TV Host Eboni K. Williams Got Here Because Her Ability To Bounce Back From ‘No’ Is Unmatched
In xoNecole's "How She Got Here", we uncover the journey of fearless, ambitious women at the top of their game with unconventional not-so-everyday careers. Instead of asking them about their careers, xoNecole dissects the hardships, rejections, and nontraditional roads traveled by these women to create the positions they have today.
Ever since I've been brought onto the REVOLT team as a freelance writer, I've had the pleasure of watching and recapping REVOLT Black News, a series spearheaded, produced, and hosted by the one and only Eboni K. Williams. As a co-host on REVOLT's hip hop talk show State of the Culture and the newest addition on Bravo TV's Real Housewives of New York City, it's amazing how she balances it all in legal affairs, entertainment and journalism, and still manages to be as snatched and professionally poised as she is. By kickstarting her broadcast career as a talk radio host for Los Angeles' KFI AM640, Eboni K. Williams set herself up for future positions as an anchor with hosting and correspondent roles for FOX Sports, NBA 2K, CBS News, HLN, CNN, and NFL Network.
Most recently, Williams announced the delivery of her "love child" that's been baking for two years, her podcast Holding Court with Eboni K. Williams. With the help of The Black Effect Podcast Network, a new partnership between iHeartMedia and Charlamagne Tha God, Williams alongside Dustin Ross, will be cross-examining mainstream news cases Law and Order-style while using her legal and entertainment lenses. With a J.D. from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law and background as a public defender and private defense lawyer, Eboni K. Williams is clearly the perfect woman for the job.
For the first installment of "How She Got Here", xoNecole spoke with the Pretty Powerful: Appearance, Substance and Success author about her recent announcement as the first Black female cast member on Real Housewives of New York, her hopes for the longevity of REVOLT Black News, and how she's never received the word "no" in her ministry. Check out our conversation below!
On ‘Holding Court with Eboni K. Williams’:
"Holding Court with Eboni K. Williams has been on my heart and head to bring to life for about two years now, so I'm thrilled that we're finally releasing and we'll be dropping every Wednesday. Holding Court is my opportunity to talk to everyday folk. We're talking to Black people, but all people who are interested in Black culture. We are talking about all of the legal going on whether it be celebrity justice or social justice stories. Everybody knows the headlines, but what does this stuff mean? That's what Holding Court gets to: it breaks down the complicated legal issues into teachable moments, and that then our audience––everyday Americans and across the world, really––can use in their everyday life. We keep this show fast-paced, informative, interesting and entertaining."
On ‘REVOLT Black News’ and how her previous roles led her here:
"Mr. [Sean] Combs decided during this pandemic that there was a clear need in the culture for an unapologetically Black lens as it relates to all breaking and important news, social justice and politics alike. Even post-election, REVOLT will maintain its commitment to REVOLT Black News because the need for a Black lens on breaking global and national news persists beyond this election. My hope and intention for this show is to continue to meet the needs of our people.
"I take my skills as a trained litigator coming from the criminal law court and then I apply that skill set of being extremely intellectually curious, of having a stronghold knowledge of law and justice in our society, of understanding how Blackness and minority status impact law and justice in our society, for our people in our community. Then, I add my lens that I acquired during news in my broadcasting career. You add all of that up - my experience as an attorney, news anchor, and as a political and legal analyst - I bring all of that to REVOLT Black News. Every week, our audience is getting as close to a 360-perspective on the issues as possible."
On how her fields align with her life purpose:
"I knew I wanted to be an attorney when I was five- or six-years-old and that was largely because my mother, at a very young age, found herself in a bit of trouble and unfortunately just did not have the resources [and] had no support as to how to navigate a very complicated legal system. She was a very young woman with a nonviolent offense; she was a first-time offender and she was incarcerated and separated from me for a year of my early life. That's a lot and what I learned very early is who represents you at that trial and in that courtroom matters and the consequences are high. I decided to be an attorney at that point because I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless, I wanted to be an advocate, I wanted to understand these things so there would be less young people, young Black people and young Black women being unfairly and disproportionately punished as my mother was.
"I transitioned to broadcasting about ten years ago because it wasn't good enough for me to be on the inside helping just one client at a time because it's a very slow moving process. I needed to transition to a larger microphone [by] entering talk radio and then to television, so there was a very wide access point to the knowledge and information required in our country to be able to deal with the criminal justice system."
Official 'Holding Court with Eboni K. Williams' Podcast Artwork
Eboni K. Williams/GP Media
On a typical day as Eboni K. Williams:
"Let's just go with today. First and foremost, I'm a businesswoman, so I had to do some business. On an upcoming episode on Holding Court with Eboni K. Williams, we talk about how as creatives, it's very easy to get caught up in being the talent because that can be the fun part, but you have to be tight on the business. Top of the morning, I opened up with doing housekeeping business, creating invoices, distributing those to vendors who require my services for public speaking or other content that I create. Then, I transition to some phone calls with my team which includes my publicist, my podcast consultant, my digital manager, all the people that make this thing work with me.
"I did some fantastic press interviews with outlets that wanted to talk to me about being the first Black housewife of Real Housewives of New York as well as Holding Court with Eboni K. Williams. Then, it was time to create content so I went ahead and went to a studio to record some pickups, the docket, and social media teasers. I came back and had a Board of Directors meeting for Safe Horizon, and then I had a couple press interviews including this lovely one I'm having with you."
On the major challenges she encountered when she first broke into her career:
"As far as the challenges in law, I don't want to overstate what the challenges of that were. This is what you would expect with being young, Black and a woman. Of course, you go into courtrooms and people think you're the paralegal or the secretary. I don't know that that's uncommon. It sucks and it's sh*tty, but I was totally prepared for that.
"Breaking into broadcasting in general has had challenges in the sense two-fold: I didn't go to journalism school, I didn't come from Columbia J-School, so entering CBS News as a national correspondent was a big deal and it was very difficult. I cut my teeth, wasn't quite good when I got there and it was humbling going from being at the top of my game as an attorney to starting over in a new profession. When you decide to transition careers, which I have done several times throughout my trajectory, you're gonna eat some humble pie at various points. You're not gonna be good, so don't even expect to be, but what you can expect to do is get better and better."
"When you decide to transition careers, which I have done several times throughout my trajectory, you're gonna eat some humble pie at various points. You're not gonna be good, so don't even expect to be, but what you can expect to do is get better and better."
On bouncing back from major mistakes in her career:
"I can't say, knock on wood, that I've made a major mistake that I couldn't bounce back from. What I have done in my career is make major consequential choices that I knew would be devastating to the sustaining of that particular role. For example, during my time at FOX News, I made a choice to write and deliver something called "Eboni's Docket" about President Trump's, in my opinion, dangerous and cowardly response to Charlottesville. When I did that, I knew it would more or less be the wrap of my career at FOX News and it was a totally calculated decision. I knew that in that moment and at that time, if I was going to be on that network, if I did not say what I said, I shouldn't be there. It was that simple. I did it, I knew it would have great consequences for the rest of my tenure at FOX News, and I was fine with that because that's exactly how it played out."
On turning a big ‘no’ into a resounding ‘yes’:
"Girl, I get told 'no' everyday a million times and it's fine. The biggest 'no' I got last month was when I was up for a massive platform, that you, me and everyone else watches, and close to it, but no, they went with another incredible talent. That sucks, but my faith system is strong. Finally, I've totally surrendered to it and it took me a while to say, 'I'm type A, I can be controlling, and God really is at play at a higher level.' It has taken well into my late 30s to surrender to that. Now, I trust him emphatically.
"When I get told 'no' on major projects that I've prayed for, hoped for, knew was for me and clearly God had another plan, I was disappointed but I wasn't as devastated as I would have been early in my career. I just was like, 'It would have been great, but clearly there's something at play that I can't even see that God is looking at and I'm actually going to trust it.' Didn't know what it was at that time and literally three weeks later, I got the call about RHONY so it was all good."
On self-discovery as a career woman:
"I can't do it alone––I think that's what I learned about myself. I am an only child, my mother's a single mother and I've lived a very chosen isolated existence professionally. When I practiced law, I've been at firms and on teams, but ultimately it's you in that court. It's not like a team of lawyers. What I now learned about myself and was made to learn about myself if I want to plateau at mediocrity, good; I can continue to do it that way in a vacuum. If indeed I'm serious about ascending to the highest level of my career in this profession and doing things that have never been done before, I gotta figure out how to create a team, work with a team, and sustain a team with my leadership."
On whether ambition, creativity or confidence is the most important quality in her career:
"Confidence. Bar none, and it's because confidence is a result of competence. When you are competent at what you do - I don't care what you're doing - you will be confident in it. Ambition is the desire to be great, but who cares? Desire means nothing unless you have the competence to support it."
On advice she has for women who want to pursue a similar career path:
"Stay in the game. Very simple. Who cares about a 'no'? Everybody gets 'no': Oprah gets 'no', Obama gets 'no', LeBron gets 'no'. It's the 'yes' that you're looking for and in pursuit of. You can't get to the 'yes' if you take yourself out of commission and out of the game. Hang around the hoop, work on your drills, and work on that competence so it will give you the confidence that executives and partners are looking for in creatives."
Eboni K. Williams/GP Media
"You can't get to the 'yes' if you take yourself out of commission and out of the game. Hang around the hoop, work on your drills, and work on that competence so it will give you the confidence that executives and partners are looking for in creatives."
On how she got here:
"Somebody prayed for me and somebody's still praying for me. My mother prayed for me before I was born."
On being the first Black housewife on 'Real Housewives of New York':
"RHONY is way behind. The fact that there were 12 seasons of this show without a single Black housewife is diserroneous and just egregious. I think there has been a very deliberate effort on the parts of Andy Cohen and Bravo to remedy that. The fact that they ultimately chose me, I'm honored and very humbled by that. I don't take it lightly at all. I think it's a very benevolent and important responsibility that I have to represent not only myself as an individual, but Black womanhood. I will not be trying to seek perfection, I'm human and I'm not perfect, but I will be constantly putting forth every effort to show and see Black excellence on this platform and in life."
For more of Eboni K. Williams, follow her on Instagram. Holding Court with Eboni K. Williams is now available and streaming on all platforms. Tune into REVOLT Black News every Thursday at 9 PM EST on YouTube to see Eboni K. Williams in action as host and executive producer.
Featured Image Provided by GP Media/Eboni K. Williams.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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Feature image by Mike Marsland/WireImage