elle Macpherson and Bo Derek."
One person Leeann hasn’t told yet about her Playboy adventure: Sean Hannity, the Fox News host. She frequently appears on his show. "I don’t know if he’ll look at me differently now when I’m sitting next to him, talking politics," she says. Leeann is fiscally conservative and socially liberal and a full-on American patriot. "I’m more libertarian than anything," she says. "Gay marriage is fine with me, and I think women should have a right to an abortion. But I would like to have more accountability for the welfare system, which is really breaking the bank."
Leeann would love to have her own talk show one day. Other goals: hosting a travel show, writing a book, visiting Tasmania. She’s dated sports stars Josh Beckett and Dale Earnhardt Jr., but a year ago she married a JetBlue pilot. "When we started dating, he was still in the active-duty Air Force," she says. "He has flown me over Iraq with Robin Williams, John Elway and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff." That sounds like the setup for a joke, but it was actually during a USO tour, one of 16 Leeann has done.
Her most memorable one involved flying into Baghdad two weeks after the statue of Saddam Hussein had been pulled down. She sang backup vocals with Rebecca Romijn on "Sweet Home Alabama," with Kid Rock on guitar and vocals. "We were the first civilians in," Leeann says.
The celebrities stayed in Kuwait, a dry country—which didn’t stop Kid Rock ("Bobby" to his friends) from sneaking in some liquor. "I was thinking, We’re going to get kicked out of this country," Leeann says. "But the boy just has a good time." She laughs. She doesn’t have to say it: The girl has a good time too.
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