Syleena Johnson's greatest instrument is her voice and has recognized her passion for music since her earliest childhood memories. With a father who was in the entertainment industry as a singer, music was part of her life from an early age and eventually blossomed into her participating in talent shows and showing the world what she was meant to do. "I just finished filming my UNSUNG episode which will premiere on TVOne early 2021 and that will tell the readers a lot about my story and how I began. I am excited for you to see it. It will show you how I got my start in the industry and how I got to where I am now," she spilled to xoNecole about her upcoming project.
As a singer, she has used her voice and songs to uplift women and Black people, but now as a talk show host on Cocktails and Queens on Fox Soul, Syleena is using her voice to empower Black women to demand respect and equality on the other side of the couch. "I am still and will always be a part of music," the former Sister Circle host told me about her transition into being a talk show host, "However, opportunities and God have allowed me to become a talk show host and share my opinions and thoughts as a woman in this world and in entertainment."
Nowadays in her career, Syleena can apply the multitude of lenses to her craft from the talent side to research and development as the interviewer. When she's not on the couch interviewing talent or in the booth making new empowerment anthems, the "Guess What" singer has been working on her latest docuseries project, The Making of a Woman, which was heavily inspired by her recently released Woman album.
Courtesy of Tony Tyus Photography
"This docuseries will show what my experience as a Black woman has been in this industry for over 20 years as well as being a working-class woman, a wife and a mother raising two sons. It will inspire people to see the challenges Black women face on a day-to-day basis and how we overcome it," she explained. "I wanted to show a message and present that in a body of work to create more of a conversation and a call-to-action. I've realized in order to make change, we must create content or use our voice to make a shift in change in our society."
xoNecole had the opportunity to catch up with the Grammy-nominated singer herself about using her voice to uplift women, her new docuseries The Making of a Woman, and being a Black woman in 2020 demanding equal rights in our current racial climate. Check out our conversation below.
xoNecole: Tell me about your docuseries, 'The Making Of A Woman', the messaging and the inspiration behind it.
Syleena Johnson: The docuseries The Making of a Woman is heavily inspired by my recent album, Woman. Each of my albums as a solo artist have been titled after chapters, however with today's racial climate I decided to create the album and docuseries to speak on the struggles and experiences of everyday Black women and what we go through in life in 2020. I created this docuseries to vocally create a body of work that documented the journey of what it took to create this album, mentally, internally and spiritually while sharing the experiences of what women go through like demanding equality and respect, having a voice to even having to work twice as hard as our male counterparts even through pain and adversity.
How does your new studio album, ‘Woman’, directly correlate with the story that you're telling us in the docuseries?
It's my journey, my thoughts and what I and many women endure as a Black woman in society as well as this industry. You'll see me on my journey of completing my album and shooting the video to my lead single off my new album. You'll see the vision that I had to want to highlight how beautiful and special women are. The docuseries speaks on dishonesty, respect and the many examples of inequality Black women face while showing the process of creating a body of work that shares the same message.
How are both releases timely considering our current racial climate?
Right now, we are in the year of the WOMAN. We have a Black woman that is working tirelessly to be the next Vice President of the United States. Black women are on the front lines organizing, protesting and leading the forefront of creating change for our economy and the futures of our next generation. Considering our current climate, both releases vocally tells a story that we still have work to do and are still fighting for respect in 2020. With both releases of my album and docuseries, I wanted to use what I've been seeing in situations like the #MeToo and Time's Up movement, and use my voice and passion in music to be a vessel for other women's stories and journeys.
What do you define as the makings of a woman?
The makings of a woman is the willingness of a woman to grow despite her flaws, despite her mistakes, despite her circumstances and her setbacks in life. The ingredients of the makings of a woman is built up of all the little experiences that you had and how you've handled them and most importantly learned from them. These are the certain experiences you must endure in life to come into your womanhood while helping you grow as a woman.
Courtesy of Tony Tyus Photography
"The makings of a woman is the willingness of a woman to grow despite her flaws, despite her mistakes, despite her circumstances and her setbacks in life. The ingredients of the makings of a woman is built up of all the little experiences that you had and how you've handled them and most importantly learned from them."
When do you feel the most "womanly" or the most beautiful as a woman?
I feel the most womanly when I am being a mother to my sons, when I am being a wife. Always working or in business mode does not make me feel like a woman, it makes me tired. I feel more womanly when I can have peace, when I can have "girl time" for myself. I feel the "womanliest" when I can be appreciated and when I am treated like a woman. I feel womanly when I can be heard and valued. More than anything, I feel the "womanliest" when I can operate as a mom and wife without having to be the authoritative figure. When you are a CEO and an entrepreneur you are the authoritative figure but when I come into my household I can relax without having to be the authoritative figure all the time because I have support.
"I feel the most womanly when I am being a mother to my sons, when I am being a wife. Always working or in business mode does not make me feel like a woman, it makes me tired. I feel more womanly when I can have peace, when I can have 'girl time' for myself. I feel the 'womanliest' when I can be appreciated and when I am treated like a woman. I feel womanly when I can be heard and valued."
What is the moment in your life when you believed that you were coming into your own as a woman?
That moment for me was when I got the diagnosis that my youngest son had autism. I developed a level of selflessness that had to take place mentally and emotionally in order for me to grow as a woman. Something like that is supposed to take me out of here and it did, however what that diagnosis did was made me come into my womanhood, turn up my senses as a mother, as a provider. I had to turn up those senses and it made me develop my own personal internal growth spurt. This has allowed me to grow into my womanhood and has taught me to be more patient overall in life. That moment and many life lessons made me understand and be OK with me, unapologetically. It allowed me to love me for who I am and become appreciative of being OK with not being perfect.
There are a lot of conversations around gender and sex. What do you see is the difference between femininity and womanhood, if there is one at all?
What I've learned throughout my own experiences in life is that femininity is a characteristic. Womanhood is a state of mind. Whereas a woman doesn't have to be any of those feminine qualities, and still be a boss, knowing who she is, having a voice, understanding her worth - those are the things that encompass womanhood. Femininity is a characteristic, an accessory. Anyone can be feminine, however it is a characteristic that is interchangeable, whereas womanhood is a growth process, state of mind. A state of being.
Courtesy of Tony Tyus Photography
"What I've learned throughout my own experiences in life is that femininity is a characteristic. Womanhood is a state of mind. Femininity is a characteristic, an accessory. Anyone can be feminine, however it is a characteristic that is interchangeable, whereas womanhood is a growth process, state of mind. A state of being."
For Black womanhood, what do you believe makes Black women the most powerful and most majestic?
Resilience, our humility, our hearts have made us majestic. The fact that we've endured so much from the test of times has made us extremely powerful and majestic. We are resilient, durable, sustainable. We are smart, we are vociferous, brilliant, studious, meticulous, but we are kind, careful, and multi-layered.
How would you say that you've grown as a singer-songwriter since you first started in the music industry?
I have grown tremendously since coming into the industry and my writing has grown and evolved. I have a different and new sound. I've grown as a woman so I can't stay in the same frame of mind as my other albums. When you're saying different things, you have to stretch out and grow. And that's where I've improved as an artist and singer since first being introduced in the industry.
Being a Black woman in the industry is tough, especially when you're in the spotlight as an artist. How do you manage your mental health and how can the music industry do a better job at protecting Black women?
I manage my mental health by working out and doing stress reduction activities. I am really into fitness and bodybuilding. It allows me to be focused and gain mental clarity. I am also an advocate and use therapy as an outlet to manage my mental health. I have recently embarked on a fitness journey where I competed in a fitness bodybuilding competition which totally improved and helped with my mental health. I was able to not only transform physically losing over 55 pounds but was also able to grow internally within the process.
The music industry can do a better job protecting Black women. The most important thing they can do is listen to Black women. We are not objects. We are not possessions. Listen to Black women and see how they feel, ask are you being heard and valued? Are you being treated fairly? That is how you can protect Black women by listening and valuing us.
If you listen, you learn.
For more of Syleena, follow her on Instagram.
Featured image courtesy of Tony Tyus Photography
This post is in partnership with SheaMoisture.
For Black women, there’s one compliment that will boost our confidence like none other: “Come through hair!” You know the vibe! Walking into a room with folks acknowledging that your hair is laid for the gawds, and the effort that it took to get it there, is a top five feeling. And with the holiday season just weeks away, you’ll be hearing that quite often. Between Thanksgiving gatherings with the family, Friendsgiving, company parties, and Christmas get-togethers, the opportunities to let your hair show up and show out aren’t too far away.
Apart from the holiday stuntin’, the end-of-year slow down is also the perfect opportunity to reevaluate the year your hair has had. Whether you kept it cute with protective braids, went big with blowouts, or let loose with textured twist-outs, this is the perfect time to give your hair the gift of TLC - tender lovin’ curls. Like the weather, our hair goes through seasons and has different needs depending on what we’ve put it through. Perhaps the transition into fall/winter has left your curls a bit parched and in need of some serious hydration. Or maybe your strands could use some restorative conditioning after taking it down from a convenient protective style. No matter what category you fall into, SheaMoisture has hundreds of ways that you can clean, treat and refresh your hair for a healthy shine that will bring you into the new year right. Bring your curls back to life with the nourishing and fragrant Coconut & Hibiscus line. Boosted with natural ingredients such as coconut oil, neem oil, carrot oil, and shea butter, this line is the antidote to reviving thirsty, dehydrated hair. Even better - with SheaMoisture’s custom quiz, you can get a hair analysis that will lead you to the right products for your hair needs. Say hello to sleek edges, and moisturized, stronger strands.
In need of a little hair-spiration? We got you covered! xoNecole and SheaMoisture have teamed up with three natural hair influencers to debut their holiday hair looks. Meet Ambrosia Malbrough, Jasmin Moses, and Daye Covington - beauty bawses who’ve created some incredible holiday looks that are stylish and easy to achieve. They also gave us the scoop on the SheaMoisture products they’re loving right now, as well as their 2023 hair goals.
Read on for more:
Daye Covington Kicks Her Twist Out Up A Notch With A Voluminous Updo
“I wanted to create a style that was super cute but also easy to pull together, so I went with a puff and tendril combo! It's a style that can be done on freshly washed curls or one that can be done on old hair. [It’s perfect for] when we're short for time but want to add a little razzle-dazzle to our hair before a special occasion. It's very versatile!”
“My favorite Shea Moisture product hand's down is the Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie! That is definitely a #TeamNaturalHair staple. Coconut is one of the ingredients that my hair favors. I also find that medium/light creams absorb best in my hair, so it's no surprise that I get amazing definition and moisture when I use the Curl Enhancing Smoothie. I love it for twist-outs, braid-outs, and rod set styles. Any product that can give me versatility when it comes to styling plus added moisture, that's what a staple is for me!”
“I would love to dye my hair back to blue! It was my favorite hair color, but unfortunately, my 9-5 now prohibits unnatural hair colors. I'm pushing it with this dark plum color, but I look forward to the day where I can transition into a new stage of life and go back to blue. In the meantime, I'm focusing on length retention. I've been doing well for 2022 and have had no major cuts so I'm hoping to stay consistent with my routine in 2023.”
Follow Daye on Instagram @dayelasoul
Ambrosia Malbrough Made Magic With Poppin’ And Defined Finger Coils
“[Finger coils] is a style that I don’t do often, it takes much more time than my usual wash and go. But that extra time put in makes it extra special and so worth it. The results are beautiful. It’s a style that offers many days of wear, too!”
“[Earlier this year] I did my 4th big chop. This time around hit different as a mom of two. I don’t always have the extra time on my hands to put into my hair, so the short ‘do has been convenient. I’ve realized that not all wash days are created equal even if I use the same products. However, my 4c coils are loving the products I'm using now”
“Since I’ve been having my hair dyed, I’m looking forward to trying Shea Moisture’s new Mongongo and Jojoba Oils High Porosity Moisture Replenish Hair Masque. I am currently growing my hair out and plan on having fun with more highlights and a new shape - possibly a shag cut in 2023!”
Follow Ambrosia on Instagram at @brosiaaa
Jasmin Moses Shows The Secrets To Her Jaw-Dropping Curly Ponytail
“I love doing a sleek ponytail with my baby hairs laid to a T! It helps so my hair isn't in the way when I am cooking and running errands, but it's still snatched to provoke anyone in the room to stop me to say 'girllll your hair is laid!'. I like to add a little razzle dazzle by adding my cute, naturally curly ponytail extensions. It elevates the look perfectly for the holidays.”
“It took me from my freshman year of college to now, almost seven whole years, to know what works for my hair. I love protective styles like wigs and braids because my hair thrives when I don't mess with it. When I leave my hair alone, it grows the best, so I love taking off my wig when I get home, oiling my scalp and putting my bonnet on for bed! When I do wear my natural hair out, what helps me maintain the health of my hair is to get in a rhythm with my hair. [I do] my wash days on Sunday, wear it in a wash n’ go all week, and repeat the next Sunday.”
“My 2023 hair goal is to get back to my 2021 hair length! Recently, a hairstyle damaged my hair causing me to lose 4 inches in length, which was not fun. So I’m working on getting [my hair] back to its original health and keep growing from there! I am also looking forward to trying the Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie as a one-product wash n’ go! I hear such great things about it and I think it will give me hold while also keeping my hair lightweight and voluminous. I’m also excited about the Coconut & Hibiscus Defining Styling Gel and Edge Gel.”
Follow Jasmin on Instagram @slimreshae
When you hear Amerie’s name, you think of her smash hits responsible for some of the most notable R&B lyrics of the early 2000s, like “Why Don’t We Fall In Love” and “1 Thing” - including the Eve remix. But there’s one more thing about Amerie that we can add to her resume in addition to being the sound of 2006, and that’s being an author.
The “Gotta Work” singer released her debut children’s picture book,You Will Do Great Things, inspired by her son River. With the development of her then-future son’s mind at the top of her mind, Amerie would read to River while he was in the womb in an effort to not only hear the sound of his mother’s voice but to relay sweet and meaningful messages as his organs and subconscious began to form simultaneously. “Maybe there would be that kind of cadence and that kind of feel he would be familiar with when he was born,” Amerie told me retrospectively during our phone interview.
Once River was born, she continued to read to him as regularly scheduled programming when he was inside of her, but it wasn’t until she held him in the natural world that Amerie realized how much she really wanted to share with this new life. Between 14 and 16 weeks old, Amerie noticed how her son began to turn the pages of books by himself because he was already so familiar with the cadence of his mother’s reading voice - even down to the indication of when a line was done on a page. While she realized that her son was able to recognize the action of reading, something clicked in the “Why R U” singer’s head that it was just as important for her son to see himself represented in the books that she was sharing with him.
“We would have books that feature kids from all different backgrounds, but I wanted more books in which he could see himself,” Amerie told xoNecole. “I really wanted to create a very special universal message book that was also very specific to how I was feeling. I knew that I was feeling pretty much how most parents feel, but that would have that beautiful and strong message about life, and all the things that he can do, and all the great things that I am certain he's going to do, and all the love that surrounds him from the past and the present. All of those things were in a book that featured a child who looked like him. That was extremely important to me.”
Following the release of her children’s book, I caught up with the Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter about prioritizing self-love as a mother and wife, demystifying the notion that women can’t have it all, and addressing the fears of being a mother raising a Black son in America.
It’s This One Thing…About Reading
For as long as she could remember, Amerie turned to reading and the world of literature as a form of self-care and escapism from the physical beings around her. Whenever someone would ask her about her favorite hobbies, she would not hesitate to point to either the art of writing or the wonder of reading. She sees reading as a way to continue to expand her mind as an adult, to learn more about the world around her, and to "develop empathy" for new cultural backgrounds and walks of life.
In fact, she loves reading so much that she has a wall in her home dedicated to her collection of books in addition to all of the books located in her personal library, River's room, the guest room, and throughout her house. As a new author, she recognizes that the amount of vulnerability that she experiences as a writer is not equivalent to the feeling when she's writing a book.
While as a fictional author, people who may or may not like your work are not necessarily connected to you as a human being, Amerie acknowledges the powers that lie within her pen game as an author to convey messages of both society's shortcomings and beautiful beings in a children's book. "On one hand, I feel like there's safety because people could either not like the story or they will. It's no indictment on you, necessarily," Amerie explained. "However, when you write something, you really are letting people into your head. When you create these characters, because all these characters represent some part of yourself, it's really like laying yourself bare. In that way, you allow people to see a lot."
"When you create these characters, because all these characters represent some part of yourself, it's really like laying yourself bare. In that way, you allow people to see a lot.”
The “Pretty Brown Eyes” singer believes in the power of commitment to a book, especially when you have the reader’s eyes and ears for hours to the point in which they become the character. “It's that whole holding up the mirror to society and allowing people to see it in a way that's a little bit more subliminal than someone just having an outright conversation with someone who may or may not want to have that conversation,” Amerie said. “I think you’re able to tackle more regarding life in that way.”
In comparison to her music career, Amerie notes that you can impact someone in a shorter time span than a book because a song only lasts between 3-5 minutes on average. She leans on songs as a way to curate a vibe and evoke an immediate feeling as opposed to encouraging lingering thoughts about the state of the culture and the world around us.
“You can uplift, make them melancholy, make them kind of feel sad, make them reflect, make them want to dance. You really can control. It's almost like you're hijacking a person's emotions when you're creating music,” Amerie noted excitedly as she realized the power she possessed as a Grammy award-winning singer and songwriter.
Amerie continued, “Even though you're not letting them in your head, and you do have much more of a buffer between yourself and your art, as far as people may know how you're feeling, they don't necessarily know what you're thinking about any given thing. They may, depending on what you write, but it's not necessarily a given, unlike a book, where you have all these characters running around that are all these different parts of yourselves, but they will know what you're about to a certain extent when they're listening to the music.”
Nothing Like Loving Mommy
In addition to being a singer, songwriter, and author, there are two more roles that Amerie would always put above all - and that's being a mother and wife. But how does she do it all and take time to take care of herself?
"I actually don't put myself first. That's something I'm working on," she admittedly laughed.
While she acknowledges that she doesn't make herself a priority in her life, Amerie doesn't feel the need to check herself to do so. In fact, she's become so accustomed to how things are that she's begun to accept such is life. "I'm kind of fine with that, but I do realize that I do have to make time for myself too. I certainly don't put myself first. That's not what I do at all," she told xoNecole.
When she does have a moment, Amerie pours into herself through creation and writing, whether that be literary or musical. She even noted how her son is aware of when it's time to be creative and practice solitude, but River still enjoys being around his mother and being involved in all of her activities. "My son knows mommy's writing time. That's when mommy's doing the thing that I love to do," Amerie said. While she usually doesn't record her music while River is home, she does her best to incorporate her son into whenever "mommy's creating" because "it's fun for him."
Like anyone else who may be a full-time parent, career-driven woman, or an overall on-the-go human being, alone time is essential to recharge her battery, but Amerie practices an open-door policy with her son as an exception for interruption.
"He's the most important thing. He knows that I could be writing, but if it's really important like you really need to give me kisses or you need to tell me something, you can come in. It's an open door," Amerie told xoNecole. "That's important to me that he knows that because I never want him to grow up thinking that this one thing was more important than him, and I don't think he would think that because that's not how I present things."
Retrospectively, Amerie realized that she's only had about three or four massages since the birth of her four-year-old son, which her own husband encourages her to do more of. "The thing is, the way I handle my time is I have a lot to do, [but] I'm never going to sacrifice time from my child," she said adamantly.
Amerie continued, "Whatever I need to do, I can fit it in. We'll make it work. I'll stay up late or whatever it is, but those times are very important, like going with him to school, picking him up, family meals. Sometimes though, Mommy might have to miss dinner, and I don't like that, but [I'm] never missing bedtime because there's other certain things that for myself are important to me. "As she buckled down on her non-negotiables, she added that every parent has theirs, but she stands ten-toes down on hers, no matter how tough achieving the balance is.
"You always feel like there's a ball dropping somewhere, but my own personal thing is, I refuse to let the ball drop in the mom zone. I'm not going to do that," Amerie said powerfully. She thought back to her own parents, who she said were present in her life and encouraged her to do the best she can and always put her child first. However, she knew that it didn't mean to put herself on the back burner and not care for herself at all, but to know that child care and raising a human being is more than just cute Instagram moments and first words."It's such a beautiful gift, being a parent, and it's one that I take really seriously and that I love."
Why Don’t We Let Women Do It All?
Amerie has always been a proud multihyphenate, and she's not the first woman to do so by balancing motherhood, personal time, her professional life, and all while looking good doing it. We've seen Rihanna run her beauty empire with Baby Fenty No. 1 and No. 2 on the way, and we've seen Beyoncé be a mother of three while planning a world tour and dropping one of the best albums of the decade with Renaissance.
But why is it that we still don't have total faith that women can truly have it all? We asked Amerie, and she said that we certainly can - but with some caveats.
"I've always been a big believer in any person, and we're talking specifically about women, can have it all, but not necessarily at the same time. Because there will be concessions you have to make," Amerie explained. She continued to express that you can make sure with every fiber of your being that nothing goes wrong while you're in mommy mode. You may slow up or backlog in other areas of your life because you're not giving it that same energy or attention.
Amerie added, "Let's just say you are 'hashtag mommy-ing,' and you are able to balance your work as well because maybe you're staying up later. You're tired, but maybe you are not seeing your friends as much as you wanted to, so it's been harder to maintain more of your friendship. I do think that these things all come at a cost, and maybe you're just balancing it all, but that can be very, very difficult."
She fully acknowledged that women routinely carry a lot of the weight of parenting, both physically and emotionally, in addition to the weight of keeping their marriage alive, having friends, and keeping food on the table. In the same breath, Amerie wants women who empathize with her to know that they're doing the best they can with what they have - and it's okay to give yourself time and grace.
"I've always been a big believer in any person, and we're talking specifically about women, can have it all, but not necessarily at the same time. Because there will be concessions you have to make."
"It's important, I think, for moms to know and women to know that you're not failing. It's very easy to see people doing things and [seeing] they're doing it well, and they're making it look so effortless, and it's just like, Well, why can't I get this right? Why am I struggling? Why am I not able to be on top of everything? And no one's on top of it," Amerie reassured. "You can't compare because you don't really know what's going on in everyone's life."
As a suggestion, the singer noted that instead of focusing on how life can be in disarray and escaping for a few moments in between, one would be better off establishing balance by picking two areas to excel in and putting them at the top of the priority list.
"Everyone has those fears. Everyone wonders if they could do it. You can do a lot more than you think. You can handle a lot more than you think, but it's not something that you have to do just because you feel like everyone does it," she encouraged first-time moms about entering the journey of motherhood. "If it's something that you feel called to do or you feel excited about, absolutely, but if you're feeling like you don't want to, then there's no need to do that. You don't have to follow anyone else's path."
Amerie added, "It is a very amazing thing, and it is a very life-changing thing. It is a very miraculous thing. Even though there are 8 billion people on this planet, the birth of a child, bringing another human being into this world, shepherding in another soul, that is a miracle every time."
For more of Amerie, follow her on Instagram @amerie. Her book, You Will Do Great Things, is out now.
Featured image courtesy of Amerie