The comeback is always greater than the setback. And in the case of Jordyn Woods, the aftermath of an evanescent storm that was her personal life is looking like the biggest f*ck you. Because instead of staying down, the now 22-year-old bossed up, releasing clothing lines, fitness guides, making big-screen moves, and on-stage singing debuts that have her 11.6 million Instagram fans on the edge of their seats wondering what other tricks the California girl has up her sleeve.
Nearly a month into quarantine we hop on a call from our respective homes, nearly 3,000 miles away from one another. After navigating the distractions of our temporary living situations, we settle into a flow of conversation that is part-interview and part-girl talk. Days blend together just as seamlessly as her foundation, but Woods pays it no mind. With every sunrise comes a new opportunity to set the pace for her success.
"I wake up and I always create a million things for myself to do, so I don't stay bored during this," she says in reference to the quarantine life that millions have recently adopted.
What fans see is a fresh-faced Woods posting picture-perfect selfies and bodacious body shots, but behind the scenes, she's building an empire. Fresh off of an impressive run on the hit celebrity singing show, The Masked Singer, Woods is revealing more than just her vocal chops. Underneath the mask is a woman who's really about her business. Her debut album will be released under her own record label, a move she said allows her to own all of the rights to her music while maintaining creative control of her passion project. She's also using her platform to create a budding health and wellness community. Her brand FRSTPLACE— a series of workout programs that Woods swears by— was birthed from the idea of putting yourself first, something that admittedly took some time for her to understand. Fitness, she says, is what carries her through the days and helps with her mental health.
"It was never about physical appearance," she says. "My dad was always healthy, never sick, and then passed away really quickly from pancreatic cancer. So it was kind of a wake-up call to get it together but more importantly, it was more important because fitness became therapy for me, and doing something that helps me feel good and look good."
Along with her activewear line SECNDNTURE, Woods is hoping to help transform the bodies and minds of those who follow her. She recently created a fitness challenge awarding $1,000 to the top two transformations. "I really just did that to help motivate people to have some center and to just get up and start doing because what's deeper than health is also mental health, and when you're sitting for too long it becomes toxic."
She's making the most of her moment while simultaneously shedding the shame of her past. Just last year she was dodging headlines linking her and the Kardashians, but in the worst way. And as we watched a teary brown-eyed Woods tell the tale of her fall from grace on Red Table Talk, many of us couldn't help but to empathize with a young girl in an unfortunate situation that may not have been much different than the mistakes of our own.
The experience has led her on a journey of self-evaluation and elevation. Everything from friendships to relationships has entered an excavation period as she rids herself of what no longer serves her and makes room for something new. This includes learning to forgive and fall forward.
"It's easy to take advantage of kind people; the world can turn you cold really fast," she says. "I love that I have the ability to not hold onto things and to move forward and to always remain myself and still be able to have love for people regardless of what happened. If God forgives people who have done wrong, I don't have the energy to hold onto people who have wronged me. What I also know is that in life we have the tendency to take things very personally. And what I had to understand is that most of the time it's never about us."
"If God forgives people who have done wrong, I don't have the energy to hold onto people who have wronged me. What I also know is that in life we have the tendency to take things very personally. And what I had to understand is that most of the time it's never about us."
Loss is something that Woods is no stranger to. The loss of friends and loss of loved ones all lead to a loss of innocence that often accompanies the transition of a young girl to a grown woman. Thankfully, she has her mother to help her navigate the world of womanhood. "She always told me when I was younger, 'Don't talk bad about anyone. I don't care if you don't like them, don't talk bad about them.' She always instilled in my mind always keep your integrity and don't speak badly about people."
"If someone is doing you wrong, they're doing themselves wrong and I don't have the energy to meet you at your level," she adds. "I'm going to stay where I'm at and if in the future you want to come to where I'm at I would love to meet you there. But if not, it's all good."
I point out that her vibrations must be sending positive energy into the atmosphere. Earlier this year she posted a photo of her girl group of celebrity friends that had Black girls celebrating the magic of brown-skinned beauties in her comments. "Every girl in that group is really their own person and everyone is so beautiful and individual in their own way," she says. "We can come and have a good time and it's no pressure and no competition. It's a really sweet, positive girl group."
Though she seems to be mastering female friendships, love is still a fickle friend in Woods' world. It slips in and out of reach, often making an appearance in the form of tests. Will she choose the bad boy or herself? "I'm trying to find my Russell Wilson...but right now I've got to hang out with myself for a bit."
Life has taught her that self-love isn't just what you allow in, but also what you keep out. "I think now people have this idea of ownership when it comes to relationships and I am like we are all individuals because personally I don't want to feel like I'm being owned. I don't need you to question me so I think just having trust in your partner is a big thing, and also understanding the idea of you don't own anyone. If it's meant to be, it will be."
"I wish that I got to grow up in the era that my parents did because things were a lot more genuine," she continues. "They didn't have Instagram, there wasn't as much accessibility. If you wanted something you really had to go for it. Now everything is just oversaturated. And love, people have the idea of it messed up. But yeah...I mean," she pauses and lets out of a deep sigh. "That's all I really have to say about that."
"If someone is doing you wrong, they're doing themselves wrong and I don't have the energy to meet you at your level. I'm going to stay where I'm at and if in the future you want to come to where I'm at I would love to meet you there. But if not, it's all good."
If she does find that special one though, we won't know until she's married. She likes to keep her private life private, only giving us a glimpse into what her world appears to be. A necessary move, too, if she is to stay on top of her game as a girl boss. Without the distractions of her personal life overshadowing the progress of her professional one, we're able to witness a young woman destined for stardom.
In December of this past year, she starred in the thriller movie Sacrifice alongside Paula Patton, an experience she said allowed her to observe how to move while on set. "She made everyone feel very comfortable and very welcomed. The vibrance of her personality and who she was and how talented she is was a learning lesson for me without her having to tell me anything directly."
Woods will appear in another thriller directed by Chris Stokes in the near future, though her true aspirations lie in making it to the big screen. She admits that she hopes to one day do films like Black Panther, but in the meantime, she studies award-winning movies (she recently tuned into the Oscar-winning Korean film Parasite) while continuing to add more experience to her resume.
"Even when I started modeling when I was younger, every job is a stepping stone, every job is a learning experience whether it's big or small," she says. "I can learn from everything and sometimes I take jobs that aren't as big just to learn the art of the craft. It's about really learning and growing through every experience. Every person I work with, everything that I do is ultimately for me for growth and to learn from."
A fitness brand and apparel line, a budding television and film career, an upcoming album— is there anything that she can't conquer?
"Well, I want abs," she admits with a hearty laugh. "But that's tricky because the pantry is right here, and quarantine. But besides physical, I just really want to grow in my entrepreneurship and start more businesses and invest. I'd love to get into real estate and just...I have so many projects I'd love to do so it's really just creating a plan, thinking and prioritizing the list, and getting it done."
And we'll be here watching every moment. Not in anticipation of her downfall, but in celebration of seeing another Black girl climb from the ashes and rise to the top.
For more of Jordyn, follow her on Instagram.
Featured image via Jordyn Woods/Instagram
Kiah McBride writes technical content by day and uses storytelling to pen real and raw personal development pieces on her blog Write On Kiah. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @writeonkiah.
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