When we spoke with Syleena Johnson a year ago, she was on the verge of releasing her new album and claiming her status as one of the most underrated R&B veterans in the game.
After watching her as part of R&B Divas over the last seven weeks, however, it’s safe to say that her undeniable talent and strong yet warm personality combined with the bigger platform provided by TV One’s current #1 show won’t leave her underrated for much longer. Syleena and Shooter sat down for yet another conversation where she dished on everything she’s been up to over the last year, her thoughts on being a reality TV star, and whether or not another major label career is in the cards for her.
Shooter: Syleena! Tell me what has the progression of your career been like since we talked last year.
Syleena: Obviously, I’m a part of the new television show R&B Divas and that has been awesome. I moved to Atlanta for that and as a career move anyway.
I’ve been working on getting my family settled and getting Acoustic Soul Sessions out and I’m really excited about that because it’s my first live album. It’s five songs from Chapter V and two new songs. One is a Rolling Stones remake called “Wild Horses” and the other one is brand new, just came off the top of my head, called “I Cut My Hair”.
I’ve been working on the first series of my Mommy’s Got Soul workout DVDs. I just completed the first one and I’m working on trying to get distribution for it. I want to go direct to TV with it and break into the fitness world as a fitness advocate. I’m training everyday now to get prepared for the second series of Mommy’s Got Soul.
I have a new R&B super-group that I’m ecstatic about; their name is Lakeshore. They’re from Chicago, two guys and a girl, amazing, amazing R&B group. Just amazing and we’re working on their material right now!
I just finished a Rebirth of Soul record (laughs). Been very busy this year! It’s crazy. I just finished that album that I did with my father. It’s a remake of music from the 50s and 60s with live instrumentation and I used instrumentalists from the 50s and 60s to remake everything. That’s coming out the top of the year  overseas.
And I’m working on a shirt line called Syleenaisms so…if you name it, I’m doing it! AND in between all of that, working, doing shows, and working on Syleena Johnson: the singer.
Shooter: Nice! It’s great to hear you’ve been so busy. You’re building your résumé long and strong! Congratulations on everything!
Syleena: Thank you! God is good all the time!
Shooter: As you mentioned, you are one of the stars of R&B Divas. I’ve seen all the episodes and I like how it presents you all. However, with reality TV being en vogue, entertainers seem to be split. Some are for it and some are against it because they may not like the way they are portrayed or the way African-Americans specifically might be portrayed or that it may be scripted. What made you sign on to the show?
Syleena: I didn’t get in it to be a reality star. There was no casting. My friend, Nicci Gilbert, called me up. “Hey, girl. Do you wanna do this show? I got this idea. It’s gonna be good.” And I’m like “yeah, that sounds good! Let me call Keke. She would be dope for this.” So I call Keke and Keke’s like “I’ma call [Monifah]” and she called her and (laughs).
Shooter: (Laughs) A chain reaction!
Syleena: Yes! There was no fancy casting call. All of us just needed a bigger platform to increase our brand and that’s why we did it. The extra fame added to what we already have is well appreciated and welcomed and necessary for our brand but we didn’t do it just so we could act a fool on TV. Strategically, you see that, and it is strategically when I say that, so we make sure we conduct ourselves in a [proper] way. It’s who we are anyway. We don’t wanna be acting crazy and jumping over tables and all kinds of foolishness, spitting in each other’s face and throwing drinks. We don’t do that in real life so we wouldn’t do that on TV!
How many people do you know would just sit across from their friend and spit in their face when they get into an argument? (Laughs).
Shooter: (Laughs) Seriously!
Syleena: That’s not realistic! I’m not gonna throw a drink in my sister’s face no matter how mad she makes me. We’re conscious because TV One is also a network that doesn’t want it. It was also a good chance to bring in another point of view of black women. I’m not gonna bash those other women (on reality shows) because you never know what happened with them as far as production is concerned or if they were tricked; a lot of that does go on behind the scenes that I’ve learned.
[R&B Divas] is just another perspective. We’re not all one-dimensional. I’m just glad I was chosen for this show and I’m very thankful and grateful that it’s getting such great reviews.
Shooter: I’ve seen nothing but positivity surrounding the show and it does come off as very realistic. When you are having your discussions and they get a little heated, it’s still respectful.
Syleena: And even if we are hollering and screaming and we get loud, it’s not gonna be no drinks thrown. I’m not gonna spit on you!
Shooter: That level of love and respect is still there. That’s a great angle for the show because it’s very real.
Shooter: You are probably my favorite on the show because you keep it too real! (laughs)
Syleena: Well, thank you!
Shooter: When you walked into that photo shoot [episode 6], I knew that was the real Syleena Johnson right there! That was not just for the cameras!
Syleena: Absolutely not!
Shooter: And it showed that just because an independent artist may not have the biggest budget to work with doesn’t mean you have to accept less than the standard.
Syleena: Absolutely not! No, sir! You are not gonna get me to wear a stop sign dress for nobody! They can go the hell on, honey! That was not scripted; I walked into that shoot and that is what time it was. As quiet as it’s kept, I brought my own shoes, which is unheard of for me! I’m used to walking in, going to hair and makeup, and then prepare for my looks. And this is a cover shoot?
Shooter: You’re supposed to be on the cover of the magazine and you walk into an empty warehouse!
Syleena: Is the Sesame Street cover? What is happening in America? (Laughs) Now, in all fairness, here is the inside scoop!
The editors [of Girl Talk magazine] e-mailed me and apologized. They told me they did not authorize that shoot. That was not a true representation of them. They didn’t know who Mel B. was and they had no recollection of dealing with her; they knew nothing about that shoot so that was very suspect! But they extended the opportunity to do a cover shoot for real…so I don’t know where that girl came from! (Laughs) I don’t know what that was all about, honey!
Shooter: (Laughs) And it still worked out for you because you were presented with an even better opportunity.
Syleena: God is good!
Shooter: It also showed that every opportunity ain’t a good opportunity so you have to pick and choose what you involve yourself with. Even if you are an independent artist grinding by yourself, you can’t just walk into an empty warehouse and smile! (laughs)
Syleena: Faith Evans put together, with us, this compilation record. It’s kinda like her album but we’re all featured on it. There’s some additional artists on there, too. Fantasia, Kelly Price, and Nicci’s mom (Helene Gilbert). I have “Stone Wall” from Chapter V on there; that’s actually my newest single and we’re gonna shoot a video for it. I also did “Lovin’ Me”, the theme song with all five of us, and “Sisterfriend” . It’s a really, really nice album…along with Acoustic Soul Sessions! (laughs)
Shooter: (Laughs) Don’t worry. I will be getting both of them!
Syleena: I am in love with “I Cut My Hair”. I literally can’t stop playing it. I know it’s me, okay? Of course you like yourself. But I ain’t gonna lie; there are some songs of mine I don’t listen to! But “I Cut My Hair” I think people will really like. It’s really beautiful and heartfelt.
Shooter: And what about the Rebirth of Soul album?
Syleena: That is gonna start overseas but it will be coming here. Not until next year though.
Syleena: I’m not done. I hope “Stone Wall” will be able to increase everything.
Shooter: That is a really powerful song that I think will resonate with a lot of people when they get the chance to hear it.
Syleena: I’m probably going to shoot [the] “Stone Wall” during season two.
Shooter: Nice that it will get the official single treatment.
Syleena: I hope so. We’ll see! We’ll do the best we can. It’s time to grow and for me to pursue other avenues.
Shooter: Speaking of growing, since the show has given you all a bigger platform, will you be seeking a bigger label opportunity? Do you see yourself continuing down the independent route?
Syleena: I enjoy being independent. I really do. There’s many facets of an independent deal. An independent deal can have backing, such as a major label, except you have control of where that backing goes. I would love to be on a major label. However, I doubt that they would want me to come in and dictate where all my money is gonna go. With the knowledge that I have, I doubt that they would want me unless they would be ready for this mouth because what I have to say and what I know will counter some of the traditional things that these bigger labels are doing.
I would love to be on [a major label] because it would be a lot of less stress for me. I could just focus on being an artist and some of my other projects instead of worrying about a label situation and radio airplay and little stuff like that. It just depends on the right marriage and the right situation at the right time so…it’s in God’s hands, child! He’s gonna present me with the right things. He has not steered me wrong so far!
Shooter: If a door closes, a window opens so you’ll be alright!
Shooter: Hopefully, TV One brings you all back for a second season because it’s refreshing to watch your situations compared to some of the other situations we see.
Syleena: It shows we’re normal humans and we’re people that do what [you] do. Television today is a little unrealistic to me. Some of the stuff is okay but some of the stuff is like “come on! Now you know…” (laughs)
Shooter: It’s realistic situations but the way they play out isn’t realistic.
Syleena: It’s kinda crazy!
Shooter: That’s the situation some people can be in…
Syleena: …but it just don’t look real.
Shooter: And R&B Divas is the opposite.
Syleena: Right. It’s not over the top like that. You’re engaged by the natural attitudes of people and the personalities. That’s good enough. There’s so much talent displayed and that’s cool to see. It shows a different element in hopes that people will gravitate towards our talent and who we are as humans, as wives, as moms, as friends, as sisters. And I hope and pray that they will buy into our music because of it.
Shooter: I think it will. Even if people aren’t necessarily fans or familiar with your music, just watching the show intrigues you and makes you want to find out more and hear more. If the lives are this real, the music must be this real!
Shooter: Last thing. Will we get some kind of tour with the Divas?
Syleena: Well…I have to tell you that you have to keep watching. (Laughs)
Shooter: Alright! Just to recap: R&B Divas, Chapter V, Acoustic Soul Sessions, Rebirth of Soul, Lakeshore, Mommy’s Got Soul, Syleenaisms. Singer, wife, mother, designer, businesswoman, and…did I miss anything?
Syleena: Entreprenegro! (laughs)