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Susan Kelechi Watson Of ‘This Is Us’ Will Not Be Invalidated

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Life's journey is often filled with times that are best described as happening by chance or by doing things on a whim. For Susan Kelechi Watson of NBC's This Is Us, a career in acting may have never materialized had she not decided to apply to Howard University in Washington, DC.


Watson says she wasn't even sure if she even wanted to go to college, but when she found out her good friend had applied, she did the same. This decision eventually led her to secure an acting scholarship to study Shakespeare abroad at Oxford University, and soon after, the acting bug bit her. Recently, the 36-year-old recently sat down with Glamour to discuss her career trajectory, her advocacy work, and why, as a Black woman, no one will invalidate her.

The New York native initially kept her career goals to herself and away from her parents. As any child of Jamaican parents can attest to (myself included), we are taught to provide for ourselves in more traditional ways. Jamaican parents value hard work and steady career paths over creative endeavors, and for Watson, she says that she went forward in pursuit of her dream job anyway, despite her parents' wishes. "I just kind of got into it without telling them," she told the mag.

And we are so lucky that she did! Watson's big break came when she landed the role of Janet on TV's Louie back in 2012. But once that show ended, she found herself back on the audition circuit hoping to secure another role. Watson says that after a particularly bad audition, she was on the phone with her good friend and fellow actress Danai Gurira. The two spoke her role as Beth Pearson on This Is Us right into existence. Of the conversation, she said:

"Danai says to me,' You know what, girl? Maybe God just has a pilot for you or something.' Then I get a beep on the other line—literally."

For the past two seasons, Watson has become one of the show's favorites on and off set. Her show husband, Sterling K. Brown, also really loves her, literally, He says he had to tell his own wife, "You don't have to worry, but I need to let you know that I love this woman." He continued:

"She's such a big giant heart of a human being. She's so Brooklyn. She's so New York—she's got the accent and everything—but underneath that exterior, she's just as warm a soul as you will ever come in contact with."

NBC

Watson doesn't take any of this for granted, however. She knows that it's the people that keep the show going. Now in its third season, there has been so much love show for her character as Beth Pearson. So much so that when rumors started circulating that perhaps the Watson's character's death was impending, fans started online petitions to "Save Beth Pearson." Watson revealed:

"It's always really cool as an actor to have a character that people want to see the best for… To know that people are behind her, to know that people are rocking with her and get her."

Watson readily recognizes her place as one of the few Black actresses forging a way in Hollywood, it's her work in the community that will leave the most lasting impact. She currently works with a New York City nonprofit called Drama Club, which provides mentorship to young people who are either currently incarcerated or are tied up in the court system. Additionally, she works with the Epic Theater Ensemble, an organization that provides access to theater for first-time audiences, promotes inclusivity in the arts, and engages students in the art of telling their own stories, which facilitates empathizing with the stories of others.

By lending her voice to these organizations, not only is she showing young people that they "can do it too", but she is also sharing love, compassion and optimism with disadvantaged young people who may not otherwise receive this validation. Watson's commitment to these organizations is helping these students find their value and pursue their purpose in live. She says of her work with these organization:

"As a black woman in a world that has tried to invalidate me, I just wasn't having it… We all need somebody to say, 'I love you. I see you. And I'm not going to give up on you'… Everybody has validity. Everybody has a purpose."

From the sounds of it, Watson's on screen character and real life share some commonalities. When asked about the future for Beth, the actress reveals:

"I feel like she's going to start a community project that's based on one of her artistic passions. She also has a background in dance, which you'll see this season...And still together with Randall, of course. I don't think he's going anywhere."

To read more of Susan's cover story with Glamour, click here.

Featured image by Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

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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