Michael Buble

Michael Buble Leans in with Love and Laughter

By Allison Kugel

Michael Buble’s first order of business when we began our conversation was to immediately put me at ease around his enormous celebrity. The multi-Grammy and multi-Juno Award (Canada’s answer to the Grammy awards)winning singer who sells out the world’s largest stadiums, has sold more than 60 million albums worldwide, and singlehandedly made us re-visit our love affair with the great American songbook, set out to calm my excitable sensibilities with his seamless charm and wit.

 

Upon picking up his call, a woman came on the line asking me if I was ready to speak with Michael. Two seconds later Michael, himself, came on the line and opened with, “She doesn’t really work for me. I just have her do that to make me sound more important,” as he let out a chuckle. My reply? “Well, too bad for me, I answer my own phone,” and we shared a laugh. In reality, Buble’s music is important to millions around the world who glean such joy and comfort from his flawless interpretation of some of the most iconic music of the 20th century, as well as original music written and performed by Buble. His original works have swiftly gone on to achieve classic status in the soundtrack of our lives.

 

The year 2019 marks a boon of personal and professional success, and a packed schedule for Buble. His family’s much publicized heartbreak as they fought for their son Noah, as he battled pediatric liver cancer, set Buble on a new course of humility which was evident throughout our conversation. Now, with Noah’s health much improved, Michael Buble re-emerged with a new album, aptly titled Love (or simply, the heart emoji)on which he collaborated with mega-music producer, David Foster; a sold-out worldwide tour and his seventh upcoming musical television special, set to air on NBC on March 20th.

 

My conversation with Michael Buble is one of his most authentic and reflective, to date. We cover the subjects of parenthood, success, spirituality, love, humor, and of course, the music.

 

Allison Kugel: Hello Michael. How are you?

 

Michael Buble: If you hear kids screaming the background, OhMy God, so sorry about that. My daughter is running around screaming.

 

Allison Kugel: Aww, when I do my interviews from home, I have my nine-year-old running around in the background, so I get it!

 

Michael Buble: Boy or a girl?

 

Allison Kugel: A boy. 

 

Michael Buble: You’re probably like, (whispering)Shhh, Stop it (laughs).” Does he know the deal with what you do?

 

Allison Kugel: He knows I interview people. It’s funny, I had him with me one day for “Take Your Kids to Work Day.” I was trying to impress him, saying how I interview all of these amazing people and showing him where my work is published, and his response was, “I’m bored.”

 

Michael Buble:(Laughs) My kids love it. They’re actually coming with me now on tour.

 

Allison Kugel: Is your wife on tour with you as well?

 

Michael Buble: They all come along. I set it up so that they come on tour, and when my wife (Argentineactress, Luisana Lopilato)has a film, I schedule it so that for those weeks I take that time off and I take the kids on set to watch her.It’s a lot of fun.

 

Allison Kugel: I have to tell you, I was watching footage of your upcoming NBC special (airing Wednesday, March 20th, 10 pm ET/PT), and you always reduce me to tears. You probably hear stories like this all the time, but when my son was a newborn, I had a routine with him every night, where before I put him down in his crib, I would pick him up in my arms and slow dance with him to your music. When I hearHomeorQuando Quando Quando, I just lose it, because I think back to that beautiful time.

 

Michael Buble: That’s great. He’s your boyfriend. It sounds so strange to say that, and whenever I say that, people are like, “That sounds weird,” but it’s not. Obviously, not in that way, but it is romantic. He’s going to love you forever.You’ll be the love of his life and he’s the love of your life.

 

Allison Kugel: I’m banking on it.

 

Michael Buble: I love my boys and I’m close with my boys, but it’s not the same as with my daughter.  Everyone told me it would be different, and I was like, “No, no it won’t be.” And it’s different. She looks at me with those big blue eyes and I’m toast.

 

Allison Kugel: You must hear stories like mine all the time. Do people constantly share with you how your music has been weaved into their most important memories?

 

Michael Buble: Oh, for sure. It allows me to have an even greater sense of fulfillment when people come up to me and tell me how my music has impacted or affected their lives. More than anything, I think I have had servicemen and servicewomen tell me that they’ve gone through scary things and been away for long amounts of time in places that were obviously not comfortable for them, and that songs like Homebrought them a ton of peace and got them through a tough time. I think when people say things like that to you, as an artist, it gives you a sense of understanding that what you do matters. I don’t mean “matters” in a sense of being more important than the jobs of other people. But when you’re missing people and you’re away from your own family, there is power in music. There is power in sharing songs like that and allowing people to interpret them in their own way. I’ve heard the same stories from people who have gone through terrible breakups and people who have been legitimately lonely.They’ve said to me, “The song Haven’t Met You Yetis getting me through.” And then Christmas comes up and I’ll hear from people that that’s all their kids listen to in the car, or it makes them think of their grandfather who they lost. It’s a testament to the power of music. Melody is the voice of God, I think.

 

Allison Kugel: I’ll tell you what I have always found fascinating about you, and I’m a fan of music from earlier times. I’m forever listening to music from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. What’s so interesting about you is that you came along in the very early 2000s when everything was hip hop, and rap/rock. What made you believe that you could even break through as somebody who was crooning these songs from a bygone era?

 

Michael Buble: It was probably stupidity (laughs). I mean, thinking that I might have success was probably naiveté. But honest to God, I think I was blinded by the love of the music. And by the way, I love allkinds of music. I love rock,R & B and rap. For me, if it’s good, it’s good. It doesn’t matter who did it or where it came from. I hoped that I could trust my instincts.

 

Allison Kugel: I’ve been listening to this author and speaker named Dr. Joe Dispenza.  He studies the patterns of the human brain and how we create our own reality. He essentially talks about how anybody who has ever achieved something great, has been able to believe in a vision and believe in a life for themselves that they couldn’t’t yet perceive with their physical senses. When I read that you, from the age of two, knew you were going to be a singer, slept with your bible at night and prayedfor it, and you held strong to that vision for all of those years before it actually materialized in your life, I put you in that great category. Does that make sense?

 

Michael Buble: Yeah, it does, and there’s a few people like Eckhart Tolle with The Power of Now, and some of these other philosophers who also talk about that. There is a Canadian writer [Malcolm Gladwell], he wrote a book called The Outliers. His whole premise was that to truly become great at something, you need to put in ten thousand hours of work. And if you find anyone who’s become truly great at what they do, they have put in that amount of time. There are little parts of what you were talking about that mix with the practical application of doing things enough and focusing enough. You learn by osmosis and your experience helps you to grow. Then by the time you get your opportunity, you’re ready. I think that probably had a lot to do with it for me. Number one, I loved it. I had a passion for the music and the songs, and all of that. But I did the work; I practiced, I sang, and I studied. I took it all in and I digested it as much as possible and downloaded it as much as possible in every kind of genre.  I get what you’re saying. You’re talking about visualizing. I have a friend who tells me often that he used to walk down the street and say to himself, “I have a million dollars.” Not,“I want a million dollars,” but,“I havea million dollars; I am successful.”

 

Allison Kugel: You’re living it and believing it, rather than wishing for it.

 

Michael Buble: Yes, but this is a difficult conversation, because I think for people who have had the success and who have done that, they can confidently say to you, “Yes, it works. It worked for me, I did that.” For most of the people who don’t have that, I think they look at it as pish posh.

 

Allison Kugel: I think people afraid to relinquish their faith over to something that may leave them empty handed. It’s the fear of, well, if I really invest myself in this process and I really believe, and it doesn’tmaterialize in my life, I’ll be devastated. Therefore, I’m going to remain skeptical.

 

Michael Buble: There’s times where I think to myself, “My God, I worked at visualizing and praying and wanting, and putting out all of that stuff to the universe, and it worked.” But then there’s a lot of times where I have to say to myself that I was just so lucky, so lucky. I mean, a million dominos had to fall in the most perfect way for this to have happened in my life. The question that I really ask myself is, if I had to do it all over again, would I be brave enough?

 

Allison Kugel: Mmm, okay. I’ll ask you the question. Knowing everything you now know about the music industry, about the odds, about everything you’re aware of; if you had to start from square one, would you have the courage to do it all over again?

 

Michael Buble: No.

 

Allison Kugel: You don’t think so?

 

Michael Buble: I don’t think so.

 

Allison Kugel: Wow. Well thank God that’s not an option!

 

Michael Buble: It’s a hard question to think about, because reality doesn’t come into it. I came home yesterday with my wife and we had to take our son to his checkup, the scans and everything (Buble is talking about his son Noah, who is currently in remission from pediatric liver cancer). We take him every three months for checkups, and it’s really scary. My wife and I actually talked about this and we said, “My God, look at what we did.” Here we were, she was twenty-three years old and I was thirty-two.We met in Argentina and we fell in love.Everyone told us that it was impossible.  They told us not to do it, because it was too far away, the whole long-distance relationship thing. And we did it. We got married. Everyone said, “That’s crazy. That’s not going to work.Andwhatever you do, don’t have kids, because that’ll be murder.” And then we had kids. And then there’s what happened to our family (referencing son Noah’s cancer diagnosis). One of the first things a doctor told me at one of the hospitals we’d gone to, was to stay strong and help each other through this. A friend of ours, when we had asked why the doctors keep telling us that, this friend of ours who works with families going through things like this, said, that something like 92% of couples who go through this…

 

Allison Kugel: Get divorced…

 

Michael Buble: Get divorced. And many of the 8% who don’t, have [more] children. And of course, my wife and I thought here we are with a beautiful daughter.We were in the car yesterday and I looked at her, and said, “Would you do it all over again?” She then answered, “Of course I would do it all over again. I wouldn’t want anything different. You guys are the greatest joy of my life.” But then my question to her was, “But would you be brave enough to do it all over again?” And then she said,”I don’t know.” And I would have to say the same thing. I don’t know.

 

Allison Kugel: Any of us could say that. It’s like when you have a baby. You bring that baby home from the hospital, and the thought that goes through your mind is that you are going to give this kid a perfect existence, and you’re going to shelter him or her from any pain or discomfort. And then life happens, and you feel completely out of control because you realize that you don’t have the power to completely shield them from the pain and discomfort of life.

 

Michael Buble: And you don’t have the power to shield them from yourself. For sure, I thought to myself, “He’s going to be better than I am!” I am so flawed. I’m so flawed and so impatient, and there are so many things about me that I don’t like or that I wish I could improve on. And then you go, “Oh my God, he’s acting exactly like me.”

 

Allison Kugel: You do your best and nobody gets through life without bumps and bruises. Turning things over to the enormity of your career, when you’re on that stage looking out over the massive crowd of 20,000 or 30,000 people who are there to watch you perform, do you ever have an out-of-body experience, like you’re looking at this famous guy singing his heart out on stage and you’re just like, “How did I get here?!”

 

Michael Buble: It’s weird, I used to [feel like that] years ago. I don’t anymore. It’s really strange to say this, but after what I’ve gone through and what my family has gone through, I actually talk about it during my shows. I feel so deeply connected to all those beautiful souls in the audience; I don’t feel there is a difference between us. The truth is, they’re singing just as much as I am. We laugh together, we dance together, and we cry to together.The truth is, I would never have gotten through what I got through without them. I don’t care what people think of me. My goal in life is to be kind, and to do what I do with integrity, and just to know myself. But I’ll never use the word “fan.” I think it’s a shitty word.

 

Allison Kugel: It is a shitty word.

 

Michael Buble: It’s short for “fanatical,” and I think that’s negative. I don’t think these are fanatics. I think these are beautiful human beings who need as much love, and who give as much love, as anybody else. When I’m standing there on stage, it’s emotional for me. Sometimes I can control that emotion and sometimes I can’t. But you’re asking me how I feel, and it’s overwhelming. I feel overwhelmed… and grateful. I didn’t know if I was ever going to come back.

 

Allison Kugel: When you took that hiatus to deal with your son’s health, you really thought that could be it?

 

Michael Buble: Yeah.

 

Allison Kugel: What was the impetus for you to come back?

 

Michael Buble: He was better. We didn’t know how it was going to turn out. My heart was broken, I don’t know. It wasn’t that I ever fell out of love with music. I just didn’t know if I had it in me to go out there and be joyful. It just wasn’t something I could turn on.

 

Allison Kugel: And you returned with an album dedicated to love. The album’s title is a heart emoji, and features some of the most beautiful love songs. Is that because you were so filled with love and gratitude for your son’s healing?

 

Michael Buble: It’s because I was in a bubble, looking out at the world, and I saw a lot of negative things happening around the world. I realized that I had an opportunity to put beautiful things out there.

 

Allison Kugel: Which is so important, because we need as many people out there as possible lifting collective consciousness.

 

Michael Buble: Sometimes I feel like I’m just one small person, but I feel like there is a lot of power that one person can generate. We can all make a difference, and it usually comes in those random acts of kindness and putting love out there. I felt that if I didn’t do something that was being true to myself and true to how I felt about what the world needed, then I was one of the assholes that was making the world worse. I sat with my producer, David Foster, who had bene retired. And he wasn’t going back. This was a year before we ever got into the studio. I said, “Are you ever going to work again?” He said, “No, I don’t think so. I love being retired. I don’t think I could ever go back in the studio. What about you?” I said, “David, if I ever go back, I just want it to be joy. I want it to be bliss, and I want to work with people I love,put out beautiful music and make people fall in love.” I think both of us in that moment had this epiphany. After that day, he said to me, “Well, Mike, man, if I ever come back, it would be with you.” And then a year later we found ourselves in the studio doing it.

 

Allison Kugel: What do you think you are here in this life as Michael Buble to learn?

 

Michael Buble: Listen, I don’t know yet. I’m still learning a lot.What scares me is I’ve learned so much more in the past five years than I had in all my previous years combined. The reason I am reticent to give you an answer is because I can’t imagine what I will learn in another five. What I’ve learned is how much I don’t know. Life moves quickly, and… I think I sound like Ferris Bueller right now (laughs).

 

Allison Kugel: (Laughs)I was just thinking that!

 

Michael Buble: (Laughs)I think just waking up in the morning and focusing on being kind. It sounds weird, but just be kind, be loving, forgive and try to get through this very short life. And especially when you have kids, you hope your actions are louder than your words.

 

Allison Kugel: Dare I now ask, what you feel you are here to teach?

 

Michael Buble: I do have an idea, but it’s really personal to me and I don’t want to get preachy. But I do, and I think you do to. I can hear it in the way you speak. I think you have a good, solid idea of what you are doing here.

 

Allison Kugel: I’ve been studying this stuff for quite some time. I hope I don’t sound too airy fairy.

 

Michael Buble: It’s okay to be airy fairy. I have my faith and I try never to put it in people’s faces, because there’s a lot of people who don’t believe the same things I do, and that’s okay I don’t know who’s right, I really don’t. I can keep it simple and say I don’t know what there is or what there isn’t, but I feel in some way we are all connected. I know that each one of us gets to play a part in bringing goodness and humanity into the world. I feel like sometimes, because of the job I have, it can be magnified. If I can do that as best as I can, that can be my legacy.

 

 

Michael Buble Photos courtesy of Evaan Kheraj

 

Michael Buble’s seventh musical television special will air Wednesday, March 20that 10 PM ET/PT on NBC. Buble’s tenth studio album, Love[illustrated with a simple heart emoji], is out now. Visit MichaelBuble.com/touror TicketMaster.comfor information and tickets for 2019 his worldwide tour.

 

Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment columnist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the recordavailable on Amazon, and owner of communications firm, Full Scale Media. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugeland at AllisonKugel.com.


Vivica A. Fox

Vivica A. Fox is Hotter Than Ever, and Disarmingly Real

By Allison Kugel


Kind, conscientious, courageous and refreshingly candid, Ms. Vivica A. Fox has proven that as Hollywood careers go, second acts are often the sweetest. The multi-hyphenate actress-director- beauty entrepreneur-author is embracing life and not looking back, except to pull from her well of wisdom for her new memoir, Every Day I’m Hustling. And if you know Vivica like I got to know her during our conversation, you’d think the book’s title quite fitting. She enjoys hard work and has no plans to slow down.

 

Born Vivica Anjanetta Fox on the outskirts of Indianapolis, she went by Angie Fox, one of four siblings being raised by divorced mother who worked overtime to provide for her children. Her childhood home was hectic but loving and provided fertile ground for Vivica to aspire for things grander than her midwestern upbringing.

 

After high school, she made her way to Southern California to attend college, all the while seeking out opportunities in Los Angeles to model and act wherever she could. It was in LA that Angie became Vivica A. Fox. She worked her way through the ranks on sitcoms and daytime soaps, and in 1996 got her breakthrough role opposite Will Smith in the classic blockbuster, Independence Day.  Next came a string of fan favorites includingSet It Off, Soul Food, Two Can Play That Game, Kill BillVolume I and II, and a string of subsequent roles in film and television, including Larry David’s sharp-witted houseguest, Loretta Black, on Curb Your Enthusiasmand Skye in the campy Sharknadofranchise. Her eclectic career has kept her on the move for nearly three decades.

 

In 2016, Vivica joined the cast of the smash hit television series, Empire, playing conservative suburbanite Candace, Cookie Lyon’s (Taraji P. Henson)older sister and character foil.

 

During our interview we covered everything from movie stardom and maternal instincts to social media drama, setting boundaries and finding love.

 

 

Allison Kugel: When are you Angie and when are you Vivica? When do you take off the Vivica and become Angie from Indianapolis?

 

Vivica A. Fox: Well first off, that’s Angie Fox from 38thand Emerson in Indianapolis (laughs)! I’m Vivica Fox when I hit that red carpet and I’m ready to slay the game. That’s what I do. But I love that I have in my life, and in my journey, learned when to be Angie Fox. And that’s mainly when I’m with my family, time off, hanging out with my godchildren, having my Me Time and learningto take Me Time. That’s when I’m no makeup, baseball cap, chilling and blending in.

 

Allison Kugel: Do you prefer yourself that way?

 

Vivica A. Fox: Oh my gosh! To be honest with you, the older I’ve gotten, the more I prefer it. I work so much; I’ve been so blessed and so busy lately that I enjoy when I can have that Me Time. In fact, today I don’t have to be on. That’s what I really love about being with my godchildren. When they see me, I’m just G.G. or G-ma. G.G. stands for Gorgeous Godmother. G-ma, I don’t know where they got that one from, but I have five godchildren. Two of them call me G-ma and the other ones call me G.G. They like hanging with me. Not the drama or the glamour, they just want me.

 

Allison Kugel: I love the part in your book where your godson, Christian, sees you all done up as Vivica A. Fox, and he gives you that side eye like he doesn’t recognize you, and you say, “It’s okay, I’m just wearing my Vivica costume.” Then he asks, “You’re still my G.G., right?” And you reassure him that it’s still you.

 

Vivica A. Fox: It’s funny because he was just a baby the first time he saw me like that, and he was like, “Who are you!?” He was so used to seeing me in my tracksuit and baseball cap. But now at seven, he kind of likes it when he sees the reaction I get from people. He’s done a couple of red carpet events with me and he knows the difference between the two.

 

Allison Kugel: Coming from the Midwest, your father was a school administrator, your mother worked for a pharmaceutical company, so you really had no ties to entertainment, or Los Angeles for that matter. What gave you that spark of courage, that spark that made you believe that you could become a successful actress?

 

Vivica A. Fox: I was introduced to the world of fashion and modeling by Madame King, my late auntie. She had her own beauty salon back in the day. She was the first one to cut my hair and put me on a runway. I was kind of bitten by the bug at thirteen. From that point forward, I just fell in love with magazines and fashion. Then I went to go see Michael Jackson in concert, and Diana Ross in concert. I had never seen African Americans being so fabulous, and I was like, “Where do they live? That’s where I’m going! That’s what I want to do.” I decided that during my senior year in high school. But I had to trick my mama (laughs)and tell her I was going to college in California, and I did go to college. But I would be sneaking up to Hollywood and going to modeling agencies. I had a girlfriend who was an actress, and I used to read lines with her. She would say, “You’re pretty good at this, you should try it.”

 

Allison Kugel: Your book is part memoir and part motivational guidebook for success. Tell me about your mentor, or mentors…

 

Vivica A. Fox: My mentor would have to be a good friend of mine, and my first acting coach, Sheila Wills. I’m her two daughters’ godmother. Sheila, I met when I was doing [the daytime soap opera] Generations. She took me under her wing, and she would work with me with auditions. I would go into those auditions and just nail them. I attribute my success to her. She would say, “Vivica, you’ve got to stay ready. You got to be ready. You’ve got to take care of yourself.” And people who inspired me to be who I am would be Diana Ross and Pam Grier.

 

Allison Kugel: Do you know that you’re incredibly sexy? Is that something you’re aware of?

 

Vivica A. Fox: Well, okay now!

 

Allison Kugel: I’m not pulling your leg. You really do ooze sensuality. Do you know that?

 

Vivica A. Fox: Thank you! I appreciate that. Got to keep it tight and right, girl (laughs)!

 

Allison Kugel: More so now, than twenty years ago, in my opinion…

 

Vivica A. Fox: Maybe because… No, not maybe! Because I amcomfortable in my own skin. I’m very comfortable with me. I have embraced my womanhood through my pluses and my minuses. I’m good with me right now, so that’s what you’re seeing. My spirit is happy, more than anything else. It’s taken awhile, and that’s something I want to share with people. My book is a motivational memoir. I, too, have fallen down and had to figure out how to get back up and create new chapters for myself. I want to encourage, enlighten and inspire other people.

 

Allison Kugel: Why did you choose to share your journey with menopause in the book?

 

Vivica A. Fox: It’s part of life. It’s going to happen. And it’s like you just asked, “Do you know that you’re sexy right now?” But do people also know that for the last few years, that’s what’s been going on in my life? I embraced it and I got in front of it. I didn’t let it define me or make me want to whittle away. I don’t know why with women, we can’t talk about our bodies and what we go through, share it with others, and not feel like we have to hide that from people. I’m sharing it, and I got in front of it and took care of myself. I really feel like it made me take good care of myself.

 

Allison Kugel: And being that your image is sexy, you weren’t afraid of putting that out there…

 

Vivica A. Fox: No, not at all. You’re going to have naysayers and people that are going to try to come and say something, and they can. But I’m still me. It doesn’t change who I am. I’m still all woman.

 

Allison Kugel: When it comes to social media feuds and this clap back culture we’re living in, when do you take the high road and not respond, and when do you feel the need to clap back?

 

Vivica A. Fox: I will clap back occasionally, but to be very honest with you, if it’s not necessary, I don’t like that. I’m not one of those people who became famous by being a controversial celebrity. Normally, I’ll click on who that person is and see if they’re even worth it. If it’s somebody that you can tell is wanting to make TheShadeRoom or seeking attention, I just block them. They’re not worth it. When I clap back, it’s when somebody comes at me or I have to set the record straight.

 

Allison Kugel: Technology has made it very easy for people to say something mean spirited or join in the angry mob. For me, I try my best to practice the art of what I call Non-Reaction, where I feel like every time I don’t react I’m passing that next spiritual test. But occasionally, something will get me and I’ll react. And then I’ll wonder, was that a failure on my part, or was it warranted in that situation? Do you share that same internal struggle?

 

Vivica A. Fox: It’s an internal struggle with me too. Some days I’m like, “Why did I give that person my energy?” There are some people, they just come on your page to be mean, and you kind of want to go, “You looked me up, and took the time to write a response to be mean to me. Hmm, what does that say about yourcharacter?” There’s an old saying your mama told you. “If you ain’t got nothing nice to say, don’t say nothing at all.” I try to live by that old school motto. I don’t try to pass on bad energy to others, I don’t. If I don’t have anything nice to say I just keep my opinion right on over here. But you know, this generation with the social media, a lot of people like that negative feedback. They feed off it. I don’t.

 

Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about motherhood. I know you have all these nieces and nephews, and godchildren. I feel like motherhood, meaning the energy of motherhood, is something that is innate in all women. We have a need to nurture. How does that energy express itself through you?

 

Vivica A. Fox: I’m Mama Bear all the time! I have a nurturing instinct and I think I get that from my mother. My mother always loved to take care of others. Still to this day, she doesn’t take as good care of herself, because she is always looking out for others. I got that quality from her. When I’m on the set, I’m always looking out for others. When I walk on a set, I’m always making sure that I speak to everyone, that I try to make people as comfortable as possible.  In that way, I am very motherly. It’s just something in me, I like to look out for others. But the older I’ve gotten, I’ve learned to look out more for myself, as well. And I’ve learned a very important word: No. Because people will take, take, take from you child, till you drop! Then they’re satisfied, and you’re left over there feeling completely empty.

 

Allison Kugel: At what age did you learn how to say No?

 

Vivica A. Fox: It was in my late forties, or maybe just when I got to be about fifty, that I started really looking at my relationships and asking myself if they are all reciprocal relationships. I had that tendency to give, give, give, and I finally took off my Captain Save-A-Ho cape.

 

Allison Kugel: (Laughs).

 

Vivica A. Fox: I mean that. Sometimes you’ll talk to friends on the phone, and we all vent, it’s human. But if you talk to somebody that is constantly draining and negative, at some point… I’ve cut ties with a couple of friends and not felt bad about it. I call it the season of shedding, where not everyone’s going to the next chapter or the next level with you. And it’s okay. You don’t have to hate them, but there’s nothing wrong with making good choices for yourself.

 

Allison Kugel: How do you define glamour and beauty?

 

Vivica A. Fox: Someone who is a goddess, who just radiates confidence; someone who owns her moment, who seizes her moment. The older I’ve gotten, I believe that beauty radiates from the inside. Especially nowadays with these build-a-bodies, and everything is just makeup and fakeness in my opinion right now. It’s when you meet a person and they are a beautiful person, they radiate confidence and kindness. I find beauty in a woman that has no makeup on, but she’s confident in her own skin and radiates kindness and does for others, to me that’s beautiful.

 

Allison Kugel: In your book you give advice on achieving different areas of success in one’s life. I personally think that so many people have a misconception about success. People want that insta-recognition, that insta-success. I said to someone the other day that for all the people who think they would love to trade places with Mark Zuckerberg or Oprah, for example, most of those people wouldn’t make it through the first week if they saw the tremendous amount of work, pressure and sacrifice that it takes to be in that type of position.

 

Vivica A. Fox: To piggyback on that point, for myself, people don’t realize that for the last two to three years I slept on planes. I was always traveling, always busy, taking meetings, not sleeping, going here, going there, andgoing through changes of life and never letting it slow me down. There’s a lot of work required. All those seeds that I’ve planted, I’m now seeing them all blossom. But I had to do the work. That’s what I tell people. In my book, in the chapter about Being the Head Chick in Charge, I say, “Don’t let anyone outwork you.”

 

Allison Kugel: What do you think is the biggest misconception about success?

 

Vivica A. Fox: That it’s easy. When you’re successful, usually it’s taken a long time to build a career. It isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes time to build a career, and a career means being able to go through different stages and chapters of a career, not just being the hot chick of the moment. For me, I went from being the hot ingenue chick, to now building my brand and producing and directing.

 

Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about Empire. I started watching it last week, all four seasons in a row!

 

Vivica A. Fox: Oh, you binge-watched…

 

Allison Kugel: Yes, I binge-watched! I’m talking carrying the iPad with me all over the house; the show is that addictive and entertaining. Entertainment value, on a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 12 plus. The one thing I had mixed feelings about is the way African Americans are depicted in the show. On one hand I’m loving it, on the other hand I’m thinking, “Does this play on negative stereotypes, the way this family is being portrayed?”

 

Vivica A. Fox: Well, I think that’s why Empirehas been so successful. It’s raw and right there in your face. It makes you uncomfortable. What I commend Lee Daniels and the cast of Empirefor is they are like, “It may make you uncomfortable, but we are who we are. We’re not going to sugar coat this. We’re going to give it to you straight, no chaser.” That’s what made it a phenom. Some people felt like they couldn’t handle the gay [subject], or they feel it’s a little bit too raw, but that’s Empire. They have stayed true to what the show is about, and I have to commend them for that. That take courage, not to bow down to social or peer pressure.

 

Allison Kugel: Did Lee Daniels ever share with you the moral of the story of Empire, or his vision for the show?

 

Vivica A. Fox: Not really. The thing I love about Lee is that he is who he is. It’s taken awhile for him to become comfortable in his own skin, and that he’s a gay man and that he has talent, and he doesn’t have to hide who he really is anymore. We’ve all been in this business for twenty years, and I’m going to tell you that it’s been a long journey for him to put out a show like this. Some of the storylines in the show, absolutely, with the mother saying to her kids, “You’re this, you’re that (referring to the character, Cookie, having a penchant for hurling insults).” The father throwing the kid in the dumpster, it tugs at the heartstrings. It makes you uncomfortable, but it happens. I feel that with knowledge there’s power.

 

Allison Kugel: What will Candace be up to in the new season?

 

Vivica A. Fox: I can’t give away a whole bunch, but I will tell you that Candace is back and that you will get the chance to finally meet our mother, Renee, played by the very beautiful and talented Alfre Woodard.

 

Allison Kugel: Do you judge your character, Candace, the same way that Cookie judges her?

 

Vivica A. Fox: No. I believe we all have those relationships in our families where we’re all different, but we’re still family. In my career right now, I’ve embraced my womanhood and people are like, “Ooh, Vivica, you’re going to become today’s Diahann Carroll.” And I’m like, “Wow! Thank you for that.” But firstly, Vivica is a little bit more like Cookie. I like to have my rock star moments, and I love wearing the crazy clothes and all that stuff. But Candace is who I’m evolving into.

 

Allison Kugel: In your book you provide some back story about your mom and dad’s relationship, and how it’s affected your own love life. What I got from what you wrote is that in watching your mom nurse a broken heart over the divorce from your father, you saw her as a victim, and that framed your own love life.

 

Vivica A. Fox: Absolutely.

 

Allison Kugel: Do you still see her as a victim, or do you see things in a different light now? And what would it take for you to let your guard down in love?

 

Vivica A. Fox: I see my mother now as a survivor. My mother grew up in a time where you stuck by your guy. He was her one true love, and I definitely have those qualities. What I learned from her, in wanting her to live and to love and to laugh more, I wouldn’t take those same steps that she did. I can open my heart again. For my part, I’m making sure that I’m not lustful anymore. I don’t look at somebody and right away say, “Oh yes, he’s the one!” I make sure that I take the time to get to know someone. That’s something I pass along in my book, as well. Don’t jump into the shallow end of the pool head first. You’ve got to take the time to get to know people. So yes, I am open to love. I want to love again and have someone that’s really special. But he has to prove himself, and I would have to prove myself to him, that I’m worthy to be his mate. Sometimes women are so afraid to be alone that they just take that first thing coming, and they get the short end of the stick. They keep dating the same guy over and over again. That’s why, in the book, I say to make your chart out. Do you keep dating the same guy over and over again? Because you’re going to get the same result.

 

Allison Kugel: Do you want Hollywood to be colorblind in writing and casting roles, or do you want to be identified, and cast, as an African American actress?

 

Vivica A. Fox: Of course, I always want to be seen as a talented African American actress, because that’s who I am. I feel that right now, what’s going on in Hollywood is that, man, that glass ceiling has been busted wide open. It’s been a long time coming, with the success of Black Panther, with the success of television shows like Scandaland Empireand How to Get Away with Murder; with Oprah having her own network. It’s about damn time.

 

Allison Kugel: Is it an I Told You So moment?

 

Vivica A. Fox: I don’t know if it’s I Told You So as much as it is, Finally.

 

Allison Kugel: Finish these sentences for me. I know I can trust someone when…

 

Vivica A. Fox: When I’ve truly gotten to know them.

 

Allison Kugel: I know that God is speaking to me when…

 

Vivica A. Fox: Woo! Hmm. All the time. Every day when I wake up and I can thank Him for letting me see another day. I would say, I know God is speaking to me all the time, and He helps me make better choices.

 

Allison Kugel: My spiritual mission in this life is…

 

Vivica A. Fox: To be kind, to do unto others and to leave a good mark.

 

 

Vivica’s memoir, “Every Day I’m Hustling,” is available everywhere books are sold April 3rdand available for pre-order on Amazon.

 

Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.

 

 


Regina King

Actress Regina King Shines in Seven Seconds on Netflix

By Allison Kugel

 

 

With an acting career spanning four decades and multiple awards and nominations, Regina King has effortlessly embodied countless memorable characters across the big and small screens.

 

From thought provoking films like Boyz n the Hood, Poetic Justice, Jerry Maguireand Ray; to lighter fare like the Legally Blondeand Miss Congenialityfranchises, Regina King brings a special sparkle to every role she’s tackled. On the small screen, King’s presence in past television series like Southland, The Boondocks, The Leftovers, Shameless, and her Emmy- winning turn in American Crime, have highlighted some of the more significant social issues of our time, both with ironic humor and with poignant drama. Wherever art is imitating life in a significant way, Regina King has been tapped to play a pivotal role in the project.

 

What audiences may not know is that King is also an accomplished television director, with a growing resume of credits including smash hit television shows from Scandaland Greenleaf to The Good Doctorand This Is Us.

 

Her most recent Emmy-nominated performance as Latrice Butler, grieving mother of a teenage son who is the victim of a death by auto, hit and run by a group of Jersey City police officers, is a true tour de force and a defining role in a long and treasured career.

 

Allison Kugel: What drew you to playing Latrice Butler in Seven Seconds?

 

Regina King: I was actually drawn to the role of [prosecutor] KJ Harper (played by Clare-Hope Ashitey), and [series creator]Veena Sud was sure that she wanted me for the role of Latrice. I liked the pilot script and decided to take that dive into the emotional pool.

 

Allison Kugel: You play the mother of a teenage boy who is killed by a police officer. What was your creative process in tackling such an intense role?

 

Regina King: Being a mother myself, and the mother of a black young man, there are certain fears you have that are unique to having a black child in America. You have fears as a parent when your kids are growing up, because you can’t control everything. But there are those experiences that are specific to black children that are not the same for others. You experience a bit of it, yourself, as a child growing up in America. Unfortunately, it’s our culture and something you grow up with. You then carry that perspective with you throughout your life. So, I had that going into this role. I also spoke to a mother whose son was murdered by a police officer. Hearing her pain up close and personal, and her feeling safe enough to share it with me, I would say that combination of things was how Latrice was birthed into Seven Seconds.

 

Allison Kugel: Is the story a fictional account or based on true events?

 

Regina King: It was based on the truth as far as the regard for black American kids and the law, and how they are regarded in America. That part of it is true, of course. So many examples have had similar outcomes to this story, but it was not taken from one specific person’s story.

 

Allison Kugel: While you were shooting Seven Seconds, did you think about the parents of Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and so many young men who’ve lost their lives in similar circumstances? And did you feel a responsibility to reflect these parents’ pain in your performance?

 

Regina King: There was a responsibility to accurately portray their pain, their lives, and their stories, absolutely.

 

Allison Kugel: Do you think a series like Seven Secondshas the power to impact hearts and minds for change, or to simply reflect what is going on in society?

 

Regina King: I think both. What’s reflective for me is not reflective for you. Seeing it in a television show or in a movie creates an opportunity for each of us to see the other’s perspective. I feel that the series American Crime(the ABC series for which King won an Emmy) was very similar in that way.

 

Allison Kugel: Do you take a role like this home with you?

 

Regina King: I tried not to take it home with me. But again, a bit of this lives with you. It is the narrative of a part of the fabric of what America is. Unfortunately, you are always living it. It took a lot out of me; I’ll be honest. It was the closest to an experiential role I’ve ever had. I’ve known people who have been victims of police brutality, but no one who was closer than a friend or a distant family member. Because it was a friend or a distant family member, I wasn’t with them in their day-to-day struggle of what that experience brings. You go through life hoping that you never personally have an experience like that, but you know that the odds are greater than not that you will, because of who you are. It’s crazy to even say this, but you feel blessed or lucky that your child has made it to twenty-two (King is referring to her 22-year-old son, Ian).

 

Allison Kugel: What is so remarkably upsetting about your statement is that even if you are regarded by society as successful, you are thanking God that your son has made it to the age of twenty-two.

 

Regina King: Made it to twenty-two without having a criminal record, and without having an experience with the police where you may not survive; you may not come home. Unfortunately, that is something you feel gratitude for. He has had an experience with the police pulling him over, and him having to sit down on the curb. He was let go after they ran his license plate and his ID. He was pulled over for being nineteen and driving his girlfriend home. That’s not a normal reason to be pulled over.

 

Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about your most recent Emmy nomination for Seven Seconds. Now that you have an Emmy win from 2015’s American Crime, is the pressure off somewhat for this upcoming ceremony, or are the nervous butterflies still there? And what’s the feeling in your body when you’re sitting there listening to the names of the nominees being called out?

 

Regina King: All three times being nominated felt different. But there is nothing like the first anything, right? It’s totally surreal. The second time is kind of like, “Nah-uh, really?! How did I find a hundred-dollar bill again in the exact same place?!” It’s one of those feelings. Not to be frivolous about it, but it’s like, what are the odds?

 

Allison Kugel: I don’t think it’s a luck thing. You really are such a gifted actor, and your performance in Seven Secondswas a tour de force.

 

Regina King: Well, I mean, what are the odds of walking by that same corner again and finding that same bill?

 

Allison Kugel: Do you let that stuff, like awards and accolades, or critics, shape you at all? Do you ever find yourself being very conscious of, “What are the critics going to think?” “What are the nominating committees going to think?”

 

Regina King: First and foremost, I’m focused on doing good work. I’m not thinking, “Ooh, this is gonna get me an Emmy!” (Laughs)

 

Allison Kugel: (Laughs)There are people like that in your business. You know that, right?

 

Regina King: I joke, but yes, I know! The first time, I wasn’t even in the Television Academy. Becoming a member of the Television Academy and knowing all that goes into voting, with all the material that’s out there, it’s a lot. Since my last name starts with a “K,” I fall right in the middle of all the names. When you’re voting, and you see all the titles of the shows and the people’s names, first it starts with the Z’s and then it goes all the way to the A’s. Then the next category starts with the A’s and goes all the way to the Z’s, in that same pattern. So, I don’t take it lightly that someone was able to get to “K” for King and get to “S” for Seven Seconds. I don’t take that lightly, that not only did they make it that far, but they made it that far and they watched and stayed. I don’t take that lightly because those are my peers.

 

Allison Kugel: What do you see as your higher purpose in all that you do, from parenting your son to your work. And what spiritual philosophy do you subscribe to?

 

Regina King: Overall, just trying to walk in my truth. I recently did a panel talk (Entertainment Weekly’s Women Who Kick Ass Comic Con Panel)and [actress] Chloe Bennet said something that I definitely subscribe to. She said, “At this moment in time I can feel a certain way and say a certain thing, and then in 2022 I might contradict that just because I’m in a different place at that point.” For me, I can only be in my truth right now, in this moment. If I am walking in that truth, if I share an opinion right now about something, in the year 2022 I will not say, “I didn’t say that in 2018.” I would know I said it, because in that moment it was true for me.

 

Allison Kugel: Right. You would say, that was me then. I saw this beautiful tribute on your Instagram feed to actress Marla Gibbs. Marla gave you your first big job playing her daughter on the show 227, when you were fourteen years old. You thanked her for all that she did for you as a mentor. You say, among many other things, “She taught me how to be a professional.” I want to ask you about some other influential people you’ve worked with over the years, and what your takeaway was from working with these people. Let’s start with Tupac Shakur, who you worked with in 1993’s Poetic Justice.

 

Regina King: I would say he’s a man that walked in his truth. Man, did he ever. That would be the biggest takeaway, in that he was just unapologetic, and it was beautiful.

 

Allison Kugel: And working with Tom Cruise in 1996’s Jerry Maguire?

 

Regina King: An example of a consummate professional. If you hear anybody say that they don’t like that guy, hmmm, I don’t know. I’d have to go back and look in the books on that person. He’s a good guy, and he is a professional. He is that same example of what Marla [Gibbs] was, and I saw from him that it exists when you’re on that mega level.

 

Allison Kugel: And working with Jamie Foxx in 2004’s Ray?

 

Regina King: Jamie is super talented. The first thing that came to my mind when you said “Jamie,” is that he’s a caring guy. He takes great care with things that he does, and with the people that he works with. That’s the reason why he’s so good at embodying a character, because he takes care with the details.

 

Allison Kugel: I also came across a picture you posted with your son. You were waiting in line together to vote in the June primaries, and it was his first time voting. Finish this sentence for me: “I hope that in my son’s lifetime…”

 

Regina King: The first thing that came to my mind is that he wants to have children, but he goes back and forth between asking if it’s irresponsible to bring children into this world. And I see where he is coming from with that.

 

Allison Kugel: Tell him that you have great faith in the next generation to lift the consciousness of this planet.

 

Regina King: Oh, I tell him that all the time, that I have great faith in him and his generation. Literally, from year to year with the conversations that we have, it goes from, “When I have kids,” to, “Man, I don’t know if I want to bring a kid into all this.” Just because of certain things that happen in the world. It’s the same reason you don’t want to turn on the news half the time.

 

Allison Kugel: If there’s one thing the kids from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida showed me, it’s that with the younger generations coming up there is a different level of consciousness, and it gives me great hope.

 

Regina King: What I love is that they’re able to articulate their passion in a way that is open. Whereas, I feel like a lot of our generation, we weren’t able to articulate our anger as effectively. There is a maturity present with the younger generation, but they still have that passion. It makes me more confident in what they can accomplish.

 

 

Catch Regina King’s Emmy-nominated performance in the limited series, Seven Seconds, streaming now on Netflix. Follow her on Instagram @iamreginaking and on Twitter @reginaking.

 

 

Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment columnist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugeland at AllisonKugel.com.

 


Paula Abdul

Paula Abdul: Inside the Heart of a Pop Music Legend

By Allison Kugel

 

On October 3rd, Paula Abdul hit the road on her North American tour; a tour that’s been more than twenty-five years in the making, since her 1992 Under My Spelltour which grossed $60 million in ticket sales (a mint by 1992 standards), yet also yielded some tragedy that almost sidelined the beloved performer forever. The world knows Paula at the plucky, iconic dancer and popstar turned American Idoljudge, turned legacy performer. What people may not know is that this Grammy-winning legend had to climb a mountain of adversity, both physical and emotional, to dance again.

 

For Abdul, this 2018 Straight Up Paula!tour is a miracle in the making. When audiences come out to see her this fall, they will bear witness to one of the greatest comeback stories in show business history. Because of Abdul’s preference for handling tough times privately, our conversation may shock you, and it will also make you root for her. Abdul’s imitable strength is in her refusal to allow her story to end with tragedy. She insisted on a second act with her long running stint on American Idolas the judge with heart, to Simon Cowell’s stone-cold blunt criticisms of aspiring vocalists. The show introduced her to a new generation of fans. Her Straight Up Paula!tour is a triumphant third act where she’ll share, not only her catalog of music and iconic choreography, but her surprisingly poignant life story.

 

Beyond singing and dancing, it was Abdul’s million-dollar smile, huge heart and humble responses during interviews that captured the publics’ affections and helped to define an entire generation. Beginning with her first #1 hit, Straight Up, in 1988, Paula Abdul was a Gen X darling of epic proportions. She brought something new and engaging to the mix, matching meticulous dance choreography with pop music.

 

Paula Abdul’s warmth and accessible appeal made an entire generation smitten. As someone put it to me recently, “She could have been your best friend’s sister, your cute neighbor… the girl next door you just had to get to know.”

 

Allison Kugel: You’ve said that when it comes to your choreography, you would often dream the dance steps up in your mind, and then you would run to the bathroom mirror and go through the steps that you’d already envisioned. I find that so interesting, because that’s how I write. I write by either talking to myself or thinking out loud, whatever you want to call it (laughs); or by having these inspired thoughts that come into my awareness. I’ll then rush over to the computer and type it all out. By the time I get to my computer, it’s already written, just like by the time you get to that mirror the choreography is already done.

 

Paula Abdul: Exactly the same!

 

Allison Kugel: Do you feel that when it comes to your choreography, it’s being channeled throughyou, like it’s coming from some higher source? Because that’s how I often feel…

 

Paula Abdul: Yes, that completely makes sense to me, because sometimes I’ll even question myself, like, “Where did thatidea come from?” It’s really strange, but sometimes I can be in this zone where it feels like auto-pilot, and I’m not even aware of it. It’s kind of cool.

 

Allison Kugel: I remember reading something your mom said years ago, about you being four or five years old and declaring that you were meant to be a dancer; something to that effect. When did you start taking dancing lessons?

 

Paula Abdul: I started taking dancing lessons at seven, but I was four years old when I walked up to the TV set and told my family, “I’m going to do that,” and it was while watching Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain.

 

Allison Kugel: Well, I remember your mom telling a story about a night when it was raining so hard outside that she couldn’t bring you to your dance class, and you were hysterical crying. The thought of missing a dance class was just devastating to you. Did you actually feel from that very young age that dancing is what you were put on this earth to do?

 

Paula Abdul: I absolutely did feel that way. I knew what my calling was. It’s very interesting, because I find that with dance, for many young kids, it’s just like that. I hear from so many parents saying that their daughter, that’s all she does. She does her studies, but she takes six classes a week and can’t bear the thought of not being able to make it through a class. Dance can strike a chord in your heart unlike anything else. It gets into your soul and it changes people’s lives. It’s been [therapeutic] for me, and for most people who dance. I hear so many of the same stories.

 

Allison Kugel: Is there anything else you feel you are still here to accomplish or experience, that has yet to be done?

 

Paula Abdul: I really want to do some more producing, both in television and film. I’d also like to do some more acting, something that is completely against type. I think it would be more challenging and fun, and it allows you to explore in a way where most people have no idea that a character like that can be within you.

 

Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about your tour, Straight Up Paula!. Are you going to make each song’s choreography and costumes reminiscent of the original music videos, or will you change it up to reflect present day?

 

Paula Abdul: It will be a little of both. I know that fans come to hear those songs, and they will, but I’m not doing a direct replication of those [music] videos. There is a nod to them, with a little bit of nostalgia. But for me, this is an opportunity to create my own vision of what I want to do in terms of interpreting the songs. I’m incorporating lots of technology and multimedia, and with some storytelling as well. I’m also going to cover some fun things, and some not so fun things, from my life in this show. It’s giving people a little bit more insight into who I am, and the career I’ve had.

 

Allison Kugel: Going back to what we were talking about before, about being in the zone, how do you know when you’re in that zone and your creativity is flowing; versus when it feels forced?

 

Paula Abdul: For me, there is such a difference when there is a flow. Eight or nine hours can go by, and I can’t even believe it. And then there are times when it seems like the day will never end. I’ve learned that when the latter is happening, I have to do an abrupt about face and change the environment; step outside, do some other activity to wipe the slate clean.  When you’re hitting a wall, it’s stagnant energy. It’s not creative, and it’s not conducive to rehearsal hall or anything else I’m trying to accomplish. For me, muscle memory is now a tricky thing. Your brain also, in terms of remembering, it’s different now. Things that were natural in my body, from so many years of injuries, I need to re-address certain dance moves and change it to what feels better for me now.

 

Allison Kugel: When you were talking about time flying by, or crawling by, it reminds me of what Deepak Chopra says about time not really existing, except in our minds. If you’re in the zone, you lose track of time and nine hours feels like nine minutes.

 

Paula Abdul: And it’s the best feeling, I’m sure you know! I can’t stand the latter, when time crawls. It’s the worst. You want to just cancel the day and start fresh the next day.

 

Allison Kugel: I always say that if you are in a creative field, it’s an odd thing, because you can’t just clock in and clock out. You have to be in a certain creative flow or nothing much is going to happen. Sometimes the best thing you can do when you feel that way is to not work.

 

Paula Abdul: It’s true, because it’s more of a wasted day, and it’s miserable (laughs).

 

Allison Kugel: I ask this question of everyone, because I learn so much about people through this question… when you pray, who or what do you pray to?

 

Paula Abdul: I believe in God, and I do pray to God. But I am also spiritual in the sense that I know I have angels around me, and I know to pay attention to the signs I get from the universe. I used to not pay attention to the signs that were right in front of me. I feel that I finally get it. I do pay attention now, as I’ve gotten older, to those signs the universe gives me.

 

(Paula’s dog wanted some attention and began to get very vocal in the background. We paused for a minute, so Paula could give her some love…)

 

Paula Abdul: It’s so funny! Every time I’m doing an interview and she’s supposed to be quiet, she knows, and she starts up (laughs)!

 

Allison Kugel: She can join in the conversation!

 

Paula Abdul: Do you have any dogs?

 

Allison Kugel: I have two dogs whom I adore, and I love horses as well. I ride horses a lot. Have you ever ridden?

 

Paula Abdul: That’s so cool. There is this one place called Miraval Resort and Spa in Arizona. It’s magical and mystical, and they do this whole equine course. It’s unbelievable how vulnerable and therapeutic the experience is.

 

Allison Kugel: Do you see yourself as a pioneer with putting dance at the forefront of the pop music industry?

 

Paula Abdul: I definitely do. I feel that’s one of my biggest contributions. That’s what people herald me as doing, and it’s nice to know that. It’s nice to know that you can create and spark those kinds of dance crazes, but also that they can stand the test of time. A lot of dancers will say, “You’re American Music Awards dance opening numbers are ‘almanac.’” (Laughs)And artists that will say, “Man, I watched and learned everything that you ever did.” It’s wonderful to hear that.

 

Allison Kugel: You came into the business as a dancer, and as a choreographer, and then you ventured into recording music. At that time, although you were extremely commercially successful, you had your share of critics. A lot of other artists at the time said, “She’s really a dancer, just trying to be a singer. She’s off-key, she should stick to choreography…” How did you handle that kind of criticism back then, and how do you handle it now?

 

Paula Abdul: I feel like being in this business for over thirty years, you learn how to handle constructive criticism, and just plain old, simple criticism. What I have learned is that, although I can’t just say what the formula is for success, because success is different for everyone, I do know that a recipe for failure is trying to please everyone. You never will. For me, I’m an entertainer that happened to resonate with millions of people. I’m grateful for that. I’ve never claimed to be the best at anything. I’m a constant, perpetual student, and I love learning. I love improving upon weaknesses and nurturing the strengths; and being able to draw upon inspiration from others.

 

Allison Kugel: Why do you think you resonated the way you did with my generation; those of us who were coming of age in the late eighties and into the early to mid-nineties?

 

Paula Abdul: I think the through-line of most of my success is my heart, and I think that it connects with other people’s hearts, especially women. I have this profound love affair with women. I’ve never been a threat to women. I have been very inclusive, and always thought the most beautiful thing you can do is to recognize beauty in someone else and celebrate that. Because I was always an accessible type of artist, people felt that they knew me, and they doknow me.

 

Allison Kugel: Do you have a ten-year dream, as in, “in ten years I’d like to be retired, living on the beach.”? Do you have a plan like that, or is thisthe dream, to keep singing and dancing for as long as you can?

 

Paula Abdul: I feel extremely grateful that I’m able to do this. I was sidelined for many, many years because the last time I was on tour I was in a terrible accident in a seven-seater jet. One of the engines blew up and the right wing caught on fire, and we plummeted.

 

Allison Kugel: I don’t think many people out there are aware that you went through this ordeal. Were you belted in when the plane began to plummet?

 

Paula Abdul: I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt. I was getting ready to put my seatbelt on, but I never made it and I hit my head on the [ceiling] of the plane. It caused me to have paralysis on my right side, and I endured fifteen cervical spinal surgeries. I went through all of that, mostly, privately. Back then, we didn’t have tabloids like we do now. We didn’t have the extent of paparazzi or the [internet], so you were able to contain some information. I was so afraid of being counted out and looked at as damaged goods. The problem was that, at the time, I was. I ended up having to take almost seven years off to have all these different neuro-surgeons operating on me. So, the fact that at this stage of my life, I’m able to do this, is the biggest gift ever! I am living, in many ways, my dream. But I also would love to branch out into other areas. And I get as much joy behind the scenes as I do from being out in front.

Allison Kugel: What do you hope audiences will experience when they come out to see you on the Straight Up Paula!tour?

 

Paula Abdul: I hope during the show they feel a celebration of fond memories of their time growing up with me. I also hope people get a chance to know me further, and get a better sense of who I am, with my whimsical ways and my sense of humor. It’s going to be a nod to everything that has inspired me since I was young, and celebrating my career, with the ups and the downs, and everything in between. I hope everyone leaves with a smile on their face.

 

 

Photo Credits: Studio 10 Australia

 

For dates and tickets to Paula Abdul’s North American Tour,Straight Up Paula!, visit https://tour.paulaabdul.com/. Tickets also available through Ticketmaster.

 

Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment columnist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugeland at AllisonKugel.com.

 

 

 


Otis Williams

The Temptations’ Otis Williams Talks Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson & Berry Gordy

 

By Allison Kugel

 

Since signing with Berry Gordy’s Motown Records in 1961, the legendary Temptationshave gone through many incarnations in their more than fifty years making music. From fledgling singers riding the early wave of Motown’s signature hybrid Rock n’ Roll/R&B sound, to becoming international hitmakers and now mainstays of American culture. That Motown sound, including The Temptations’ greatest hits, have become a universally celebrated comfort food for the soul. Who hasn’t hummed along with the classicsMy Girl, The Way You Do The Things You Do, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, Get Ready, Papa Was a Rollin’ Stoneand Just My Imagination?

 

With nine Grammy nominations, four Grammy wins, and a 2013 Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, the group is still bringing Temptsmagic to worldwide audiences, with what founding member, Otis Williams, says is the group’s strongest lineup in two decades.

 

Their new album, All The Time, covers Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” The Weeknd’s “Earned It,” originally recorded for Fifty Shades of Grey, Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” and Michael Jackson’s “Remember The Time.” New original songs on the album include “Waitin’ On You,” “Be My Wife,” and “Move Them Britches.” The digital album’s two bonus tracks include a ‘Gospel Mix’ of their rendition of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” and a special ‘Heathens Mix’ for “Move Them Britches.” Every note on the new album is infused with that yearning, soulful, seamlessly harmonized blend The Temptationsare celebrated for.

I had a chance to sit down with Temptations’ founder and last surviving original member, Otis Williams, to discuss the group’s first studio album in eight years, All The Time, and their upcoming tour throughout the U.S. and UK. We talked about his relationships with fellow Motown alumni including the late Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy.

 

Williams is humbled by his five-decades long success in the music industry, but not unaware of the indelible impact he and his bandmates have had on music, the entertainment industry and popular culture.

 

 

Allison Kugel: Tell me about the most significant benchmark events in your life; the events that shaped your destiny…

 

Otis Williams: First would have to be my two grandmothers. I was raised by my grandmother on my mother’s side and my grandmother on my father’s side. They instilled in me a lot of great qualities that I carry with me through present day. Naturally, my mother’s influence, and then the other thing is timing. Timing can be the most important thing in our lives, for good or bad. The good thing about my timing is that I was brought to Detroit from Texarkana when I was growing up and being in Detroit when Berry [Gordy] started Motown. Detroit is always known for being the town of the Big Four: Chrysler, General Motors, Ford and Motown. And of course, being aligned with some great guys, speaking first and foremost of the original Tempts lineup. It was David, Eddie, Paul, Melvin and myself. When I stop and think back on that time in my life, I didn’t know that we would reach such heights and enjoy such a wonderful and exciting adventure. My career has been so illustrious that it’s hard to pinpoint just one moment.

 

Allison Kugel: Prior to speaking with you, I read your 1988 memoir, Temptations (Cooper Square Press)to get to know you better. You’re the only original founding member of The Temptationswho’s left from the original lineup. In that book you talked about the drama with other members of the group, some personality clashes and people coming and going over the years. You’re the one who never quit, never got fired, never wavered in your loyalty to the collective group. What is the higher purpose that has kept you so steadfast with The Temptationsfor more than fifty years?

 

Otis Williams: The higher purpose is being dedicated to what I love, first and foremost. I love to perform and to bring some kind of happiness to people, and oftentimes in a world that seems to have gone crazy. I stick with the basics. I’m dedicated, and when I stop to think back, I thank God that He put me here for this purpose, meaning The Temptations. I’ve gone through more than twenty member changes in the group’s lineup over the years. All of those member changes I’ve had to deal with, they were all very, very strong personalities. Even with all of that, I remained focused and dedicated because I love what we do, and still do fifty years later.

 

Allison Kugel: When you’re performing on stage or recording in the studio, do you feel the spirit of some of the other members who’ve passed, particularly the “classic five” including as you mentioned above: David, Eddie, Paul and Melvin? Do you feel their presence with you?

 

Otis Williams: I definitely feel the presence of David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams and Melvin Franklin because we were such a unique lineup, and I would like to think we made such a profound statement together during the time that David was with us. I carry those four, their memory, their presence since their leaving. I definitely carry the spirit of them.  And also Dennis Edwards, because a lot of people also look at him as an original Temptation. He [recorded] so many hits with us. In fact, he was on more hits with us than David was. I still feel the presence of those guys.

 

 

Allison Kugel: Let’s discuss your new album, All The Time(out May 4th). Why the eight- year break from recording, prior to making this album? And why come out with a new album now?

 

Otis Williams: With Motown’s slow demise, and when the company went out of business, we continued to sing. We did a few albums, but nothing of real note. At one point I said to myself, “Maybe we should just perform.” We were always one of the hardest working acts in the business. Then when I went up to Universal with my grandson, and I spoke to Bruce Resnikoff (CEO of Universal Music Enterprises), he asked out of the blue, “Otis, would you record?” As you said, there was an eight-year gap, and I said, “Yes, we would love to record!” Mr. Resnikoff was the catalyst for us going back into the studio. We went into the studio and he told us he wanted us to do some covers. I then said I wanted to mix it up and do some original songs as well, so it wouldn’t just be an album of covers. The word of mouth from those that have heard the album, and on social media, has been very good.

 

Allison Kugel: You cover some amazing artists, including Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, your friend, the late Michael Jackson, The Weeknd…

 

Otis Williams: I love those guys and what they did with those songs. I heard those songs when our producer Dave Darling and I were given the list and told, “Otis, pick what you want to record.” When I heard the Weeknd’s Earned Itand Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud, among the others, I said, “Those are a must-do!” It was that kind of process in picking the songs for the album, and it was a labor of love.

 

Allison Kugel: You cover the Michael Jackson song, Remember The Time. That was an interesting choice.

 

Otis Williams: I’m a big Michael Jackson fan. We used to sit and talk when we were all at Motown together. Michael invited me to the set when he was doing the video for Remember The Time. Him and I sat in his trailer and we talked in between them getting the lighting and the stage ready for him to come out and do his video. So, I chose to record Remember The Time, because that’s what I was doing, remembering the time when Michael said, “Otis, come on down and watch me do this video.” It was fond memories and why we recorded that song for this album.

 

Allison Kugel: Since you knew him well, tell me, who was Michael Jackson?

 

Otis Williams: Michael Jackson, during the times I spent with him, was a wonderful spirit. He was like a little kid, you know? At the time, he was very much a grown man, but Michael is one of those [talents] that God gives us every so often like Prince, like Elvis, like Sinatra. Certain talents come along that will make a statement while they are here, and even when they are long gone. Michael was such a unique force, but he was a kid at heart. Part of the problem with Michael is that he didn’t get a chance to have much of a childhood. He was thrust into being in showbusiness, which can be so time consuming, that it took away a lot from him growing up and being a kid. But sitting around and talking with him, he was a fine brother, fun loving and a unique energy.

 

Allison Kugel: I know you are still close with The Four Tops. Who are some of the other Motown artists that you’re still extremely close with?

 

Otis Williams: Just as the saying went back then, even though we don’t see each other as often, we are still a Motown family. Everybody is spread out and doing their own thing, but I talked with Smokey [Robinson] a few weeks back, and he will always be my wonderful friend. When we got each other on the phone the first thing he said was (in a sing-song melody, paying homage to the classic Temptations hit, “My Girl”) My Boy, My Boy (laughs). That’s my man Smokey. I don’t see Stevie [Wonder] much, but we are still family even though we don’t see each other like we used to.

 

 

Allison Kugel: What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve gotten from Smokey Robinson?

 

Otis Williams: With Smokey it was always more about the musical collaboration. It was always, “Hey Tempts, I got a song for you!” He didn’t sit down and philosophize with us about what we should or shouldn’t do. Smokey was just one of the guys just like we were, and he would always come to us with great songs. He was doing his thing with The Miraclesand the Temptswere doing our thing. But just him being around and picking up the essence of Smokey, the good heart of Smokey, it spoke volumes about him as a person.

 

Allison Kugel: In what ways was [Motown’s founder] Berry Gordy a significant teacher in your life?

 

Otis Williams: Berry is such a unique person. Berry started out being a songwriter and he had to take off the songwriter hat to become president, because Motown was really taking off. We would sit around and listen to him talk. He was very profound in his dedication about what Motown and its artists should be. At the same time, Berry was funny as hell and like a little kid. He used to be a boxer coming up, and he would show us how he would spar. Berry and James Jamerson (a regular bass player on many Motown hits), one time we were outside in front of Motown, and they were mock sparring, because Jamerson liked karate and Berry was a boxer. Berry would then turn right around and philosophize and talk about his dedication, and his purpose for Motown. But Berry was learning to be a president as we were learning to be artists. He would often speak of dedication, and he had us groomed and made sure that all of his top-flight acts would go to school. We’d go to artist development school. That was from the mind of Berry Gordy. I still see Berry more than I see Smokey. Berry is a great person.

 

 

Allison Kugel: Because The Temptationslineup has changed so much over the decades and you have remained the one constant throughout, what do you look for in a potential Temptationto join the lineup, and how do you know when you’ve found it?

 

Otis Williams: One of the things I’ve learned over the years, as both a performer and as a person, I look for the head and the heart first. Whenever I would mention that to other journalists they would look at me in a quizzical way. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you are not a nice person or you can’t take direction, you will negate that talent. So, I don’t look for the talent first. I want to know the essence of the person and I try to get a sense of him. Because you never know a person till you start working with them and it causes certain changes to happen. I’m an example of that. I’ve been around some of the most talented people in the world and I’m the last man standing.

 

Allison Kugel: What will be the legacy of The Temptations?

 

Otis Williams: There was a very popular show that was on, I believe in the seventies, called That’s Entertainment!. I enjoyed that show because it showed all these different formats of entertainment and clips. When it’s all said and done I would like for people to think about The Temptationsand remember us with, “Wow, now That’s Entertainment!”

 

Allison Kugel: What do you see as your spiritual foundation in this life?

 

Otis Williams: Being raised by two grandparents, my spirituality is one that I try to carry forth, and I thank God for the blessings, because show business is such a fickle business. You can be thought of as one way today and then tomorrow it’s, “Who’s that person?” But I never lose sight of what’s real and I always try to remain in touch with my spirituality. Hopefully people can feel that whenever I’m around them. It all goes back to being raised by two grandmothers. That’s the foundation of my life.

 

Allison Kugel: What will your audience experience when they come to see you on this latest tour?

 

Otis Williams: We’re definitely going to focus on our original songs. We’ll be doing a couple of songs off this latest album, but it will focus on classic Temptations music for our fans, and what they are coming to hear us sing. My Girl, The Way You Do The Things You Do, JustMy Imaginationand all of that. We will stay in keeping with what we’re known for.

 

Allison Kugel: What do you hope fans get from this new album, All The Time?

 

Otis Williams: I think people will say, “Wow, the Temptsdid The Weeknd’s song, Ed Sheeran…” and all of that, but it will all be in keeping with what we have been known for throughout our history. Like I said, we’ve done cover jobs before, but whether it’s cover songs or originals we always want to put forth our best effort as far as being entertainers and singers. They will get what they have known The Temptationsto be whenever we record.

 

Allison Kugel: What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned in your life so far?

 

Otis Williams: It’s hard to pick just one. There are a multitude of things I’ve learned that keep me grounded, but the one thing that is constant in life is change. Not everybody can adapt to change. Some people catch hell trying to change with the times. It’s an understanding that change is a natural part of life, and being able to adapt when change comes about.

 

 

Photo Credits: Jay Gilbert/Universal Music Enterprises

Question Credit: Question 13 Courtesy of Erik Medhus/Elisa Medhus

 

The Temptations new album, “All The Time” is out May 4thon CD, vinyl LP, limited edition white vinyl LP, and digital formats worldwide, wherever music is sold.

 

 

Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.

Interview produced in partnership with Wendy J Studios– capture classic moments with impeccable photography.

 

 


Nicole Snooki Polizzi

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Back to the Beach with Jersey ShoreReboot

By Allison Kugel

Same Jersey Shorecast (sans ex-castmate Sammi Giancola), same nickname… new outlook on life. Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi started off our conversation by letting me know that she prefers to be called Nicole. The thirty-year-old married mom of Lorenzo, 5, and Giovanna, 3, was also quick to clarify that a duality still exists in her life: subdued suburban mom by day, Jersey Shore’s outrageously funny Snooki by night. Think Clark Kent versus Superman. Which of Nicole’s personas is the superhero and which is the mere mortal? We’ll let you decide.

 

During her six-year Jersey Shorehiatus, Nicole Polizzi, has transformed her brand, starring alongside Jenni “JWoww” Farley on the MTV spin-off Snooki and JWowwand on Go90 Network’s, Moms with Attitude. Her lifestyle website, TheSnookiShop.com, sells everything from bikinis to cocktail dresses. Nicole’s podcast, It’s Happening with Snooki & Joey, is a look inside her everyday life, and her social media platforms are all about #momlife and #fitnessgoals.

 

The Seaside Heights crew is back with their MTV reboot,Jersey Shore Family Vacation. The now thirty-somethings are navigating roommate status and being party pals during this new stage of their lives, as older, successful media personalities and parents. According to Nicole, the cast manages to deliver all of the crazy antics you remember, and as she puts it, there’s no need to re-hash old drama when there is so much new fodder that takes place this season on the shores of Miami Beach.

 

 

Allison Kugel: When you look at old footage from the early seasons of Jersey Shore, do you recognize that girl?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: It does feel like a lifetime ago. But if I were to say, “that’s not me,” I’d be lying. You never really lose your personality. Sometimes I am goofy. I like to have fun and I’m outgoing. I’m just not going out to the club and finding men, and I’m wearing underwear now (laughs). Just like anyone else, you grow up, but at the same time you don’t lose yourself.

 

Allison Kugel: In an interview your dad gave years back, he said you had always wanted to be famous and that he figured if he gave you his blessing to do Jersey Shore, you would get it out of your system.

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: It wasn’t necessarily to be famous. I always wanted to be on reality [television]. I was a huge fan of The Real World and Road Ruleswhen I was growing up. I always wanted to be on a show like that, just to experience it, and then go back to my job and have a normal life. I never necessarily wanted to be famous. It was more about doing reality because I was such a reality junkie; I was obsessed with it.

 

Allison Kugel: Where would you be today, in life, in love, in career, had Jersey Shorenever happened?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: I probably would still be living in upstate New York by my mom. I was going to school to be a Vet Tech, so I’d probably be working in an animal hospital somewhere. But I honestly don’t care. I don’t even want to think about that, because I wouldn’t have my husband and I wouldn’t have my kids. It would be a totally different life that I don’t want to think about. The fact that I met my husband during the show is everything. Everything happens for a reason.

 

Allison Kugel: Do you still have a love for animals?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: When I decided to marry my husband (Jionni LaValle)I gave up a huge part of my life, which were my cats, because he’s allergic. That was so hard, but obviously my husband is my world. I still do love animals and I do a lot of donations to animal charities. I honestly like animals more than people.

 

Allison Kugel: Why was Jersey Shore Family Vacationshot in Miami and not the Jersey Shore?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: We filmed in January and February, so Jersey was still 20 degrees, snowy and cold. That wouldn’t have been fun, going down the shore because there was nothing there and just snow everywhere. We wanted to go somewhere close, God forbid something happens with the kids, I could book a flight and be home. And we also wanted to go somewhere tropical and beautiful. You can’t really beat Miami.

 

Allison Kugel: And no spouses, no kids, just the cast?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Just the cast. I really didn’t want my kids on [the show] that much, and I didn’t want to take them out of school. I didn’t feel it was worth it. I think Jenni (“JWoww” Farley) felt the same way. Also, we haven’t lived with each other in about six years, so bringing everyone else in would be crazy. We’re always home with our kids anyway, so we all just wanted to get away from our lives for a second and re-live us being roomies again.

 

Allison Kugel: What’s the biggest piece of unfinished business among the cast that gets resolved on Jersey Shore Family Vacation?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Personally, for me, I’m so over the drama. I’m thirty years old, I have two kids. That’s what I worry about now, not petty shit from when we were drunk and fighting. For me, I went in forgetting everything and having a clean slate with everyone. I don’t think anyone resolved any past issues from six years ago. I think we were all just so grateful for the fact that we got this opportunity. We were all like, “If there’s any drama, let’s make it newdrama. Let’s not harp on old drama.”

 

Allison Kugel: What did Sammi Giancola bring to the Jersey Shorecast that you missed while filming this new season?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: The fact that she wasn’t there, obviously it feels weird that one of us is missing. It didn’t feel whole. But that was her own choice and we didn’t want to push her. We respected it, and she was fine with it. We did it without her, but it didn’t feel the same.

 

Allison Kugel: Why do you think your friendship with Jenni “JWoww” Farley has remained as close as it is today?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: We’re best friends and we’ve been working together ever since Jersey Shoreended. We had our Snooki and JWowwspinoff, and now we have Moms with Attitude(Verizon’s Go90 network) with our kids. It helps that we’re always working together. If we’re not, then she’s doing her own thing and traveling, and it’s hard to see each other. The fact that we still have shows together and our kids are involved, it helps us see each other a lot more.

 

Allison Kugel: What are Jenni’s best qualities?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: She’s honest, she’s always there for me and always has my back, and she’s just real. That’s what I love about her. We have the same qualities when it comes to having each other’s backs and being brutally honest at times.

 

Allison Kugel: As you mentioned earlier, alcohol consumption fueled a lot of the drama on the original Jersey Shore. How much do you drink these days?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: On the show we like to have a good time together, so being together again, we went out to bars and we drank. We basically tried to do what we used to do, except the hangovers were a lot worse!

 

Allison Kugel: Tell me about your lifestyle these days, apart from Jersey Shore?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Ever since I had the kids I wanted to get healthy and be able to keep up with them and carry them, so I wanted to get healthier and stronger and have a better lifestyle. Ever since I had Lorenzo, that’s been my way. These days I eat a lot of veggies and chicken, good fats, and I do a lot of spin classes, boxing and I have a trainer that I train with four times a week.

 

Allison Kugel: What’s something in entertainment that you haven’t attempted and would like to?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: More hosting. It’s fun, because you have to be upbeat and alive, and funny and outgoing. I’d like to do more.

 

Allison Kugel: Will you forever hold onto the Snooki persona?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Right now it’s transitioning to Nicole. Everyone knows that as a mom, I’m not Snooki. It’s more of a brand name now, and that brand is evolving. On the show as Snooki and JWoww, that’s our time away from the kids and becoming us again and having alone time. We’ll always have our nicknames, but we’re not Snooki and JWoww all the time now. When it comes to being moms, we’re Nicole and Jenni. Fans now mostly ask me about my kids, and are really invested in what’s going on with my kids.

 

Allison Kugel: How has motherhood shaped who you are today?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Before the kids, I never really had real responsibility. I was always traveling and waking up late, and just living the life that I wanted to live. Once you have kids, it’s all about them. It made me grow up, because I wanted to. And it made me a better person. I think every mom would say that.

 

Allison Kugel: Explain to me how it feels to be a woman who was adopted, and now having two biological children of your own. What has that given to you?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Being adopted was never really a struggle for me. My parents are my parents, period. But I always had a problem with feeling like, “Oh, I don’t look like anyone and this sucks.” When I had my kids, they looked like me. They’re my twins! It filled that void of me always feeling like no one looks like me, and feeling weird about that. If anything, I feel blessed that now other people look like me in my family.

 

Allison Kugel: What is something about your belief system; either religiously, spiritually or philosophically, that would surprise people?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: I’m into meditation and I recently opened up my third eye. I like to meditate a lot, I like to talk to the spirit world and to my spirit guide. It helps me stay grounded and humble, especially now that everything is happening again. It also helps me with my anxiety. One of my best friends is a medium, and I wanted to explore my brain a little bit. The first time we meditated together I met my spirit guide. I think for people who want to get into it, go with a mentor or someone who knows everything about it, who can help you. When you do this on your own, you don’t really know what you’re doing. It’s helpful to have someone talk you through the process.

 

Allison Kugel: Tell me about your podcast, It’s Happening with Snooki & Joey.

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: My podcast is me talking to my best friend about pop culture, about what I did that day, my obsessions of the week, healthy tips. I do the podcast with my best friend, Joey. It’s fun to have an amazing gay co-host, because we’re both outrageous. We like to have guests on who are our friends, who people don’t know. I’ll have my trainer on to share tips, and I’ll have other reality stars on as guests. I love having reality stars on because they get it, they have a personality and they’re not filtered.

 

Allison Kugel: Who are your dream guests?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer.

 

Allison Kugel: How have you stayed in touch with the entire Jersey Shorecast over the last six years?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: I feel like all of us have stayed in contact a lot, and I’ve stayed close with everyone. Just because we haven’t been on the show for awhile doesn’t mean that we stopped talking to each other. We’re always in group chat. We’re always connecting, making sure everyone’s okay and asking what’s going on.

 

Allison Kugel: It feels like a family at this point?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Oh, of course. Always!

 

Allison Kugel: Why should people tune in to watch Jersey Shore Family Vacation?

 

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: If you’re a fan of Jersey Shoreyou are not going to be disappointed because we all went crazy! Even though we’re older, we’re still degenerates, so that’s the same (laughs). And I feel like for new fans, they need to hop on board. Even when you’re thirty years old and you have kids, you can still have a good time. Life isn’t over.

 

 

Jersey Shore Family Vacation premieres Thursday, April 5that 8/7c on MTV.

 

 

Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.

 

 


Nick Cannon

Nick Cannon on the Art of Ambition & Wild ‘N OutLive!

By Allison Kugel

 In this personal and eye-opening interview with Nick Cannon, the multi-hyphenate and truly self-made multi-millionaire television personality – actor – musician – deejay – media mogul opens up about transcending his childhood circumstances to become one of the most successful forces in all areas of the entertainment industry. As a teen, armed only with creativity and drive, Cannon was compelled to propel his family out of financial instability. What was initially born out of necessity, flourished into one of the most epic and aspirational success stories of recent Hollywood-lore. Now add dedicated student at Howard University to his resume. Nick Cannon is unstoppable.

 

Among myriad other projects, Cannon is taking his hit long-running MTV series, Wild ‘N Out, on the road with a twenty-five date North American tour, running from August 16ththrough October 6th. Cannon and the Wild ‘N Outcast are doubling down on their MTV antics with a live and wilder than ever, uncensured version of the television show that hybrids improv, rap battles and hip hop culture.

 

In this candid conversation, we go into taking Wild ‘N Outon the road, family, and how he protects his personal space in the storm of celebrity.

 

Allison Kugel: You’re now taking your hit MTV show Wild ‘N Outon the road with your Nick Cannon Presents Wild ‘N Out Livetour. The show is all about poking fun at others and being able to laugh at yourself. How do you deal with people who take themselves too seriously and have trouble laughing at themselves?

 

Nick Cannon: I don’t feel I have to necessarily deal with or construct a rapport in that situation. With Wild ‘N Outyou know what you’re going to be presented with because that is the theme of the show, not taking yourself too seriously and having a good time. People who may not see it that way, I’d approach it delicately (laughs). But usually, if they are coming on the show they want to be a part of it and they know what it is at this point, because our show has been on for so long. There have been times where people will ask us not to mention certain things, like, “Stay away from this or that,” so we respect that. We always want to be as respectful as possible, especially if there is anything that someone is sensitive about.

 

Allison Kugel: When it comes to a rap battle or a roast, where do you think the line should be drawn, or is there no line?

 

Nick Cannon: I believe it’s all about humor. If it’s said in a spirit of humor and it’s supposed to be funny, then nothing’s off limits. If it’s just to be mean or demeaning and disrespectful, no one wants to see someone get bullied; that’s never okay. Our show is all-inclusive and giving an opportunity for everyone to laugh at themselves. If we’re not laughing, we’re crying, right? The idea is to say, “Hey, let’s laugh and joke about our differences, embrace those differences, and make light of it in order to get over it. If it becomes something hurtful, that’s too far, and we’re never looking to do that.

 

Allison Kugel: Can you recall a specific instance in your life where you were able to use humor to overcome something painful?

 

Nick Cannon: As broad as it seems… Everything! I do that on a daily basis. Everything from the fact that I was one of the smallest kids in my school, and that I come from a low-income family, living in government housing; all the things that one could get made fun of for at school. I would flip it and make the joke before the bully could make the joke. I always had to deal with being the smallest kid in class, but I would tell everybody that although I was the smallest kid, I had the biggest mouth! Taking that perspective helped to build my confidence up at an early age. On a daily basis, if something is bothering me, I’ll probably be the first one to joke about it.

 

Allison Kugel: Where did the confidence come from to tackle so many different things from comedy to music to acting to deejaying, and being a successful businessman?

 

Nick Cannon: It most definitely came from my father and my grandfather. They’re strong alpha-type males. My father was in the world of ministry, and my grandfather was a tough in the streets type of guy. When you come from a big presence like those two, and even with a last name like Cannon (laughs), there’s a lot in a name. Even though my father wasn’t there all the time, it was his presence when I did get a chance to be around him. There was a strong presence and a strong confidence to him.

 

Allison Kugel: Did he and your grandfather actively instill lessons in you by way of conversation, or was it simply learned by osmosis?

 

Nick Cannon: All the time! When you come from a line of preachers, there were always motivational speeches, sermons, and bible verses; and even models [of behavior] to live by. I was told since I was a baby that I was more than a conqueror, that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. So, as a kid, I probably had that idea inside of me that the average kid didn’t have.

 

Allison Kugel: At what age was your spiritual awakening where you started asking some bigger questions, like, “Who am I beyond what I do for a living, and the personality of Nick Cannon the world knows me by?” or “What am I here to give to the world?”

 

Nick Cannon: It’s funny, but even as a young guy I was always intrigued by that, because I grew up in an environment where I was exposed to religion and spirituality at a very young age. It made me ask questions, and then when I didn’t get the answers that I wanted, I started looking within and doing my own research rather than following the flock. I would say this was as early as my adolescent years. Obviously, we grow daily, but it was in my early adulthood that I started to realize that I was in control of my own destiny, that I had to make my mark, and my true purpose had to be implemented. This was based off my own sense of spirituality.

 

Allison Kugel: And tell me if this is accurate, because you never know when you read things, but you began doing stand-up comedy at the age of fifteen?

 

Nick Cannon: That’s when I started doing stand-up professionally. The first time I was ever on stage, I was eleven. It began as just churches and talent shows. But professionally, I became a regular in the comedy clubs when I was about fifteen.

 

Allison Kugel: And by seventeen you were writing for and starring on the Nickelodeon comedy series, All That. Was there a drive in you to financially rescue your family?

 

Nick Cannon: Yes, that was the main goal. With Nickelodeon, I was making five hundred dollars a week, and that was everything at that time; I thought I was rich. I was now able to help put gas in [my parents’] car to make trips up to LA. I could buy food. I could buy an outfit andpay my mom’s rent. That was a dream come true. It was always that idea of wanting to provide for my mother, and for others in the family. The more I began to work, the more I was able to do that.

 

Allison Kugel: I know you’re currently a college student at Howard University, which is amazing. Did you earn your bachelor’s degree yet?

 

Nick Cannon: Not yet. I’m in my junior year.

 

Allison Kugel: You’ve said you’d like to go on to get your PhD. Do you know what you’d like to get your PhD in? And how do you plan to use that degree, or is it just to have as an accomplishment?

 

Nick Cannon: I’d like to do more work in the community, and I’ll probably become a professor. People are always like, “Man, when are you going to write a book?” I’m not ready to write a book, because it would just be one of those celebrity memoirs, which is fine, but I feel that I have so much more to offer than just to tell people my biography. I feel like once I develop the skills that I’m researching and accomplishing with academia, then I’ll really have something to say. At this point, I’m gathering a wealth of knowledge so that when it is time to spit it back out, it’s valid in a strong way.

 

Allison Kugel: Professor Cannon! What would you like to teach one day as a professor?

 

Nick Cannon: Right now, I’m studying Criminology, but I’m also studying in the school of Divinity; and I’m in the school of Communications. Obviously, I’m in the field of Communications. I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the media (laughs)and

content, so you never know. I feel that if I can put all those things together, whether it’s Sociology, Criminology, these are the things that are prevalent to me at the moment.

 

Allison Kugel: You appear to be inexhaustible. Does celebrity ever exhaust you?

 

Nick Cannon: No, not really, because I don’t really look at it like that. To me, all that stuff is “the matrix,” and not real life. So, I’m tireless when dealing with it. When you come into the matrix, it’s not your real emotions, it’s not your energy. It’s the façade and what people want to see, and the fodder. The things I get exhausted by are real life. Things like media and celebrity, that stuff doesn’t really affect my real and true life. If it should make its way into the actual core and to my family, I would deal with it in a manner where we would find the truth in it and handle it from that point so that it never really gets out of hand.

 

Allison Kugel: At a Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awardsfrom a couple of years back, you and Mariah were walking the red carpet with the two kids and there were a million people screaming and camera flashes going off. At one point the camera flashes were irritating Moroccan’s (Nick and Mariah Carey’s seven-year-old son) eyes and he was rubbing his eyes and looking away. Do your kids know what’s going on? Do they know who you are, and why there’s so much chaos that surrounds you at these events?

 

Nick Cannon: Yeah, my kids are well versed in what’s going on, and they embrace it and love it to a point where they’re excited to put on the outfits that match. They’re excited to go down the red carpet. At times, just like any kid, they appear to be bashful or annoyed, because that’s what seven-year-olds do (laughs), but at no point is it ever an issue. If they don’t want to go somewhere or don’t want to do something, it’s never forced upon them. I think it’s in their DNA, because they love it and they embrace it.

 

Allison Kugel: Who has been your greatest mentor in the entertainment industry?

 

Nick Cannon: The person I’ve connected with the most, who has taught me the most and established so much for me in this business was probably Will Smith. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for that guy. His hands-on approach and being a big brother and a friend early on in my career was everything. He gave me my first record deal, he gave me my first television deal, and it’s the way he leads by example. Will is the most successful, nicest, most inspiring person you’d ever want to meet.

 

Allison Kugel: Let’s go back to this Wild ‘N Out Livetour. Are you going to be on stage at every stop on the tour, and how will it surpass watching Wild ‘N Outon MTV?

 

Nick Cannon: At every stop on the tour, I’ll be hosting and conducting the entire show! This live show is going to be much more raw. It’s giving you the experience you see on TV, times ten. You’ll be watching it with the energy of being in a full arena, and we’re bringing whatever city we’re in to life. We’re bringing the famous rappers and it’s a full concert. We’re bringing your favorite cast members and you’re getting a chance to hear their stand-up and laugh. It’s way more powerful, because there’s no standards and practices like on TV, and there’s no commercial breaks. It’s just right there for an hour and a half; pure laughter and music and hip hop, and you get to see your favorite Wild ‘N Outgames as well. It’s also super interactive with the audience. And surprise guests will be popping in and out the whole time at every stop on the tour.

 

Allison Kugel: When you’re alone in quiet moments, no cell phone or television, what kinds of thoughts dominate your mind in those quiet times?

 

Nick Cannon: I’m still; I’m quiet. When I do have those alone times, I allow my spirit to be still. For me, that’s not really a thinking time, because I’m always working and thinking and planning. When I do get that alone time, it’s about allowing myself to just… BE. I go within and meditate and listen.

 

Allison Kugel: What do you see as your spiritual mission here on this earth, and how is it expressed in all that you do?

 

Nick Cannon: To attempt to bring joy, and to bring joy in a way where my legacy will be, “That was somebody who made a lot of people smile.” Whether it’s through entertainment, whether it’s through philanthropy, or with family, the goal is to bring joy to as many [people] as possible and leave my mark by doing that.

 

Allison Kugel: And what do you think you are here to learn?

 

Nick Cannon: To learn how to do those things through the examples that were laid before me. How to implement joy and happiness in my own life, and how to express it to others.

 

 

Photo Credits: Nick Cannon, MTV, AEG Presents

 

Tickets for Nick Cannon Presents Wild ‘N Out Live!25-date North American tour are available through ticketmasteror visit axs.comfor a complete list of tour dates and cities. Visit NickCannon.comto keep up with news and upcoming events. Season 11 of the television show Wild ‘N Outis airing on MTV.

 

Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment columnist and author of the book, Journaling Fame: a memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugeland at AllisonKugel.com.

 

 


Mel B

Mel B on Sex, Drugs, Abuse & Her Epic Healing Journey

By Allison Kugel

 

Melanie Brown aka Mel B has reigned supreme as the spiciest of her bandmates since bursting onto the entertainment scene as Scary Spice in 1996 with the group’s #1 hit Wannabe. With her wild hair, piercings and a raucous personality to match, she instantly began making headlines, and she never stopped. Her tempestuous marriages and some romantic near misses, including her split from Eddie Murphy heard ‘round the world, have at times overshadowed her on-camera talent on hit shows like UK’s X Factorand America’s Got Talent.

 

For years, rumors swirled about drug use and a party girl image cultivated during her marriage to ex-husband Stephen Belafonte. What few knew was the house of horrors that existed behind closed doors that Melanie’s oldest daughter, nineteen-year-old Phoenix, and Melanie’s mother, Andrea, both attest to in great and excruciating detail in Melanie’s recently released memoir, Brutally Honest.

 

Brutally honest it is, as the outspoken girl from Leeds, England, with the heavy Yorkshire accent (her most charming quality) recalls everything from growing up of mixed-race heritage during a time when it was anything but the norm, to Spice Girls fame, drugs, bisexuality, and a ten year marriage that she claims was so abusive that it drove her to attempt suicide in 2014. Four years after that horrific episode which left her with organ damage and a lot of bruised pride, Melanie slowly rebuilt her strength, finally filing for divorce from Belafonte in 2017. The two remain embroiled in a bitter legal battle, but Melanie takes solace in spreading her message about domestic abuse and domestic violence. Along with promoting her book, she is advocating for others who have experienced various forms of intimate or domestic partner abuse as a part of her daily work with UK’s Women’s Aid, along with motherhood and preparing to hit the road in 2019 with the Spice Girls.

 

After getting to know Melanie, I feel compelled to add that despite some reports associated with her recent fall and subsequent rib and hand injuries, she insists that she is now substance-free, and I believe her.

 

Allison Kugel: How are your spirits these days?

 

Mel B: Obviously, I’m still on my healing path and it’s going to be an ongoing thing. Just taking care of myself, meditating, doing my reiki and eating well. I actually couldn’t be happier right now. I know there are more happier times to come, but right now I’m in a really good place and it’s taken me a long time to even get to this place, so I’m thankful.

 

Allison Kugel: Let’s go back a bit so people can get the big picture. What did the Spice Girls fame and hysteria of the 1990s feel like at the nucleus of it, from the inside looking out?

 

Mel B: It was tiring, but we really didn’t care because it was five girls together who all had each other, living our dream life. We were living in England, struggling financially, not having much to eat, convincing people to let us borrow their recording studios so that we could sit down and write and [record] our music. There was a phase of a couple of years where it was really, really tough. When we got to release our first single, Wannabe, and we signed with a record company and got Simon Fuller involved to manage us, it was really good, happy times that all five of us had dreamt of, and we were actually living that life. We were traveling the world, singing, performing, dancing, writing music and making a movie. It was a really beautiful few years. Of course, we were tired, because we didn’t allow ourselves any time off. But we were in control of what we did and when we did it, and we knew that we had to soar through life like a big tornado and strike while the iron was hot.

 

Allison Kugel: What do you feel you came into this life as Melanie Brown to learn?

 

Mel B: Well, I think the number one thing is that I come from a white mother and a black father. Back in the 1970s when they got together and had me, that was seen as something that wasn’t really done. They had a lot of things that they had to overcome in bringing me into the world and raising me in an area of England, four hours outside of London, where there weren’t any other mixed-race girls. That was one thing I had to find, was my own identity. Apart from the likes of Neneh Cherry and maybe Tracy Chapman, there really wasn’t anybody that I could look up to where I felt like I belonged, or anyone who I felt like I even looked like. For me, it was all about creating a path where hopefully other mixed-race girls, and other mixed-race kids could actually follow. For example, I never had my hair braided. I always wore my hair out. I’m very opinionated, but for the right reasons; not just to cause a ruckus. I do believe that I am here, somewhat, to make it okay to be in the skin that you’re in and the color that you are.

 

Allison Kugel: My next question was going to be, what are you here to teach? But I think you answered it.

 

Mel B: Yes, that is definitely a part of it, but I am here to learn, of course.  One thing that is an ongoing thread in my life since I’ve been very young, like 2 or 3 years old, is being very honest. Kids are very honest, and they’re not sidetracked by their surroundings. They say exactly what they feel. That’s one of my things that I stick by and swear by, which is being completely transparent and honest. It’s not to offend or intimidate anybody. It comes from a good place and I have good intentions, but it is an ongoing thread in my life.

 

Allison Kugel: I always say that none of us are so fallible that we have nothing to teach, and even the wisest among us are also here to learn. We are all students, and we are all teachers.

 

Mel B: Sure. We can’t know everything, and knowledge is power. I wasn’t very educated when it comes to schooling or on paper. I’ve experienced more education through life’s experiences, through traveling, and through getting myself into certain situations, whether it be through work and dealing with contracts or from talking to the man down the street who’s waiting for his bus.

 

Allison Kugel: Obviously, the situation with your most recent ex, Stephen Belafonte is extremely contentious. But in general, how are you navigating co-parenting with three different fathers in the picture?

 

Mel B: My oldest is nineteen, so I had to do every other weekend and certain weekdays for eighteen years, and there’s a point where your fourteen or fifteen year old doesn’t want to go to her father and that’s a difficult task. I’ve never said a bad word about any of their fathers to my daughters. Angel’s eleven years old and she sees her dad (Eddie Murphy) on a regular basis. She’s actually going to his house next week to do the family Christmas card, which is really lovely. My seven-year-old, Madison, that’s all happening through the court, so that is kind of out of my hands. One thing I do with all my three girls, is I make sure they know that they’re loved, and that they came from a place of a loving relationship. Even though they didn’t quite work out, and me and their dads didn’t stay together, they all know that they came from a lot of love. One thing that is mandatory is that I always make it a very exciting thing when I send them off to their fathers. Angel is different, because me and her dad don’t have any problems with each other. With Madison (Brown’s seven-year-old daughter with ex-husband, Stephen Belafonte), they take everything in, so I try to make it exciting for her, even though I obviously have huge issues with her father.

 

Allison Kugel: Are you frightened for Madison when you send her off to see Stephen? Based on the abuse you’ve described in your book, aren’t you frightened for her to be around her father?

 

Mel B: I don’t think it’s fair for me to say that. All I can say is that I fought through the courts for her to have mandatory therapy every Saturday with a specialized therapist who is very aware of the situation. If there was anything for the therapist to be concerned about she would be able to flag it, based on the kind of intense therapy that she is doing with Madison. I have to trust and believe that if there was anything that I should be majorly concerned about, I’ve got a professional right there that can spot it before I do.

 

Allison Kugel: I would imagine it took courage to keep a lot of these passages in the book. What was the hardest part, not just to write, but to keep in the final draft of the book?

 

Mel B: Everything that is out there now is pretty salacious, and I know it seems so random about the sex and the drugs. The physical and emotional abuse had already kind of been out there, whether it be just a journalist presuming or whether it be my ex getting a story out there somehow. I just wanted to make sure that I clarified and made my puzzle understandable. When you read my book, you do understand that certain things were due to coping mechanisms, which are very common with somebody that’s in an abusive relationship. The book addresses things like why it took me so long to leave. It’s because you’re trapped, and you don’t have friends and family because you’ve been isolated due to how your abuser does things. That’s why in the back of my book, I put the 15 warning signs of what an abusive relationship looks like. Sometimes we don’t know until it is too late, and you’re heavily in it. In my book, I address an array of points and situations that hopefully make the reader understand everything that I’ve been through. There are certain things I did leave out due to legal reasons. I didn’t want it to be a legal war. I wanted my book to be more of an education and insight into what it looks like to be in an abusive relationship.

 

Allison Kugel: You paint a picture of a wide range of abusive behaviors that you experienced.

 

Mel B: Right, because abuse isn’t just physical. It can be verbal, it can be emotional. It’s a broad spectrum. And usually an abuser doesn’t just do one type of abuse. They get you on every single level, eventually.

 

Allison Kugel: I hear everything you’re saying, but here is the piece I don’t quite understand. From reading your book, I got the impression that even after everything that went on, your parents remained steadfast in their support of you as their child. I got the impression that at any time you could have flown home for refuge and you would have been met with open arms.

 

Mel B: No way. How could I do that? How could I book a flight when he had my credit cards and my phone? I’m not allowed to leave the house, I don’t have a front door key. I’m working 24 hours. I didn’t even have a holiday. And your every move is being monitored by your abuser. Every phone call, every text message.

 

Allison Kugel: How about from work? Even a phone call from work?

 

Mel B: I wasn’t allowed to take my phone to work. And like I said, this doesn’t just happen overnight. They chip away at you, so you wind up going, “Oh, he took my phone because he wanted to get it fixed for me, or he’s going to put a new app on there.” It’s all done in a very controlling, obvious, yet un-obvious way. That’s the part that you don’t want to believe is happening. You still want to believe that they love you. It’s like, “Oh, I’ll go see the accountant because you’re working today.” You think, “Oh, that’s really nice,” when they’re actually going behind your back taking your credit cards and changing the name on the accounts to their name. When you’re in an abusive relationship, everyone is isolated from you, and they’re scared to call you. They’re scared to get in contact with you, because they too have been verbally abused by your abuser. You end up walking around going, “Why hasn’t my mom called?” Or “Why is my friend being really strange with me?” You don’t really know why, but now looking back, I know exactly why.

 

Allison Kugel: I get what you’re saying, but I know that I could literally go to my mother at any time. I could go to a police station and call her if I had to.

 

Mel B: How could I when I’m only allowed to be driven by him, or a driver that is one of his friends? And all I did was work-come home; work-come home.

 

Allison Kugel: It’s good to gain this deeper understanding from you, because people will think, she’s not your average Jane. She has all the resources in the world.

 

Mel B: It’s like having everything and nothing. And on the flip side, you’re not ready to admit anything to anyone else. If I were to call my mom up and say, “Mom, I’m being abused,” she’ll go, “What?!” You don’t want to admit to anybody and have to explain, because there is an element of no one’s going to believe you, which is what the abuser will put into your head, “No one’s going to believe you. You’re just fat and ugly. If you leave, I’m going to expose you on this level and that level. And even if you said anything to anybody, no one’s going to believe you because you’re full of shit,” kind of thing.

 

Allison Kugel: Your self-esteem is in the gutter and you stop believing in yourself. It becomes a mental prison, is what you’re saying.

 

Mel B: When I was at work, I did believe in myself, because he couldn’t get to me at work. Nobody wanted to see him. They wanted to see meon camera. I’m very experienced and I’m very confident in what I say, so that was actually my savior, going to work. It was coming home that I dreaded, because I didn’t know what I was going to be experiencing that night.

 

Allison Kugel: You spent a decade walking on eggshells.

 

Mel B: Yeah, basically. Having spoken to a lot of these women who are in [shelters], and that are essentially in hiding from their abuser, they have exactly the same story that I have. They’re controlled, they’re captured, they’re abused on many different levels, they’re embarrassed and ashamed, and they don’t want anyone to know.

 

Allison Kugel: Your oldest daughter, Phoenix, who is nineteen, is obviously old enough to understand the full scope of the situation. I am assuming she read your book cover to cover…

 

Mel B: Oh yeah. She is the one who pushed me to write it, along with my friend who wrote it with me, Louise Gannon, because this story is bigger than just me. I’m just a voice that happens to be yelling about it right now. It happens to many hundreds of thousands of women, and men. It doesn’t matter if you have no money, or if you live in a mansion with servants. It can happen to anyone. When you’re in this situation, you think it’s only happening to you. It’s only when you get out and get to safety that you realize how bad this relationship was, how wrong it was. These abusers, they’re very smart and you don’t find them, they find you. They find women like me, who were in a vulnerable situation, and they latch onto you like Prince Charming, making you believe they are going to give you everything you need.

 

Allison Kugel: My takeaway from your book was, do not go into a new relationship when you are feeling depleted, because you’re likely not going to make empowering choices.

 

Mel B: But sometimes you may think that you’re over your ex, or you’re over the drama of having a baby with somebody and then breaking up; you think that you do feel fine. Sometimes it’s the kind of thing where you say, “I’m just going to smile, because the more I smile, the more I feel good.” And you’re thinking that you dofeel good. There is no set time as to when you definitely feel at your most confident, or your vulnerability is gone. We’re women. We’re always going to have that little bit of self-doubt or that moment where before our period we feel a bit bloated and a bit frumpy. Women are very emotional, so there’s no set rule as to whether an abuser can come into your life. They don’t show up and go, “I’m an abuser. I’m going to do this and that to you.” No. They gaslight you. They make you feel like a princess one day, and then they make you feel like you’re a fat, ugly, unworthy cow the next day. And like I said, they find you, you don’t find them.

Allison Kugel: As a parent, knowing how difficult certain conversations can be between parent and child, I have to ask, how do you have a conversation with your teenage daughter about some of the more explicit things in your book? In your book, you’re talking about cocaine use, about threesomes and Phoenix read all of this. What does that conversation even look like?

Mel B: It’s not like I said, “Let’s sit down and talk about cocaine.”

Allison Kugel: But Melanie, how could that stuff not come up?

Mel B: I’m very, very open. I sit down with her and have a conversation with her in a way that’s relatable and understandable. I’ll let her know that if she wants to be sexually active or if she is sexually active, number one is to be safe. And if you want to experiment with a girl, or if you want to experiment with, let’s say, a threesome, make sure it’s consensual and make sure you actually feel safe. It is a conversation that you need to have. I’ll always say to her, “Why do you want to do this?” and “If you do that, how do you think it’s going to make you feel?” Because you never want to encourage your kids to go out there and try everything and anything; there’s always a reason. Some kids, they don’t need to try that kind of stuff. They don’t need to try anything sexually, apart from just to be with one person. They may not need to try lots of drugs, even though their friends [are doing it] or they’re around it. Luckily, I’ve got a good, solid nineteen-year-old that has seen a lot and been around a lot. She knows, morally, what she feels comfortable with, and her morals are solid. She isn’t one of those teenagers running around, up to no good.

Allison Kugel: She didn’t express any disappointment, that you, her role model, fell from grace in terms of the drug use?

Mel B: No, if anything I’m a hero that got out alive and I’m eloquent enough to be able to speak about my story without too much pain in my voice, even though there is a lot of pain. She’s very proud of me. She’s encouraging me to talk more about it. That is why she, along with my mother, wrote a passage in the book.

Allison Kugel: Are you clean and sober today?

Mel B: Yeah. I haven’t taken a drug since the day I left him (ex-husband, Stephen Belafonte). What you’ll find in these abusive relationships is that the abuser is the one that provides you with all your alcohol and all your drugs. I’ve never had an addictive personality. I’m addicted to loving life, but that’s about it.

Allison Kugel: In a recent interview your daughter Phoenix gave about your marriage to Stephen, she describes walking halfway up the stairs one night and witnessing a rape in progress, and then running back downstairs to her room.

Mel B: I’ve always had houses where my bedroom is at the top of the house away from the family rooms, the kids’ rooms, everything. I guess one time she snuck up[stairs] because she heard me screaming or crying. She jutted the door open a little bit and she witnessed that, which I didn’t even know she’d witnessed until after I’d left him two years ago and started writing the book. She was adamant about that story going in the book. That story didn’t go in the book, but it actually went into an interview that she did, and she was adamant to talk about it. I did say to her at the time, “Are you sure about that?” She said, “Well, yeah mom, it’s important, because when you’re in an abusive relationship mom it doesn’t just effect you. It effects your kids, your friends and your family.” She said, “I want to talk about it.”

Allison Kugel: Do you pray? And who or what do you pray to?

Mel B: I meditate. I became a reiki master at nineteen. I’m all about affirmations and meditation, and just being mindful and thoughtful. I do go to church. I go to the Agape Church which is very spiritual. I go there two or three times a month with my kids, and it’s very uplifting.

Allison Kugel: Why make a public declaration that Eddie Murphy is the love of your life?

Mel B: It wasn’t really a public declaration. Don’t forget that when I started writing the book with my friend, there was no contract between me and my friend, there was no book publishing deal; there was nothing. I was writing it for self-healing; just for me kind of a thing. The more we researched, the more we learned that it didn’t just happen to me. It happened to many, many women, and we realized we needed to get this story out. We decided to delve deeply into all of the issues that people don’t talk about. I’m very much a source of information when it comes to coercive behavior and abuse, because I’ve lived it for ten years.

Allison Kugel: But what was the connection to speaking about how you still feel about Eddie?

Mel B: Oh yeah, back to that (laughs)!

Allison Kugel: (Laughs)Minor detail.

Mel B: One of the parts of the book that my friend couldn’t quite piece together was… why was I at my most vulnerable when my abuser came into my life. I’d just had Angel. She was two months old and then the monster came into my life. My friend and co-writer, Louise, was trying to figure out why I was feeling so vulnerable. Then it became, “Oh, you felt vulnerable because of the Eddie situation, so let’s talk about that.” I wanted to be able to talk about it and express it. I didn’t even fully understand it when we started talking about it; what went wrong and how it all kind of fell apart. It was important for me to put it all down on paper and do it from myrecollection, to remind myself that I do know what a loving, respectful relationship is, because I had that and much more with Eddie. It was so important for me to put pen to paper with that, because I also had never spoken about it. I wanted people to know, and I wanted my daughter to know that it wasn’t just a wham, bam, thank you ma’am, and let’s move on to the next. It was a very loving courtship. It didn’t end well, but it was a major love story that was one of the biggest love stories of my life.

Allison Kugel: And your mom is, of course, back in your life…

Mel B: Yes, and she’s actually just about to drop the kids off at school now.

Allison Kugel: You guys are totally back on track again with your relationship?

Mel B: Yes. When my dad died, even though those circumstances were horrendous, and it was heartbreaking… my dad was at the point of no return. He was going to die and that was that. His death brought my whole entire family and my friends back together again. It was quite a serendipitous time, because it brought us all back together in a way that was sad, but really happy in the fact that we could all be in the same room together. For my mom, it’s been very healing. She, like my nineteen -year-old, wanted to write her own chapter in my book. And they both did the audio for my book. My mom and my daughter both really wanted to be a part of this.

Allison Kugel: You’re about to run off to a Spice Girlsmeeting later. Can you share?

Mel B: It’s about the tour. We put six shows up for grabs and we ended up doing thirteen because they sold out. We’re going to be talking about staging, choreography and our dancers. It will be all of us on tour, but without Victoria. She sends all of us her blessing, but she has always been adamant that performing is not really her thing. She’s busy with her family and her fashion empire. I still have hope that at some point she joins us, but as of right now she’s not.

Allison Kugel: The Scary Spice of twenty years ago was brash and bold, and very tell it like it is. You were the tough girl. After everything you’ve been through so publicly with heartbreak and abuse and people seeing that you are quite vulnerable, now who will Scary Spice be as you head out on the road in 2019?

Mel B: I’m still the same. A little more educated and more aware, and I would say more honest which could be misinterpreted as being even more brash and even more loud (laughs).

Allison Kugel: What qualities will you now look for at some point when you want to find love again?

Mel B: I don’t even want to think about that! It’s not on my radar. I’m very happy being single. I’m raising three kids, I’m on my own healing journey and I’m busy with work. I’m the only one paying my bills, and I’m paying the monster’s bills also every month and the lawyer’s bills. I’m focusing on the time I have off from work, just being with my kids. I’ve just put up the Christmas tree two days ago and I’m putting decorations all over the house, and it’s nice.

Allison Kugel: What is the rainbow or silver lining in the cloud for you?

Mel B: It would have to be my kids. They’re the ones that I wake up to every morning and I go to sleep with every night. It’s reassuring for me that they’re happy, they’re on track academically, they’re on track with me as far as our mother/daughter relationships goes. I’m so very, very proud of them. Also, what has been eye opening and reassuring for me is the fact that Women’s Aid (https://www.womensaid.org.uk/) had made me a Patron of their federation. They deal with these kinds of abusive relationships. They find you help, they find you refuge, they help you get educated, they help you if you need help through the legal system. They reassure you that you are not alone, that this happens a lot, and they make you feel safe.

If you or someone you care about is currently in an abusive relationship, and in need of assistance, please contact https://www.womensaid.org.uk/in the UK or The National Domestic Violence Hotline at https://www.thehotline.org/in the U.S. for help and resources.

 

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Melanie Brown/Hardie Grant Publishing

 

Brutally Honestby Melanie Brown with Louise Gannon is available in bookstores and on Amazon. Download the audible version of Melanie’s book exclusively through Audible.com.

 

Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment columnist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the recordavailable on Amazon. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugeland at AllisonKugel.com.

 

 

 

 

 


Mario Van Peebles

Mario Van Peebles Won’t Stop Making Films That Matter 

By Allison Kugel

Born of a revolutionary bloodline to activist filmmaker, Melvin Van Peebles, you could say that Mario Van Peebles was born to make films that nudge our social consciousness and encourage us to answer questions we hadn’t thought to ask. An actor, director and writer, Mario Van Peebles’ first foray into acting was playing a younger version of his father Melvin’s character, Sweetback, in the senior Van Peebles’ most notable film, 1971’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Baadasssss Songpioneered a new era of African-American cinema throughout the 1970s. It was this small role in his father’s groundbreaking film that set the stage for Mario’s life and career. He would continue to be driven to add to his father’s earlier legacy with films that push audiences out of their comfort zone and question social and societal boundaries.

 

One theme that run through much of Mario Van Peebles’ work is the assertion that we all have the right to be fully recognized human beings, but more provocatively, how do we react when we feel that right has been infringed upon? Some might call Van Peebles an iconoclast, coming for long cherished, yet often potentially destructive social norms and institutions, while remaining inherently likeable to his fans. The secret, he says, is in the characters he writes, directs and sometimes portrays; they are complex portraits that make us look at the gray areas of life while being entertained.

 

As a filmmaker, he has an endless fascination with American culture, with all of its bumps and bruises. And as he states, “America is often referred to as ‘the melting pot.’ If you take immigrants from all over the world with different beliefs and bring them together you get conflict and sparks, but from that cultural [suffuse], you also get great music and art.”

 

In his latest independent film, Armed, written, directed and starring Van Peebles, he plays a former U.S. Marshall who has fallen on hard times after he led his team of under-cover agents on a raid that went horribly wrong. Now, suffering from PTSD and other mental health issues, as well as a somewhat warped sense of reality, he must navigate life as a civilian while desperately trying to regain some former glory and recognition. Armedaims to portray the complexities of human nature and questions the publicly floated theory that “a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun.” Van Peebles’ character, Chief, was one of the good guys in his career as a U.S. Marshall. Still armed with a collection of guns, he now struggles with mental illness; a potentially combustible combination. The questions that this film asks are topical and obvious, but the conclusions are not, which is what makes Armedan interesting watch.

 

Allison Kugel: I’m going to lead with a comment that your character, Chief, makes at the end of your new film, Armed; “We’re all born into this world looking for love, and sometimes we settle for attention.” That statement is profound and ties into our culture’s current obsession with social media. What’s your take on that?

 

Mario Van Peebles: It’s understanding the ego and its need to experience itself. The ego doesn’t like being invisible. It can’t handle that, and so we need recognition on some level. Also, as pack animals we need recognition, because we need to have a designation within the pack or we don’t survive. A great white shark doesn’t need recognition, it just needs to eat (laughs). But a wolf… is it the beta wolf, is it the alpha wolf? It needs to know what its role is within the pack. Social norms and structure play a big part when you’re a pack animal. For example, if a kid can’t get recognized for being an A student, he’ll settle for being recognized as a disruptor, or the class clown, or the athlete, or even as the cutter. The bigger thing, of course, is to be loved. That’s the ultimate high. But when we can’t get that, we settle for some sort of attention. Now, with social media, people are creating these faux-lifestyle commercials that are not really them. There’s a Drake lyric where he says, I know a girl happily married ‘til she puts down her phone.” The pictures you take, those Snapchats you take, are capturing these created or staged moments.

 

Allison Kugel: How do you connect that statement to the mass shootings that are happening with increased frequency?

 

Mario Van Peebles: The people that seem to commit them are often referred to as loners, and people that didn’t fit in; people who wanted a sense of importance that they didn’t feel. Part of it, I think, is that we have evolved rather quickly, socially speaking. I’m in New York right now, and I’m on the eighth floor. Someone above me is on the ninth floor, and someone below me is on the seventh floor. We’re not really designed to live like this, where we’re stacked up on top of each other. Cities are these artificial social constructs. Our bodies are pretty much the same as when we were in Egypt, or maybe when we were in chains. But socially we’ve evolved very quickly. As pack animals, as hunter gatherers, we do well in groups of maybe fifty, or even a hundred. Beyond that, we divide into sub-groups. We want to be in groups where everyone knows our name, where we are not nameless. When you live in a city and you suddenly are around whole groups of people who don’t know your name, you can be surrounded by folks and yet have feel very lonely and disassociated.

 

Allison Kugel: You’ve come up with a catch phrase, “Make America Think Again,” an obvious retort to Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again.” What inspired it?

 

Mario Van Peebles: Even before [Trump] put that slogan out there, I wanted to make films that made people think. There are three loves in life: love what you do, love and enjoy the people you do it with, and love what you say with what you do. If I can make people think while they consume art, maybe they’ll think when they’re ordering their food, or when they’re picking out what car to drive, or maybe, even when they’re voting. I’m intrigued by the relationship between the art we watch and how we vote. My film will hopefully make people discern, “Oh wow! We all have some good guy andsome bad guy within us.”  “A good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun,” is a very reductive way of looking at the world. The reality of human beings is much more complex. I’ve always wanted to make films that make people think, so it was just natural to say, “Let’s Make America Think Again.”

 

Allison Kugel: Human beings are very complex. Personally speaking, I am the first to say that I’m not a good candidate to be a gun owner. I’m a very passionate person, an emotionally driven person, and I had a temper in my past. I think those of us that are in the arts tend to experience some high highs and low lows; it’s how we are able to create. But I know that because I feel things so deeply, there have been times I may not have been in the best state of mind. So, I have always said that I never want to own a gun.

 

Mario Van Peebles: I have never ever heard anyone say that. That is awesome that you’re aware of it, and that says a lot about where you are in your life, emotionally. But you’re able to make a good living doing what you love, as am I. To some degree, the system works for us. It’s much easier when the system works for you, to be in that emotional state to even analyze yourself on that level.

 

Allison Kugel: It requires having the luxury of time to get to know yourself, and to develop that consciousness…

 

Mario Van Peebles: And perspective, correct. You’re not just hustling hand-to-mouth, trying to feed your baby, buy pampers, and figure out how to avoid the drug dealer down the street.

 

Allison Kugel: I’ve heard so many people say that putting your own money into a film is the worst investment one could make. You even wrote in your director’s statement, “The golden rule is he who has the gold makes the rule. The other [golden] rule is he who uses his own gold to finance a film is a knuckle head or has the last name Van Peebles.” (Laughs)Are you in it simply for the social impact, or is this film also a business venture for you?

 

Mario Van Peebles: It is for me, as well as one of my sons (Mandela Van Peebles). He took the money he made from Roots, and that’s why his name is [in the credits] as Executive Producer. He liked the idea of Armed, and I think he’s going to get a pretty good return. I’ve done it before, and it is a risk, but it’s a calculated risk. I can’t think of anything better to do with it other than paying for education and travel. I don’t want more clothes. I have one hybrid car and the air conditioner is broken (laughs). I’m laughing, but I’m serious. I will eventually get another car. But what do I want to look back on when I’m an old fart? I want to do the movies I want to do. And like I said in my director’s statement, you can’t make Supersize Meif you’re going to take McDonald’s money. All the movies lately with casts of color, and there are some wonderful movies out now, but they’re all race-centric. My movie, Armed, is not race-centric; it has nothing to do with race, and yet it’s a multiracial cast.

 

Allison Kugel: I’ve noticed that you tend to sway more societal than racial with your messaging.

 

Mario Van Peebles:If you look at my film Baadasssss!, the same day that Baadasssss!came out, the movie Soul Planecame out. Baadasssss!is about my dad and his film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971).  The LA Times wrote that these two movies came out on the same day; Soul Planewas made for $16 million by a big studio with a predominantly African American cast, and the premise was that black people running an airline is laughable. It’s a message of disempowerment. Baadasssss!, made for $1 million in 18 days by an independent filmmaker, says that the idea of people of all colors coming together and making a hit movie that changed the complexion of Hollywood is a possibility, and it’s a fact, and it’s a real story and a message of empowerment across color lines. I couldn’t have made that impact within the system.

 

Allison Kugel: You have to value your own soul to make those kinds of decisions; that has to be worth something to you. It’s hard to find sometimes in certain industries, but I have no doubt that it does exist. I’m talking to it right now.

 

Mario Van Peebles: Sometimes you find it in people who don’t look like you. They don’t have the same beliefs as you; they’re white, they’re black, they’re gay, straight, male, female, all of it. If you’re open to that smorgasbord of humanity and you make it a welcoming place, then you learn. And boy do you learn quickly when you’re working with people.

 

Allison Kugel: The first time I became aware of you was in the early nineties, with the film New Jack City, in 1991. New Jack Citywas a social and political commentary on the crack epidemic, and it was a very profitable film. Throughout your career, the roles you’ve played in front of the camera, and the films you’ve made, have all had social and societal messages, beyond their entertainment value. Do you ever like to take on a role or become involved with a project just for entertainment’s sake?

 

Mario Van Peebles: I could probably talk myself into it by saying, “Well, I could do this slant on this character, which would make it interesting.” I was in Jaws: The Revenge (1987), and I found a way to have fun with that. Part of the fun is finding other ways to enlarge the story or the experience. So, absolutely! But I find ways of making it work for myself and enriching it. That’s a lot of fun to do.

 

Allison Kugel: With this film, Armed, do you fear the echo chamber effect, where people that are on the left and proponents of gun control laws are going to be responsive, while people on the right who are very pro-Second Amendment aren’t going to be interested at all?

 

Mario Van Peebles: I think if you are absolutely committed to a position, then you will be committed to it with or without this film. If I make a documentary about [guns], then yes, that absolutely is the case. We don’t tend to learn informationally; we learn behaviorally. If you make something entertaining and you play against type it tends to grab people’s attention. People are used to seeing me playing a character that is heroic. In ArmedI’m playing against type. With this character, you’re kind of waiting for him to get it together, and you’re rooting for this guy. You’re in this guy’s skin, and then when it goes sideways, you’re still right there with him. It makes you feel like, “I enjoyed being there and still wanted him to win, but I was super conflicted.” The moral of this film is, can I put myself into the skin of someone who is kind of a ticking timebomb? Good film takes you in, just like good religion takes you in. Bad religion is exclusionary and says, “You can’t come in because you’re different. You mentioned New Jack City. It’s the same thing with Chris Rock’s character in New Jack City. How many gangster films make the crime seem victimless? In New Jack City, it’s not just the good cops and the villains or gangsters. You also have Chris Rock, who’s a victim of the crack epidemic. When audiences watched “the victim” in that film, I had kids in the first screening of New JackCitystand up and yell at the screen, “Just Say No Motherf*cker!” When you get kids to react against drugs in a gangster movie, wow! With this new film, Armed, I can try to get people inside the head of a guy who loves to be recognized, who would settle for attention, and who realizes he might not be a good candidate to be a gun owner.

 

Allison Kugel: What do you think you are on this earth to learn, and what are you here to teach?

 

Mario Van Peebles: That’s a great question. For my birthday, I had my kids record answers to some questions I asked them. I gave them six questions and that was one of them. I guess I want to stay old enough to be a great teacher and remain young enough to be a badass dude. I always want to be okay with saying, “I don’t know.” If you fill a glass with water, you can’t put milk in it because it’s already filled up with water. You’ve got to be willing to not be full to take new things in.

 

Allison Kugel: Which goes back to our earlier conversation about remaining open to information that may not fit your current narrative…

 

Mario Van Peebles: That’s why I always want to remain open to learning new things. If the world needed green, I think I would try to find a way to bring in some green. If the world needed more yellow, then I would try to find that. Each of my kids is different and it has made me be a different dad to each one of them. It’s been interesting to learn that parenting is not one size fits all. Right now, the world needs an elevated consciousness and a sense of the we. My kids recently asked me, “You mean if all the kids all over the world refused to fight, there would be no more war? And if they listened to us there’d be no more prejudice? It would stop in one generation?” Sometimes what I’m here to learn, I learn through my kids. The basis of all of this is to just be kind. Be kind to the planet, be kind to yourself, be kind to your neighbor. It sounds corny, but that’s at the essence of it all.

 

 

Photo Credits: Mario Van Peebles, GVN Releasing, MVP

 

Armed, written, directed by and starring Mario Van Peebles, is out in theaters, on digital platforms and VOD.

 

Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment columnist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugeland at AllisonKugel.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Logan Browning

Logan Browning Gets Candid About the Series Dear White People

By Allison Kugel

 

 

Her beauty is luminescent, her conviction fierce. It’s a potent combination and why actress Logan Browning’s portrayal of student activist Sam White in the Netflix hit series Dear White People has struck a chord with audiences. The series, based off the 2014 movie of the same name, also created by Justin Simien, seems custom made to address the uproarious intersection where President Donald Trump’s politics and Black Lives Matter collide. More importantly, beyond its pop culture relevance, is the show’s ability to humanize a people and their collective point-of-view to a larger population of viewers.

 

Logan plays a biracial Ivy League university student, Sam White, host of a popular, albeit controversial, campus radio show titled, Dear White People. Her character’s radio show within a television show is a platform for Sam’s grievances, her bottomless questions, and the racial and cultural issues that continue to surface on ethnically diverse college campuses around the world. It also serves as the show’s anchor point, introducing each episode’s message and plotline. And if you think the first season was binge-worthy, you haven’t seen anything yet!

 

As Logan and I discuss the second season of Dear White People, streaming May 4thon Netflix, we segue from her thoughts on acting and developing the character of Sam to social and political activism, the emotional triggers behind race and color, and some of the most pressing issues that our younger generations face in the age of social media and our relentless news cycle.

 

It becomes clear to me half way through our conversation that actress Logan Browning shares the values and concerns of her television alter ego, Sam White, but with a graceful confidence and ease of spirit that continues to allude Sam in the show’s second season.

 

Allison Kugel: Typically, when I’m researching an actor, there’s a clear distinction between them and their character. With you, the unique challenge I faced is that I couldn’t clearly discern where your character, Sam White, ends and you begin.

 

Logan Browning: That’s an interesting observation. During season one, I was much further away from who Sam is. A lot of my portrayal of Sam was coming from a place of discovery and nervousness at taking on this role that Tessa Thompson originally played (in the 2014 movie, “Dear White People”). In season two, part of me becoming comfortable with Sam, was to stop fighting the parts of her that I thought were so different from me, when really they’re not. There aresimilarities between the two of us. With most characters I’ve played, I find myself pushing back on any similarities because I don’t want people to think I’m not playing a character. I find joy in bringing someone to life who’s very different from me. But part of why I ended up getting the role of Sam is because I do fall into who she is very easily. Though her perspective on life is different from mine.

 

Allison Kugel: How so?

 

Logan Browning: In terms of how she responds to the world, and some of her reasoning within her debates. I do believe that the longer you play a character, they naturally bleed into your real life. I’m not surprised that some of who Sam is may show up in who I am. I find myself saying some of the same quips that she does in my responses to things. I also find myself using what she says, like, “This has to be right, because Sam said it!”

 

Allison Kugel: Has she brought out the activist in you?

 

Logan Browning: It’s made me more comfortable in being an activist. I’ve always been drawn to giving a voice and a face to people who aren’t seen or heard. I feel like that’s a part of what comes with being an entertainer and being in the public eye.  When people say that actors and musicians shouldn’t be policy adjacent, I think that perspective is ridiculous. They’re put in this position where they are in the public eye and people listen, so it makes sense that these two things go hand in hand. Because people are looking to my character, Sam, for that, they naturally look to me. It would be a huge disappointment to people if they saw that I was not speaking out on certain issues.

 

Allison Kugel: Do you feel compelled to speak out because of the weight Dear White Peopleholds with its audience?

 

Logan Browning: If you scroll through my Twitter, I’ve been vocal all the way back. You can even dig up my MySpace (laughs), way before this show, and you’ll see! I watched the film, Dear White People (2014),when it came out. I saw myself in Sam when I watched the film. Did seeing the character of Sam in the film influence me? Maybe it did. Playing Sam only aides in this burning desire I have to speak out. But I don’t feel compelled by it.

 

Allison Kugel: You feel empowered by it…

 

Logan Browning: Yeah, I feel empowered by it, and I feel that being on a show like Dear White Peoplemakes me want to use my voice. I’m inspired by the people I’m surrounded by. I’m surrounded by so many young, influential artists who have great talent and great passion, and a desire to leave a mark that goes beyond their artistry. It’s a new kind of energy in comparison to when I first started acting at the age of fourteen.

 

Allison Kugel: What are some of the hot topics you guys discuss on set when you’re all off camera?

 

Logan Browning: On set, honestly? We goof off.  If you’re a person who knows what it’s like to live a life of trauma or a life of less than and difficulty, then you know that the best therapy is laughter. And that’s what we do, we laugh a lot. It’s a part of our culture. Black people together just have a good time. When you get black people together, they don’t want to have a depressing time. Yes, heavy conversations can happen, and they do happen a lot. Sometimes they’ll happen in our group texts or once an issue comes up. More serious conversations will happen when people ask us about the show and we talk about those topics with other people. I may read something that one of my castmates said in an interview, and then I’ll talk to them about it and say, “Hey, I didn’t know you were affected in that way. Tell me about it…”

 

Allison Kugel: Can you give me an example of an issue that’s come up?

 

Logan Browning: I’ve always felt I understood and was aware of my privilege as a light skinned person in this world, and in my industry. I was always aware of it, but I’ve realized that I was still missing the mark until I started to see some of what my fellow actors have said in interviews. I’ve realized that there’s a larger part of their experience than I was understanding. I want to make sure I’m not just being an ally to the black community, but also addressing these more specific issues that are even more nuanced than I’ve personally experienced.

 

Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about the nuance of color within the black community. Being that you are light skinned and with green eyes, has there ever been a time in your life when you wished to have darker skin and dark eyes to fit in socially? Were there ever social consequences associated with your appearance?

 

Logan Browning: I’ve been grateful to have the parents that I had growing up, and I’ve never had any kind of self-loathing in terms of wishing to be something else. But I definitely grew up in a place where I wished people treated me the way I wanted them to. If they were treating me like I didn’t fit in, then I just wished to be treated differently, but I never wished I lookeddifferent.

 

Allison Kugel: Were you treated as something “other”?

 

Logan Browning: In both ways, I was. I’m on a spectrum. From white people I was treated a certain way, sometimes good and sometimes bad. Same for the African American community. I was accepted sometimes, and sometimes I wasn’t. It’s a spectrum that I exist on. It’s part of my experience, just kind of being stuck in the middle. As you get older it changes from wishing they would treat you differently to just trying to understand them, and not worrying as much about fitting in. You realize the reason you’re not fitting in is because you have a privilege that they don’t have. You have to understand their experience.

 

Allison Kugel: Your character Sam has mixed emotions about having a Caucasian father, and yet, she falls for a white guy on campus who has a similar energy to her father. She has mixed emotions towards both of those men in her life, and it’s an interesting parallel.

 

Logan Browning: Absolutely. She feels so comfortable with Gabe because he reminds her of what she has been around her whole life. She’s been around a white male energy her whole life. In the same breath, she’s also been around African American male energy because of her mom and her mom’s family. Sam does feel that pull towards Gabe, possibly because of her dad. Yet, because she has also been exposed to the strength of a black man, she wants to be around that as well. It’s difficult for her to try to navigate that. Deeper than what Sam’s dad looks like, if you look at the characters of both Reggie and Gabe (both love interests), they both have an intelligence that is mirrored in her dad. The reason she leans more towards Gabe than Reggie is because Gabe challenges her like her dad challenged her.

 

Allison Kugel: What are your personal rules about dating your co-stars? Yay or nay?

 

Logan Browning: Naaayyy (laughs)! Number one, I’m more attracted to the opposite of myself. I’m attracted to more of an engineering mind. When you’re on a set, you’re falling for someone else’s character sometimes. I think [actors] forget that you’re in hair and makeup all day and you’re seeing people in their most glorified state, so it’s very easy to fall in love with anyone you’re around. I would never.

 

Allison Kugel: I found an older quote from you that reads, “I don’t want people to know how I’m feeling, because it makes you more vulnerable.” Are you still that way?

 

Logan Browning: That was a part of something else I was saying, but I think that comes and goes with me. I know when it comes to being in a public space, I actually do like being really open with people. I feel like it’s my motive to educate the world that the people they see in the public eye are just like them, and they have issues just like them. I’m always trying to take celebrity off its pedestal. Even though there is power in it, I sometimes find myself trying to knock myself off any kind of pedestal I would ever be put on, because I don’t feel that way. So, in that way I do make myself open and vulnerable, and I feel like it does connect me to other people. I’m way more open publicly than I am if someone is trying to get to know me. I put my guard up and guard my heart. But there are certain personal things I can be vulnerable with. I don’t mind telling the world I get depressed sometimes. I don’t mind telling the world that I don’t live in a huge house. I don’t mind telling the world things that make me relatable. But there is a whole other part of Logan that I keep to myself, and that’s just because I want to be safe.

 

Allison Kugel: After the Parkland, Florida school shooting, some of the more outspoken students commented that the news media did not cover the diversity that exists at Stoneman Douglas High School. They focused their cameras on white students and white parents. What are your thoughts about this obvious exclusion?

 

Logan Browning: Every single act of gun violence is absolutely terrible, but it’s just so interesting that these young people’s voices are finally being heard now. It’s like, really? Now? In 2018? I’m not bitter at all about the fact that this movement is happening now because any kind of talk is good, and any type of move towards progress I’m on board with. But it is one of those obvious things where images that are more palatable are the things that people want to talk about. I think that’s why a show like Dear White Peopleis so important. It puts these colored faces on the screen and forces the audience to begin to relate to these characters who possibly don’t look like them.

 

Allison Kugel: What do you hope Dear White Peopledoes for 18 – 21 year olds who are watching you from their college dorm rooms?

 

Logan Browning: I hope that the show is comforting for that specific age group. I hope that it’s a love letter for them, so that they feel like their voices are heard and time-capsuled and represented. We’re not re-inventing the wheel. These kids already exist on college campuses, and they are being super active in terms of being activists. I hope they feel seen and it further encourages them to do the great work that they already plan to do. I really hope and pray that older people will watch as well so they can understand what 18 to 21 year olds are experiencing, and what their world is now. It’s reminiscent of what their world might have been when they were younger, when the civil rights movement was happening.

 

Allison Kugel: This new generation is experiencing everything on steroids because of our 24- hour news cycle. I think that is something the older generation needs to fully understand, if they don’t already.

 

Logan Browning: We all are experiencing so much trauma and it’s not being addressed in terms of our mental health, especially kids. When I was in middle school, I would learn about what was going on if I came home and my parents happened to have the news on, or maybe if they were talking about it at school. But I didn’t have a device that was constantly telling me about every shitty thing happening in the world, 24/7.

 

Allison Kugel: I came of age in the nineties, which has been called our “break from history,” because tragedies seemed to be far and few between in mainstream America. However, they were not a rare occurrence in many urban communities.  Looking back as a mature adult, I remember that acts of gun violence were happening on a regular basis in our urban communities. In my suburban community and in my own circles, I felt safe. So who really got that break from history?

 

Logan Browning: That’s a good observation.

 

Allison Kugel: Now that acts of gun violence are happening in the “good neighborhoods,” suddenly it’s everybody’s problem. Connecting those dots is humbling.

 

Logan Browning: It’s along the same vein as the Parkland activists. It’s great that everyone’s aware of it now, but what about all those people we’ve forgotten for so long?

 

Allison Kugel: Why do you think black men in our society are both feared and fetishized, simultaneously? This is a dynamic that’s depicted on your show, Dear White People.

 

Logan Browning: Slavery. That sounds like something Sam would say, but it’s our history. You take any people out of their homeland and you make them a hot commodity… you’re selling them up on how strong they are, how big they are, how hard they work. America created this. They created that dichotomy of what they imagine a black man to be.

 

Allison Kugel: What storyline are you most excited for audiences to see in the second season?

 

Logan Browning: Oh man, in a general sense, I love all of the characters’ stories and all of the individual storylines because you are really getting to know these people. I do love Coco’s storyline. I think it’s a great conversation starter. Every episode in the second season is a conversation starter, which is more what I look forward to than any one storyline. I just know I’m excited about the issues that are covered this season.

 

Allison Kugel: Finish this sentence: “Dear White People…”

 

Logan Browning: It’s so funny, the other day Justin [Simien, Creator of Dear White People] said, “Dear White People, You’re Welcome.” (Laughs). I think it’s “Dear White People… whiteness, blackness; all of it is a creation. It’s a human device that we’ve created, and one that white people in history created and it’s malarkey.” It’s a factory now, one that we all have to mill about in, but it’s a complete fabrication. We have different experiences, yes, but we are all the same.  In order to get to the point where we all see each other as the same, we would have to first go back and dissect every life experience we’ve each had before we can wipe the slate clean and say, “Yup. We’re all the same. Back to square one.” Whiteness and blackness are malarkey, but to get to that place we would have to better understand each other.

 

Season two of “Dear White People” premieres May 4thon Netflix.

 

Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.

 


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