Jenna Bush Hager Will Co-Host Today's Fourth Hour After Kathie Lee Gifford's Departure
Jenna Bush Hager has a new gig!
The Today show contributor and former first daughter will co-host the 10 o’clock hour of the morning show alongside Hoda Kotb beginning in April, when the hour’s longtime fixture Kathie Lee Gifford leaves the show.
“I’m so excited, I can’t believe it,” Bush Hager, 37, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue, on stands Friday. “It feels organic and it feels right. It just feels like the right time for me.”
The news comes after Gifford, 65, announced she would be moving on after 11 years in the role, to pursue personal projects including producing Christian music and films.
“It’s an exciting time for me, and I’m thrilled about all the projects that are coming up,” Gifford said on the show in December. “But it’s also hard … because I love everybody here so much.”
Almost immediately after the announcement of Gifford’s departure, insiders looked to Bush Hager as the likely new co-host, with a source saying the former first daughter (who spent her teen years in the White House while her father George W. Bush served two terms as president) was the “favorite” for the position.
“She is a favorite among viewers and staffers and she has already filled in for Kathie Lee every time she’s been away,” the source explained at the time.
“I’ve been the fill-in which is a fun position to be because there’s no pressure but you could just have a blast,” Bush Hager says now. “So, to take it to the next level is awe-inducing.”
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Her new co-host Kotb, 54, calls Bush Hager “the perfect fit.”
“Being around Jenna is like being around the most real person. She says exactly what she thinks and believes and there’s something about her that makes you do two things. You lean in because you want to know more and also you kind of weirdly tell her your secrets and you’re like ‘Oh my God, I just blurted all that out!'” Kotb tells PEOPLE exclusively. “She has this thing that’s special. I know that people try to have it but I think you’re born with it. And Jenna has it and it’s the thing that makes her laugh at herself when she spills coffee on herself. It’s the way that she makes other moms feel good enough because she explains how she’s had the worst day ever and puts it out there.”
For Bush Hager, who first joined the Today show in 2009, transitioning to a more permanent role on the show has also been a positive move for her family.
“My little kids want me around more,” says Bush Hager, who is mom to daughters Mila, 5, and Poppy, 3, with husband Henry Hager. “I’m a traveling machine, so to be home and to get to be kind of grounded in one position feels like such an honor. To be around a little bit more feels like the right time for my family too.”
And there will be more changes when she officially becomes co-host; the show is evolving, and there will be additional announcements and surprises to share.
Today airs from 7-11 a.m. on NBC.