‘R&B Divas’ promises kinder, gentler Black reality
10th September 2012 · 0 Comments
By Ronda Racha Penrice
(Special to the NNPA from the Atlanta Voice) — From VH1’s controversial “Love and Hip-Hop: Atlanta” to Toni Braxton and her sisters practicing “Braxton Family Values” on WE to Bravo’s juggernaut “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” Black reality TV isn’t disappearing anytime soon.
And neither, apparently, is their love for Atlanta.
So, it’s little wonder that Atlanta serves as the primary setting for TV One’s “R&B Divas,” which premiered Monday, August 20.
Promising to be a kinder and gentler reality show, “R&B Divas” revolves around celebs Faith Evans, Nicci Gilbert-Daniels, Syleena Johnson, Keke Wyatt and Monifah Carter. The women, who all claim to truly know each other, have come together to do an album inspired by the late great Whitney Houston.
While there is no drink-throwing, hair-pulling or man-sharing on the show, many of the women have had their share of drama:
• One-time Atlantan Faith Evans, the widow of slain rapper Notorious B.I.G. Wyatt, may be well-known for her duets “My First Love.” Keke Watson, who sings on “Nothing in This World” with Avant, is even better known for a domestic dispute in 2001, where she reportedly stabbed her first husband on Christmas Day.
• Monifah, one of the late Heavy D’s greatest finds when he led UPTOWN Records in the 1990s, is television’s rare open Black lesbian and a former coke addict.
• Financial troubles brought on by her husband losing his cushy job forced Syleena Johnson —most noted for her work with R. Kelly (“I Am Your Woman”) and Kanye West (“All Falls Down”) — to relocate from her native Chicago to Atlanta.
• Longtime Atlantan Nicci Gilbert-Daniels — who scored hits with the 1990s girl trio Brownstone of “If You Love Me” fame —has soured on the music industry and prefers to play up her other creative talents and her business acumen.
Far from fashion model size and definitely grown women, these divas inject “reality” into a genre increasingly accused of faking the funk and selling Black people out.
Before the show’s premiere, Gilbert-Daniels explained to entertainment blogger Rodney Ho that conflict and clashes will be part of the show.
“You’ll see drama. We’re, in fact, divas. But you’re going to see drama rooted in love,” she said. “Drama about people you can learn from. We don’t throw drinks at our girlfriends. We might give them a piece of our mind. But we resolve it.”
One conflict arises when Monifah introduces her “honeybunny” Terez at Wyatt’s baby shower. While the other divas seemed to have no problem with the lesbian affair, Michael, a minister in training, is not as encouraging. Future episodes also reveal Monifah’s 21-year-old daughter’s negative reaction to her lesbianism.
Monifah’s willingness to share her joys and challenges with the cameras rolling is highly commendable. As Jill Guccini wrote in her recap of the premiere episode on the lesbian site, AfterEllen.com: “Showing people being out and proud in ‘real life’ can in fact be incredibly empowering, moving, and yes, important,” even on reality television.
Still talent looms large on “R&B Divas” and is embraced throughout the series. Even in the backyard setting of a baby shower, the divas’ versions of ditties like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” shame most of today’s chart-toppers.
As the divas start recording and taking to the stage, R&B and soul music lovers are in for an even bigger treat.
Strong Nielsen numbers, the best for an original premiere in the network’s history, prove that these singing divas already are striking a serious chord with viewers.
And that has to be music to a lot of people’s ears.
This article was originally published in the September 10, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper