Interview: Syleena Johnson talks about "R&B Divas"

Cat fights. Curse-outs. Salacious smackdowns that broadcast dirt, drama and dysfunction at the touch of a button. If that’s how you feel about the slew of reality shows out there and don’t exactly look forward to another one, TV One’s hoping that their latest project, R&B Divas, will change your mind while getting you hooked on watching five of the genre’s most talented performers----Faith Evans, Nicci Gilbert, Monifah, Syleena Johnson and KeKe Wyatt-----put their lives and careers on blast from the already-steamy locale of Atlanta GA.

Cat fights. Curse-outs. Salacious smackdowns that broadcast dirt, drama and dysfunction at the touch of a button. If that’s how you feel about the slew of reality shows out there and don’t exactly look forward to another one, TV One’s hoping that their latest project, R&B Divas, will change your mind while getting you hooked on watching five of the genre’s most talented performers----Faith Evans, Nicci Gilbert, Monifah, Syleena Johnson and KeKe Wyatt-----put their lives and careers on blast from the already-steamy locale of Atlanta GA.

  As far as speculation that R&B Divas will use new faces to cover old territory, one of the cast members, singer and songwriter Syleena Johnson, used a recent phone chat to emphatically explain what the upcoming series will show, won’t show and why she has sympathy for the stars that have been caught up in the madness……

MELODY CHARLES-It’s good to speak with you again Syleena: I’m checking out your latest pics and it looks like you’ve taken off a lot of weight.

SYLEENA JOHNSON-“Thank you--- I’ve lost 40 pounds, all of the baby weight:  now I’ve gotta lose the rest.” (laughs)

MC- Well kudos for that and congratulations on TV One picking up R&B Divas. There’s been a lot of negative spotlight on female-focused reality shows in the last few months, so since you’re now  art of one, how do you feel about that and what can fans of yours expect when we tune in?

SJ-“ Well, the difference between us and the other shows is that we’re already used to being under the scrutiny of the public. Besides Omarosa, Kandi (The Real Housewives of Atlanta) and Tammy, who used to be on The Real World,  a lot of these women didn’t have a lot of experience in front of the camera. That’s part of why  I won’t pass judgment on these other women because they didn’t sign on to be shown in a negative light: most of them were probably just trying to get out from under their famous husband’s shadow and have the focus on them  for a change. Our lives are different because it wasn’t our marriages or relationships that brought us into the spotlight, it was our careers, and a part of our jobs is being judged and critiqued. We put our lives out there and  bare our souls in the music So that’s like another type of camera anyway.”

MC-So the conflicts that come up in other shows won’t come up in R&B Divas?  And if it does, how is it handled or portrayed?

SJ-“Well, there will be conflict, but there’s also absolute resolution. There will never be anybody disrespecting anybody as far as fighting, throwing water, spitting on people, anything like that. Me, Nicci, Monifah, KeKe and Faith are already friends, we’ve already bonded off screen. Other shows are getting all of these women together who don’t know each other and then they want them to clash to get  ‘good TV,’ so that’s not all their fault. Now, how they want to behave afterwards is on them, because you can only control your reactions, but sometimes, that’s what’s going on behind the scenes. We’ve got to be a little more compassionate: it’s a reality show, what do you want? People relate to the drama because they’re all going through it: it’s not comfortable all the time, but the truth never is comfortable, right?”

MC- I agree with you there. Since you can’t drop too many details, what will you say about what fans will see when R&B Divas debuts?

SJ- “An artist’s life----and I would say this without a TV show---is a rat race. It’s difficult and challenging to have a lot of people working with and around you and trying to keep everyone on an even keel , which is impossible. I was talking to Eddie Levert about it and he told me straight up, ‘you are never going to avoid conflict: it’s going to happen, But what you can control is your reaction.’ This isn’t a Making of The Band type thing, so we don’t all live together in one house, but fans will see our day-to-day lives with our families and our careers.”

MC-Was sharing so much more than a perceived image scary to any of you?

SJ-“ No, because there can be so many misconceptions about us , and this series gives us the chance to tell our fans how it really is. They can get the truth from the house’s mouth instead of the horse’s ***, so to speak. (laughing) We’re usually told by our publicity teams to not respond to rumors, but now we can just tell everybody the real deal.  Everybody can relate to that because everybody’s got issues. Nobody’s perfect.”

MC-Definitely looking forward to the show Syleena, in part because you rarely get the shine you deserve in your vocal and lyrical accomplishments.

SJ- “I’m honored that you all feel that way, thank you so much.”

MC-You’re one of the few true soul singers of your generation: with Whitney Houston, Donna Summer and Chuck Brown passing away recently, does it make you re-evaluate your legacy?

SJ- “I just don’t know what to think about all of these deaths, it’s blowing me away. With R&B being the way it is---and it’s been lackluster, I’m sorry--- that status quo needs to be challenged. With the legends starting to pass on, I hope that myself and the cast can become a part of the R&B comeback that’s happening now and eventually create something together eventually to make an impact on the music world. I want us to be pioneers in making another shift.”

MC-That would be powerful: does that mean we’ll be seeing you all on the road anytime soon?

SJ- “That it’s a great possibility, but I can’t say for sure.”

MC-Will you be back out there on tour as a solo artist?

SJ-“ Whoever wants to bring me out to the road, I’ll come: I love to sing for my fans.  Sponsors should  reach out to my management company, DYG Management, through my website syleenamusic.com. I can also be reached at syleena _johnson, people can also discuss booking me there.”

MC- Any other projects popping off for you besides R&B Divas?

SJ- “I am so busy this year: ‘Chapter 6’ is coming, it’s called The Theory of Evolution….it is deep and I’m about to go in!  (laughing) That’s coming next year and I’m still taking submissions from producers, old and new, because you never know who can have the next hit. I’m re-releasing Chapter 5: Underrated as a deluxe set with about five additional tracks, that’s coming in October. And toward the end of the year, overseas, I’m releasing The Rebirth of Soul with my father Syl Johnson. It’s all old school songs redone with live instrumentation.”

MC-Syleena, stop: a band?!?

SJ- “A band Honey, live re-takes in the studio, no tracks….it’s awesome----so far I’ve done “Lonely Teardrops” by “Jackie Wilson,” “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin….It’ll come out in America too, just overseas first.”

MC-Well, I’m so glad to see you staying on the grind for the true soul lovers out there: congrats on the reality show and we can’t wait to hear what you gift our ears with next.

SJ-“Thanks for being there all those years. I’m so blessed and overwhelmed about what God has done in my life, good and bad….I don’t even want to say bad, just ‘good and uncomfortable.’ All of it has made me a better woman and a better artist that can make better music for you. Your support keeps me going, I appreciate it.”

R&B Divas premieres August 20.

 

 

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