At a café in midtown Manhattan, a late-lunch assortment of New Yorkers dot the tables in what could be considered a fairly small crowd for 2:30 in the afternoon.
But Kim Russo would probably say it's jam-packed. The Long Island, N.Y., resident sees beyond the latte-drinkers and customers ordering up salads. She sees people, she says, who others may or may not see – because these people inhabit the spirit world.
Russo is a medium (not to be confused with the Long Island Medium), meaning she has the ability to tap into this controversial realm, where she says she can communicate with spirits and ghosts.
"I don't dial the dead," Russo – whose show The Haunting Of premieres on the Biography Channel Saturday (10 p.m. EST) – tells PEOPLE. "It's whoever shows up."
She didn't point out any people of the paranormal persuasion who may or may not have "shown up" when she met with PEOPLE earlier this week. Still, her new series promises encounters with two species of another world: the aforementioned spirits … and celebrities.
From Regis Philbin to Connie Stevens, she explores the supernatural with Hollywood regulars feeling a little haunted by something from their pasts.
And if that sounds at all spooky, you're not the only one hiding under the covers.
Believe It or NotThere were five people – three men and two women – standing in her room at the foot of her bed. Russo, 9 years old at the time, would ask, "Who are you? Why aren't you smiling?"
No one else could see these people – not her dad or her older sister, who slept next to her. During the night, she'd ask her sibling to teach her how to spell words as a distraction.
Frightened and accustomed to pulling her blankets over her head, "I was only trying to keep [my sister] awake," Russo recalls of this jarring introduction to what would ultimately become her calling.
But that took decades. It wasn't until she was in her 20s that she was even able to differentiate the spirits from living, breathing people. For many years, she wondered if all of this, what she saw and heard and felt, was just her active imagination. "I didn't know it was a gift," she says.
She lived her life on a path that seems all too ordinary on paper. She worked in real estate management, married and had three sons. As a mother, she didn't think much about the spirit world – at least not until about 20 years ago, when she says she encountered a girl in her room who had been killed in a fire. That's when she decided to use this ability in her everyday life.
And for those who question this ability, well, just read her horoscope. She's a Gemini: analytical, logical, practical, she says. "I'm not gullible."
She's just the translator, after all, she says. Interpreting the spirit world is like understanding another language. She explains, "It's as if I'm watching a movie."
Adds Russo: "When I read, I read the soul."
Tell us in the comments below: Do you think Russo is for real?