Courtesy of Lauren "Lolo" Spencer

Actress Lauren "Lolo" Spencer ​Talks Disability Stereotypes And Online Dating

A star is on the rise.

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If you don’t know actress Lauren “Lolo” Spencer, it’s time to get to know her.

The breakout star of Mindy Kaling’s new HBO comedy series The Sex Lives of College Girls, Lolo plays Jocelyn, a fiery scene-stealer whose unapologetic nature and uncanny ability to make the audience laugh whenever she appears makes her one of the show’s most memorable characters in a cast of college freshman characters. The series itself is being praised by fans and critics alike for being inclusive, relatable, and real.

“Jocelyn is a lot of who I was in college,” Lolo tells xoNecole of Jocelyn’s seemingly effortless appeal. “She's just very free-spirited and fun, which is also a lot of who I am today. But, she is a little bit more of an asshole than I am. She’s a little shady, which I like!”

It’s hard to believe this is only Lolo’s second role as an actress. In 2019, she starred in the independent film Give Me Liberty, earning a Spirit Awards nomination for the role and competing with Octavia Spencer and Jennifer Lopez for Best Supporting Actress.

Courtesy of Lauren "Lolo" Spencer

But Lolo’s road to award-nominated actress and premium TV series regular wasn’t easy.

At 14, she was diagnosed with ALS, a progressive disease with a survival rate averaging around five years. The star went on to graduate high school, earn a bachelor’s degree in video editing and begin a career in marketing and distribution before she turned to Hollywood.

But Lolo, now 30-something, never felt comfortable knowing her career was in someone else’s hands. “As a person with a disability, employment is incredibly hard to find. If I’m not mistaken, less than two percent of the job market are people on record saying that they have disabilities," she says. "I just didn’t like the feeling of someone being in control of my livelihood because I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to find another job.” She decided to launch her own YouTube channel and lifestyle brand, Sitting Pretty, where she shared her journey with ALS as well as her work, friendships, and dating life.

Courtesy of Lauren "Lolo" Spencer

“I’ve always been positive but creating content helped,” she says. “Talking about it meant no one could use it against me. It meant being OK in my vulnerability. Owning my vulnerability and knowing that I’m constantly supported by my loved ones helps with my confidence, but I still have insecurities.”

Sharing her truth has been impacting generations. “I get a lot of comments from parents who have children with disabilities who thank me for the content and hope that their children have that amount of confidence.”

One of the things Lolo makes crystal clear is that she hates when others see just her physical disability and not her humanity. She shares that she was at a party getting a little turnt with her friends when a guy came over to “applaud her for being brave" when she was simply living her best life. Talk about a buzz kill. “The underlying tone of all of it is, ‘you’re not worthy of existence and if I do recognize it, I don’t recognize you as a human. I recognize you as a person who is under a circumstance.’”

Courtesy of Lauren "Lolo" Spencer

Through her film and TV roles, Lolo brings humanity and nuance to her characters that an ableist world often tries to strip away.

"I want roles that are going to be effective and representative of the culture in the ways that I’ve been advocating for,” she shares about her process. She even told her agent that she didn't want roles in medical shows that are going to feel ableist, or content that is rooted in disabled people providing inspiration for non-disabled people as a way to feel better about themselves.

“It’s challenging because when you do that, you shrink the auditions you could get, but because I’m strategic, I’ve had a lot of success."

When we move to the topic of dating, Lolo keeps it very real, talking about the challenges. She had a “pandemic boo” who stressed her out way too much, and she admits that dating's been difficult since.

“People are revering me so much that they’re neglecting that I’m a woman. It’s almost this superhero admiration. You don’t have to take me to Nobu on our first date. Like, I’m still a chill girl.” She also admits wishing guys would be more open to a healthy conversation. “Like, what if I just wanted to have fun?”

Courtesy of Lauren "Lolo" Spencer

Today, Lolo is much more aware of who she gives her time to, and though she admits to staying off the dating apps, she gives a few helpful pieces of advice for creating online profiles, especially for people with disabilities.

“One of my biggest tips is: If you are a person with a visible disability, show your device or body in your profile photo. That will immediately cut out the people who are just so shallow to not even consider that this is an actual human being that you might actually get along with!” She also advised being funny and fun in your profile caption, showing a variety of photos, and beginning every conversation solely with the goal of getting to know someone.

One day soon, Lolo hopes to star in a rom-com and change the way disabled people in love are portrayed on the big screen. “I love, love, love comedy. With rom-coms, they usually cast leads as people who are to be desired or sought after. We haven't seen that with characters with disabilities. So, I would love for that to be represented, while still being fun and funny.”

Lolo Spencer is just getting started.

To keep up with Lauren "Lolo" Spencer, follow her on Instagram @itslololove, and don’t forget to watch season one ofThe Sex Lives of College Girls, now streaming on HBO Max.

Featured image courtesy of Lauren "Lolo" Spencer

Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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