For YouTube star Shameless Maya, each day starts off just like any other nine-to-fiver. Born Maya Washington, the Toronto-native/LA-transplant wakes up at 6:30 a.m. to read the Bible, squeezes in a session with her personal trainer, then beats her face for the gods before heading off to work.
By 10 a.m., the spirited social media personality is swimming in a pile of emails, pre-production planning, and video shoots. "Before we shoot anything, we gotta come up with ideas and storyboard, then we send it to get approved [by brands]. We go buy what we need, take photos, flat lay it, then send it for approval. There's a bunch of back and forth about the final edit. They want me to cut this out, they wanna cut that out. I would say, it's maybe two or three rounds of edits."
It's all in a day's work for this 34-year-old creative producer.
"I thought it was cheesy, tacky, and shameless," she says of her YouTube beginnings. "I went into it as a social media experiment on what would happen if I was shameless of a year and see where it would take me." And it truly paid off.
Since starting her channel in 2012, Washington's ability to be transparent with her followers about personal topics, such as her divorce and why she ultimately decided to shave her head, has helped her snag a following of millions of subscribers across her social media platforms. Her brightly colored beauty tutorials, inspirational online diary entries, and informative tech reviews keep her rolling in dough. Most recently, she has collaborated with brands such as Target, CoverGirl, and Google Store. In 2014, she landed an opportunity of a lifetime as art director for Prince's Art Official Age album. While she doesn't disclose the amount she was paid by The Purple One, in a video, she says, "I hadn't ever seen money like that at this point in my life."
Don't Knock the Hustle
It's evident that being a YouTube star can lead to a pretty comfortable lifestyle. However, there's a common misconception that living life in front of the camera is all play and no work. Flip on a camera, turn on your charm and get paid, right? Well, not so much. Along with extensive planning, especially for branded content, Washington sometimes has to fight for creative control. "I had one brand tell me to stop saying 'homegirl' and 'boo.' I was so frustrated, like, no, you can't tell me what I can and can't say. That's how I talk to my viewers. I had to learn to stand up for myself because it's my voice."
While dealing with brands and cashing checks can be tough, the hardest career challenge for Washington is learning to lead. There's a learning curve in evolving from independent worker to operating a full-fledged brand. "I don't like telling people what to do," she admits. "I've never had a manager position in life. Like, I've never been a supervisor or anything of that. I've always been kind of like a worker bee. I'd work for companies as a production assistant or an intern, so to go from those types of positions to working by myself was challenging. I have to study and read books on how to be a leader."
To balance out her weaknesses, this HBIC is building a strong team and learning how to delegate day-to-day tasks. While positive energy is the number one requirement for people on her Shameless squad, there are a few other major keys to success in Maya's World. "Are you hustler and do you work hard? There's so much to be done when you start off small. I do everything, so I'm looking for someone who is down to do everything and then some. I have issues with organization and staying on top of my calendar, so I needed someone who is exceptionally detail-oriented, which I found. I like thinking outside of the box, too, so if you have other passions, it's a plus."
Before the YouTube Fame
Though Washington seems to have it all––the money, the career, and, the squad––for a long time, her relationship status still read single.
At the age of 22, she met the man who would become her husband and they married when she was 26. Unfortunately, their marriage succumbed to their differences in life goals and five years later, the curly girl finally got a divorce. While recovering from her heartbreak, she threw all her energy into her work. It was not only a much-needed distraction from her rocky romantic life, but also a time to for her to heal as a woman.
"A lot of people when they leave relationships, they rebound," she says. "You go on dates and try to distract yourself. And that's part of it. But once you get all of that outta your system, you have to look inward and figure out how to be the best person you can be. You can distract yourself, but know that if you do that, you're gonna run into issues. I was so angry and always coming into confrontations. I literally had to reprogram everything about me. I'm genuinely happy with the woman I've become and now I can say I'm ready to date."
Braving the world of Tinder swipes and first dates seems pretty daunting, but Washington is equipped with the biggest lesson she's learned from her failed marriage. "When I got married, I was making decisions based on feelings, but as an adult, I have to do a checklist before I allow myself to get carried away. Do you have a good family background? Are you a positive, happy person? Do you believe in God? I have to check all those things off. Because once you let your feelings go, it's game over. Before you let your heart get carried away, take your brain with you."
No matter what's ahead, Washington is passionate about inspiring and spreading her youthful joy. And who can even be mad at that? Be shameless and do you, boo!
Find out more about Shameless Maya by following her on YouTube!
Originally published in 2016
Images courtesy of Maya Washington
There's a book for every turning point in my life. When I graduated high school and ventured to Norfolk State University, Oh, The Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss reminded me to be myself and embrace new people and experiences. Following college, Meg Jay's The Defining Decade, a life-saving work I still visit every now and again, reassured me that I could survive my emotionally unstable 20's. I literally carried that thing with me everywhere for like a month, and her words stood as a pocket-sized reminder that I wasn't the only twenty-something whose life seemed to be in crisis.
Then, once I was knee-deep in my career and stress blurred my vision for my life, I searched for literature that was deeply insightful; words that celebrated my power as a passionate young woman seeking truth. I needed a book that encompassed everything there is about being a whole woman. And as fate would have it, I stumbled upon an interview where photographer Natasha Campos cited Women Who Run With the Wolves as a go-to book about just that.
"Be wild; that is how to clear the river. The river does not flow in polluted, we manage that. The river does not dry up, we block it. If we want to allow it its freedom, we have to allow our ideational lives to be let loose, to stream, letting anything come, initially censoring nothing. That is creative life."
Before I discovered Clarissa Pinkola Estés' bestseller, I questioned everything. I felt largely misunderstood by myself and others. In the search to discover who I was, I was about as graceful as a 10-month-old's first steps, and I felt like I had no real control over my life. Like, I desperately wanted out of New York, but I wouldn't leave. I wanted to stop loving people who didn't love me properly, but I continuously dealt with shitty guys. For someone who never bites her tongue, I never truly felt confident in my voice or my ideas. I second-guessed so many decisions in fear of other people's judgement.
It was as if I knew I had magic in me and the power to craft the life I wanted to live, but I didn't know how to access it.
Thankfully, though, Estés' understanding of womanhood showed me that tapping into my queenliness required trusting my God-given intuition and the deep female psyche.
“It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires?"
According to the Maya Angelou-cosigned book, the wild woman is self-assured and courageous. She is not unruly or out of control, but she is daring. She is feminine and trusts the earth and her spiritual connection to it. She also understands her unmatched internal power, since she is the creator of life. In love, she is nurturing but smart. Her heart leads but she never shushes logical caution. She is intuitive. She is liberated by her sexuality, and when it comes to her creativity, she nourishes it. And now, I strive to be this very woman every single day.
“The psyches and souls of women also have their own cycles and seasons of doing and solitude, running and staying, being involved and being removed, questing and resting, creating and incubating, being of the world and returning to the soul-place."
Here are four things I learned about the woman I am and want to be through Estés' Women Who Run With the Wolves:
1. Being naive means being your own worst enemy.
The thing about not knowing yourself is that you never do what's best for you. Through the stories, old wives' tales and studies discussed at length in this novel––"They are for you to read and contemplate in order to assist you toward your own natural-won freedom," Estés writes––I realized I wasn't woke in matters of the heart. For instance, instead of side-stepping heartache, I'd willfully choose the Future type over the Russell Wilson guy believing he'd want to change (because of me, duh!). Thankfully, Estés drops gems about these errors of judgement throughout Wolves and forced me to start acting in my own best interest at all times, especially in relationships.
2. Happiness is directly connected to creativity.
For some time, I swapped out passion projects for stable work, which often suppressed my quirky, creative side. Limiting my playful spirit, however, was like stomping out my light. After Estés broke down how I could foster my spirit of ingenuity to create vision for my life, peace of mind, and contentment started flowing. Amen.
3. There's healing in feeling every emotion.
I gloss over my sadness or anger because positive thinking is so on-trend these days. But sometimes I'm just f*cking pissed and I want to bask in it. It's a waste to pretend everything's fine all the time. For instance, when my father got locked up, instead of showcasing how broken I was by it, I quickly accepted it as just a new normal of my life. In turn, I became bitter and silently raging because I wasn't dealing with the pain. Anger, like all emotions, can be a positive, though. Estés identifies it as not only a source of pain, but also an origin of great ideas and healing. The key is to not let it fester and consume you. Additionally, she explains how to feel my emotions and how to place boundaries on those feelings as to not allow them to control my life.
4. Belonging is a blessing.
I have an anchor tattooed on my finger as a constant reminder that I'm grounded, stable and I belong somewhere. I moved around a lot as a kid, so as an adult, I operate like a loner. Sure, I have friends and loved ones, but no place ever feels completely like home. But Wolves emphasizes finding my pack. It's still hard for me to feel connected to people and things all the time, but since embracing those I considered my fellows "wolves," I've experienced a stronger sense of self.
All in all, women are some of the most powerful beings in the world, and it's our responsibility to be at our most emotionally and mentally fit. We need books like this to teach us the key to living our best lives. For Black women, this is especially necessary since we carry the burdens of our culture on our backs. Wolves was a long overdue awakening for me, showing me that in order to slay I had to reconnect with my instinctual nature on every level: spiritual, economic, emotional and mental.
So I must say, my world's been different since cracking Wolves open. Confusion and uncertainty used to send me into an emotional spiral, and to be honest, I felt weak. My newfound power, faith and trust in myself, however, steels me in the event that life gives me lemons. Hopefully my understanding of these lessons will continue to deepen into my 30s. But if it is, hopefully there'll be another book waiting for me.
"...I call her Wild Woman, for those very words, wild and woman, create llamar o tocar a la puerta, the fairy-tale knock at the door of the deep feminine psyche. Llamar o tocar a la puerta means literally to play upon the instrument of the name in order to open a door. It means using words that summon up the opening of a passageway. No matter by which culture a woman is influenced, she understands the words wild and woman, intuitively."
What are some books that have had a life-changing effect on your life and why? Share with us below!
Featured image by Shutterstock
Most heartbreakers would be banished to the "Do Not Disturb" abyss, but Trevor Jackson has broken a heart (or two) for good reason.
It's no surprise the 21-year-old Grown-ish star has a few love lessons under his belt. Similar to his on-screen character, he's attractive, smart, and can crack a joke with the best of 'em—a catch by any millennial's standards. Still, like the rest of us, it's not easy navigating the uncertain waters of situationships and swiping right. But what the multi-hyphenate artist (singer/actor/dancer) does know about the emotion, he puts it on wax.
Jackson recently released Rough Drafts Pt. 1, a colorful 15-track LP, on which he sings, raps and displays his self-taught guitar skills about lust, loving the girl who tolerates his faults, and dealing with the ultra-exposed world of fame. Inspired in part by Prince, the project, housed under his Born Art/Empire imprint, explores Jackson's rock, country, trap, and Caribbean influences; a mesh of sounds that doesn't exactly follow a specific concept like other LPs, which Trevor prefers. "There's not one song that everyone likes," he says. "People are really gravitating toward the entire project. It goes to show that every song has its own kinda feel."
Despite being jet-lagged from traipsing the country for Justine Skye's ULTRAVIOLET tour, a press tour, and readying the release of Director X-helmed remake, Superfly, the triple threat is alert and candid about his heartbreak, how God's love steers his life path, and most importantly what's next for his career.
xoNecole: The finale and second to last episode of Grown-ish was a big deal. We got to see Zoey (Yara Shahidi) choose between Aaron and Luca, and these are two guys with very different approaches to a relationship with her. How similar are you to Aaron and how he pulled up on Zoey?
Trevor Jackson: I'd say the communication is similar. You can never really act as if you're with someone until you have that conversation. It has to be verbal so that there's no guessing. Communication is key. And the way that Aaron does it, I definitely agree with. If there's ever a moment in my life where I feel that way about someone, I have to tell them, especially if I want to be with them.
"Communication is key... If there's ever a moment in my life where I feel that way about someone, I have to tell them."
Right. Just be upfront about it. What were your thoughts about the season as a whole and the reception you all got?
I was overwhelmed in a great way. Obviously shooting it, I knew it would be amazing but just being able to see the response and the relatability that the show has, the concepts, the stories that we're telling are very poignant and on-the-nose for this day and age, and that's crazy to be a part of.
It definitely seems like a show in 10 or 15 years that people will look back and acknowledge that this was a great snapshot of life as a young 20-something or late teen in America.
Yeah, and I feel that's needed. People want to feel not alone, and this show definitely brings people together like, 'Oh, we all go through the same stuff.'
What are you personal thoughts on dating in this generation?
I don't know, man. I don't think there's any rule to doing it, 'cause people, especially two people and the way they interact, are so specific. One way you go about it with one person can be completely different [than with someone else]. One person can wait two months before they kiss a person — there's just no way to know. I just go off my feelings and instincts.
Do you think our generation is expecting too much from dating, as far as wanting that long-term forever love?
Anything's possible. Honestly. If you actually want to do it, it's possible.
On "Apocalypse", you reference God. Do you feel your religious beliefs inform the way you love in romantic relationships?
I guess you can say that. My relationship with God bleeds into anything I do, which is what I prefer. I never want to go into anything alone. God always knows more than me, so I tend to have Him surrounding whatever I'm doing.
Sidebar, what is your religious background? Did you grow up in the church?
I didn't grow up in church, but I started my relationship with God with I was about 14. I go to One Church now, and I love Jesus. I don't know the Bible backwards and forwards, but I've felt God before and that feeling is like no other.
OK, dope. So, on "Broken Hearted", you talk about being damaged emotionally in some ways. How have you healed from heartbreak?
I write music. I actually have a whole album called Unlovable that I already have done, and it's about that. About breaking up and not being with the person that you were with every day and you feel like a part of you is just gone.
How do you deal with breaking someone else's heart?
Well, that's the only way that my heart has been damaged is because I've broken someone else's heart. And that is not the best feeling. The reason that I did is because I felt like I had a lot of growing up to do. I didn't want to drag anybody I was with through that. It just was not the right time. I don't regret it though because it would be worse if I didn't do it.
Do you feel like heartbreak has changed you?
Oh yeah. All the way. It's just a maturity thing. Nothing's for certain. Everything that you think is for you may not be and sometimes you have to step outside of yourself and look at it from a different perspective. Once you're in love and in something, you're so in it that it seems like it's the end all be all and there's nothing else. So I kinda had to go through that, and be like, 'Wow you'll be OK.'
Sounds like it's the good kind of heartbreak. You're saving that person from some bullshit down the line.
Right. It's just hard to see that bit of it though when you're not with someone.
How would you define love?
At this point in my life, love is someone you can't live without. But you have to look at yourself and be like, "Why do I love this person?" I think you have to grow into love, there are different stages and the older you get, the more experiences you get, love can mean different things.
If you could describe your perfect relationship using a song title from Rough Drafts Pt. 1, which song would it be?
"Broken Hearted" because it's a non-judgemental love. I'm very different because I've been through a lot of life very quickly, so I'm just a little bit crazy, and that's a song about someone who loves me past all of that. They understand me. Like, 'Although you're crazy, you're wounded and you're bruised, I'm still here to love you.' So that's the love I hope to receive and the love I hope to give.
What kind of man do you hope to become, outside of your art?
I always want to be who God wants me to be, so that's first. Also, I just hope to be the best at whatever I decide to do. I want to become more patient in my life. I always try to be and do good, and my intent is always a loving spirit. And you can never become someone you're not proud of if you live like that.
Within your work, what do you hope for the future?
I want to direct an Oscar award-winning movie. Yeah, I want to start directing that's why I've been doing all my own videos recently. It's painting my picture, my brush, the way I see it. It's coming from head to the screen, which is pretty amazing. So I want to keep sharpening that tool.
"It's painting my picture, my brush, the way I see it."
For more Trevor Jackson, follow him on Instagram. Be sure to catch him in this summer's Superfly, in theaters June 15. And if you haven't already, listen to Rough Drafts, Pt. 1.
Featured image by Getty Images
Monogamy isn't especially popular today as swipe-right culture and oversharing has increased, thanks to social media.
Through the vast majority of content society markets to us daily, falling in love and being committed to one person is an idea most of us can easily subscribe to but, to be honest, doesn't seem all that attainable. Tabloids and Top 40 hits constantly boast allegations of cheating scandals, and on almost every reality shows and scripted series, there are extramarital temptations being discussed, and unfortunately, celebrated.
So, is monogamy possible? Of course. But, according to The Urban Movie Channel's new series Craig Ross Jr.'s Monogamy, it damn sure isn't easy.
Husband and wife producing team Craig Ross Jr. and Caryn Ward Ross have created this new drama series to challenge how we view the practice. Each episode follows four married couples who resort to a spouse-swapping experiment as a last ditch effort to save their relationships. Starring Caryn Ward Ross, Jill Marie Jones, Vanessa Simmons, Chrystee Pharris, Blue Kimble, Brian White, Wesley Jonathan, and Darius McCrary, the show may bend your previous perspective on marriage, what you'll do to maintain love and discuss your views on commitment honestly. "I love [this show] because it's something that I'd never seen before in television and film," says Jones.
Jones plays Maggie, an emotionally guarded, type-A woman, who is married to Wesley's Carson, a Christian man who's kind but is hard pressed to loosen up. The couple experienced a horrible tragedy but struggle to share more than hollow pleasantries day to day. By the first episode's end, Maggie is paired with Sawyer (Kimble) and Carson is with Simmons' Caroline.
xoNecole got Jones and Jonathan on three-way to chat about their personal feelings on monogamy, how healthy relationships can best be achieved in a social media climate, and what they hope audiences learn about black love from the series.
As I watched the first three episodes, there are a lot of personal obstacles it seems every character is facing. The overarching theme is everyone's relationship is in need of dire help, but it's apparent that each person is having some individual struggle. Which character do you feel has the hardest personal obstacles to face?
Jill Marie Jones: I think everybody. The d-word is looming, and every character is at their wit's end because they're looking at the cliff and saying, "Am I jumping or am I not jumping?" For every single character, the stakes are very high.
If you found yourself in the same dire marital situation, would you try an experiment like this?
Wesley Jonathan: Absolutely not. You're playing with fire. You're tapping into the possibility of actually liking the experiment to the degree to where you end up crossing those lines with the person. I don't think that is the answer. It's a desperation move. To me, it's a major no-no, especially if the person is attractive. You [are] asking for problems.
Right, and out the gate in the show you can see the chemistry between the newly swapped coupled. So, what is your advice for couples having relationship struggles IRL?
WJ: Oh, that's easy. You have the one source of practical teaching and you don't have to be religious to look into it, and that's the Bible. It's practical teaching for marriage, for love, and for happiness period. You don't have to be religious, but if you have practical morals—you don't steal, you don't lie, you don't kill—you can look into the Bible, the source. There, is practical teaching on how to have a happy marriage. Everything else is secondary.
"You can look into the Bible, the source. There, is practical teaching on how to have a happy marriage. Everything else is secondary."
JMJ: First thing I would say is communication. Sometimes I feel like in relationships, even in my friendships, we don't communicate if something hurt us or if something didn't make us feel good.
I like that you mentioned your friendships because all of it is relationships with other people really.
JMJ: Yeah, for sure. After my last boyfriend, I took a sabbatical. It's amazing how much you hear when sex is not on the plate.
I agree. Sex can bring so much noise to where you don't communicate how you really feel.
JMJ: Right! Because if it's good, it's like, 'Girl, he's OK. He didn't really mean what he said. I didn't see what I saw.' It clouds your judgement. Your body is a temple; own it. Own you. It shouldn't be easily given to anyone.
That segues perfectly because with today's generation of dating individuals, there's so many distractions like dating apps, social media, and this general environment of oversharing and #relationshipgoals. So what's your advice for the younger, 20 somethings coming up. Some want traditional marriage but then there are the kids who just want to date and have fun. What do you say to them?
JMJ: I would say to just live your life in your 20s. Work toward your business acumen but in your relationship life, you should live. When you meet the one you're supposed to be with, when you're both mature enough to live life, then you're ready.
WJ: That's tough, real tough. If I could go back, I would definitely focus more energy into me, myself, and my career and getting myself together. But it's only natural for a young man and woman to like each other. So for me to say not to explore, that would be unrealistic. I would say though find some self-control, however you see fit.
JMJ: So you're agreeing with me!
WJ: Oh, well I definitely agree to a degree. When you say "live," to me you have to be more specific.
JMJ: I'm just saying in your 20's, don't try to make hard plans in your personal life but work on your business.
WJ: Yeah, what happens is that everything is so fast and so quick now, and because there's no self-control, there's no discipline. People are just jumping to do stuff and they find themselves all jacked up. Take a minute, take a step back, and truly evaluate the situation. Don't be so quick to throw your genitals up on that screen. Just find self-control.
You make a great point about self-control. Not a lot of people harp on the discipline aspect of relationships or growing up, which can curb things like cheating. Wesley, as a married man, do you feel monogamy in a marriage is natural? Is it necessary for a lasting, fulfilling relationship? Because the series challenges those ideas.
WJ: I feel monogamy is possible. It is natural? Yeah. But it's also natural to look at someone and say they're attractive. Here we go with self-control again. Some people would say it's not natural to be with one person because they're looking at everything else. Well, that's just because you have no self-control. Our imperfect impulses have us looking at others, and that's being greedy and not having any self-control and losing the value in what you have. Sometimes you have to come back to the person that you're with, work things out and rejuvenate, and have a conversation, even if it hurts. Those conversations help. But to say it's not natural to be monogamous is an excuse for everybody to be with everybody. It is natural to be with one person. That's God's arrangement. If you add more people to the marital bed, it gets real cloudy.
"Our imperfect impulses have us looking at others, and that's being greedy and not having any self-control and losing the value in what you have."
Jill, I want to ask you the same question but tailor it a bit differently. Black women, as you know, are always as far as headlines go, dealing with being cheated on and many women go into relationships with a fear or expectation of being cheated on. In relationships outside of marriage, do you feel monogamy is natural thing or something to be expected nowadays?
JMJ: Well, OK, yes I believe in monogamy. But I have two different couples that are together and they swing. And I have to say, both of those couples have great relationships. One couple's been together 18 years, the other maybe 11 or something like that. So I think in 2018, people carve out what monogamy means for them. It wouldn't work for me but it works for these two couples. So I understand, it's complicated.
"I think in 2018, people carve out what monogamy means for them."
WJ: But check this out though, is that still, in fact, monogamy? People start to take the true meaning of words and flip them. If y'all swinging, that's technically not monogamy. Y'all just understand it to be OK with each other. It doesn't make you unhappy.
So maybe it's not monogamy, but what Jill is saying is every couple should do whatever helps their relationship last, whether it's monogamy or not, right?
JMJ: Exactly. If it works for them, they're the only people that are in that, right? So if it works for them, that's cool.
WJ: Nah, that's polyamory [Laughs]. You missed the key phrase, it's the state or practice of being with one. It changes the game when you add another person. You can do that if you like, and you can say, 'Aye, it's just us three,' but they're not practicing monogamy because it's more than one person.
What do you hope the audience learns from this unique way of discussing Black love?
JMJ: It's a show that after each episode will provoke conversation. That to me is the brilliance of it all. People need to not just tell their loved ones the good-good stuff. Your partner needs to hear about what's not working. The things like, 'Wow, I wish you could be better at this.' Communication, I would hope, comes out of the show.
WJ: Yeah, she kinda took it. She's right. It brings up great conversation and controversy. As far as taking anything away, I just want people to feel. Whether it makes you angry, appalled, makes you cry, I just want you to feel something.
Lastly, your hope for [your characters] Maggie and Carson?
WJ: Man, I hope that we work it out!
“I'm sorry. My momma is tryna talk to me while I'm on the phone with you," Fantasia Barrino apologizes in a soft-toned small voice over the phone. It's quite surreal to be speaking to the woman I casted votes for on American Idol when I was just 16 years old. Back then, my entire family tuned in weekly, completely captivated by the North Carolina native's soulful performances. I vividly remember how she'd bend and transform classics like "Chain Of Fools" and make them her own. Little Patti LaBelle, as she was quickly nicknamed, would sweat, kick off her shoes and allow her gospel roots to shine. She gave everything.
Now, after 13 years of career highs and personal lows, the 32-year-old singer is in the middle of discussing “I Made It," a song from her new album The Definition Of... that puts her church roots and rock influences on full display. It's also her favorite record. “It is my gospel song and I wanted to end the album how I started my career, which was singing in church," she explains in a Southern-soaked accent.
What she doesn't mention until later is that the track is incredibly indicative of how far she's come.
“That song just talks about how I made it through things most people didn't think I'd make it through."
Fantasia's singing career started in front of the world. In 2004, a then 19-year-old Fantasia, who grew up listening to the likes of Prince, Sheila E and Frankie Beverly and Maze, was crowned the winner of American Idol. In just a few months, she skyrocketed and quickly felt the whirlwind of fame. As a young, inexperienced singer who just won a national singing competition, the road to fame was mapped out for her by the powers of the television network, from managers to lawyers to the songs she was expected to record. “You don't really get the option to say what you really want to do. When you win, you're assigned to a management company, you're signed to a label. You don't really have an opportunity to say what you want to do and what you don't want to do. And that can be very, very tough."
Though she was caged creatively, her debut album Free Yourself, birthed from Idol orchestration, eventually went platinum and was Grammy-nominated two years later. Her second and third studio efforts, Fantasia and Back To Me respectively, received much of the same success, earning her Grammy nods, a Grammy win for “Bittersweet", and landed her on Broadway's rendition of The Color Purple as Celie.
“I thank God for the favor that was on my life and the opportunity that I was able to do outside of just the music," she says, describing this critical time of her career. “I was able to do Broadway, I was able to do my own Lifetime movie, and in all of that, I was able to show the people that I can do a little bit of anything if I put my mind to it."
As Fantasia continued to create songs, from a fan's perspective, the music never faltered. Receiving largely positive reviews, her now five studio albums have all reflected her intuitive, soulful rock sound, with the latest LP being her most musically authentic. For years, however, Fantasia suffered beneath the weight of vicious media headlines and the highs and lows of her business deals (she was dropped from Simon Fuller's management company in 2008). Rumors about her illiteracy and relationship with married boyfriend Antwaun Cook were strewn around the internet and eventually culminated in a suicide attempt.
“That's a feeling I would never be able to explain because words cannot explain how lonely and how hurt I was," she says. “I came off of Idol taking care of my whole entire family, so I went through a lot of dark times. It was almost like being in a glass box where everybody could see me but I couldn't get out of that box. It was just me. No one wanted to help. Everyone just wanted to talk about it, but not many people were stepping up and saying, 'Hey, I wanna reach out.'"
Thankfully, people like Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle were in her corner during those times. “They all reached out because they all had been there."
The Power Of Love
Despite breakups and hitting the lowest valleys of her life, Fantasia doesn't carry the burden of the past on her shoulders. Though we're delving into her trials, she sounds grateful for those soul-crushing obstacles. “I can thank God for those times because being here at the age of 32 making it through so much, I feel like it was a part of my journey," she says. “There's not a day that goes by that I don't meet someone––young, old, black, white, female, male––that comes up to me and wants me to talk and encourage them. God allowed me to go through certain storms and certain tests to have a testimony and share it to help somebody else along the way."
She also credits the love of her life, husband Kendall Taylor, for finding the strength to love herself past her pain. The two wed in 2015 after only a few short weeks of dating. Admittedly broken and insecure at the time, the mother of two says she found her perfect guy by switching up her approach to love.
“I fasted for seven months while I was doing my last Broadway play, After Midnight. I started realizing that what I was doing wasn't working for me, so I did something very corny and I put a ring on my own finger. I did a lot of praying and watched a lot of things that were good for my spirit. Me and Kendall married before we made love, so it wasn't about my body or my money. He was a man with his own business and he was also a man with a past. I think I fell in love with that the most because he did not let his past block his future. He has a story and a testimony, too."
I hear her smiling through the phone as we discuss her prince charming, and it takes everything inside of me not to let a few amens loose. You see, I'm still in the toad-kissing phase of dating, but to know this soul singer found the love she deserves is the spoonful of hope single black women need. She makes it plain that every day isn't "peaches and cream," but they both put in the work to make their love flourish. "He always says he married me to date me," she laughs. An example? Her hubby recently took her on a date to where they got married and she live streamed in on Facebook.
The lessons she's learning from this new love are even more encouraging. “Love is fragile," she says. "You have to be patient with love. You have to make sure that the way you carry yourself, the words that come out of your mouth, that you're being careful because we're both still human."
These are the lessons of love Fantasia wants to pass down to her kids, especially her daughter Zion. “My husband teaches them what a man should be and he shows them by how he treats me. I show them how to be themselves. Both roles play a big part."
It's like a sigh of relief to see the woman Fantasia has become. Like much of the world, I saw the stones thrown her way from all angles. But in this moment, I can tell Fantasia is free from the dark times that crippled her. Both personally and musically, she's on a high. "I'm at that point where as an artist, I'm supposed to be able to creatively share what I want to share with the world musically, video-wise, fashion-wise. I'm supposed to be able to express that and not have someone tell me what to sing, how it should sound, what to wear. I'm just finally to that point of like, if I'm going to go through all that I'm going to go through. If I'm gonna catch flack and people talking about me, I might as well just do what I want to do the way I want to do it."
Does she regret anything? Not at all.
“I realize in life that we must go through things and understand that everything we go through is necessary. It was necessary for me to go through it in order for me to do my music and do what I do on the stage."
For anyone, finding yourself and your voice is a major key to living well. For Fantasia, it's the definition of who she is today. “At this point I've been through so many things and I'm every woman."
Featured image via Jamie Lamor Thompson / Shutterstock.com