By Stacey Harrison
On tonight’s episode of Majors & Minors, airing 8pm on The Hub, the kids will get sound advice from someone who knows all about becoming a pop star at a young age. Brandy first hit the big time in 1994 with hits like “I Wanna Be Down” and “Baby.” She also found fame on TV in Moesha, starred in feature films and more recently has been a judge on America’s Got Talent and strutted her footwork on Dancing With the Stars.
But as much as she was able to help the youngsters now wanting to make their mark on the music world, Brandy says she gained a lot from the experience, as well. I talked with her about getting serenaded by the cast, her own experience growing up in the industry, and how in many ways she feels the Majors & Minors cast didn’t need much help:
You were visibly moved when the cast greeted you with a serenade of one of your own songs. That had to be quite a moment for you.
Brandy: I get very emotional throughout the entire season, but yes, that was an amazing moment to see a new generation singing one of my songs. It was mind-blowing, and they sounded so good. Naturally, when people sound good and they’re cute and young, it’s just great.
What triggers your emotional responses with these kids? Is it seeing yourself in them?
Brandy: Absolutely, seeing myself in them. I started very, very young and when you start that young things go very fast and you’re not able to appreciate or see everything that’s going on around you. Every moment I spent with them just reminded of some of the things that I didn’t notice. [Also] their talent alone is just mind-blowing. When you come into a show like this and then people give you the title of “mentor” or “major,” you come in thinking that you’re going to go in and inspire and have all these words and Cliffs Notes that you want to say to them, and then you get there and when the level of talent they have is expressed, you’re like, “What is going on? I didn’t know I was getting myself into this.” I make jokes, “You guys set me up! You knew these kids were that talented.” It was just very emotional to see each of them being great in their own way. It really goes back to who they are. Their development is not going to be that hard, and you’ll see that on the show. They pretty much know exactly where they want to go and who they are as artists. It’s just about little tips that we give them to help them further along, but they really don’t need us.
What were some of those things you didn’t notice the first time around?
Brandy: Sometimes you don’t know how special you are. You don’t know really what you’re bringing to the table. You’re just dreaming. You want to make the dream come true so bad, but you don’t know why. It’s just a desire that you had, and you really don’t know why. With these kids, because they’re connected to it, and because of a show like this that’s giving them the advice and giving them the proper tools to recognize how great they are, it’s just interesting to see how they already know that they’re special. They already know that they’re unique, and they already know that it’s not just about the fame. They want to be inspirations. I didn’t know that at 15. I just wanted to be a star. Of course, I wanted to move people with my music, but I didn’t know about being unique and an individual. I didn’t know that then. I grew up to know that. In time, I developed it. But these kids already know it, and they definitely have the people in their corners to help them continue to explore that and continue to grow in that truth.
Did you catch yourself wondering what your career and life would have been like if you had been on a show like this?
Brandy: I think I would have ended up being the same person, because I definitely had a great family that supported me and encouraged me. It changed everyone’s life overnight. I just think some of the things I had to learn growing up in the industry, if I had a few more people that were — a few more Whitney Houstons, and a few more Will.i.ams, and a few more Jordin Sparks and Avril Lavignes — in my life before I got on my path, I could have learned a lot faster. But I definitely still would have been the same person, and I think I’m a good person. At the end of the day, that’s what you want to remain, even with all of the fame or the popularity or the fortune you still want to remain true to yourself and being a good person, being good to people. That’s some of the advice I give to kids, because fame can change people. Fame can change characters, and you don’t want that to happen. You want to stay with people that are honest and keep positive people on your team. That’s very important, definitely growing up in this industry, that is the most important thing. The talent will take care of itself.
After having been the young sensation for a lot of your career, was it a strange adjustment to now be in the mentor role?
Brandy: Not at all. It wasn’t strange at all. It was natural for me. It was great to be able to experience all the things that I’ve experienced and then be able to give that back. It feels beyond amazing to be able to do that for someone else and maybe say something that will inspire someone else, and say something that maybe will cause them to go in a different direction if they had decided to go down the wrong path. You just never know. Then, also, they inspired me, because I’m definitely not through with my career. I want to continue to do music and acting and all that, and they inspired me to believe in myself more, to know that I’m still unique and individual and no one else can be me. They gave that back to me. That’s a blessing. I’m grateful for that.
How important was it for you that this isn’t the kind of show where people get booted off?
Brandy: It was very important, because artists are very sensitive. They’re very delicate beings and one wrong word can steer them away from accomplishing a very important destiny. With a show created to celebrate the artist instead of invalidate the artist, the artist can go a lot further. Not to say that you don’t constructively criticize. You don’t hold back on being honest with the person, but it’s the way you do it. Some of these shows, sometimes it’s about the moment to get the joke or to get the audience involved, or to go, “Oh my God! I can’t believe they just said that.” … This show is about protecting the artist. It’s about helping the artist further along so they can become the superstar that they already are within. That’s what this show is great for. I’m so happy someone had the guts to develop something this amazing for the artist. I’m 32 years old, but if I had a chance to go on this show right now, I would. The experience of being uplifted and encouraged and to be reminded every moment that I’m great, that’s the beauty of it.
Is it harder or easier to break into music today than when you were coming up?
Brandy: I think it’s a little bit easier, because you do have Majors & Minors, and you have American Idol and all the other shows that are giving artists of all ages a chance to break into the music industry. But I think that the dreams and how they come true, that’s never changed. If you believe in yourself and you work hard at what you want and you prepare for the best, that’s what you’ll experience at the end of the day. It’s definitely a different way to do it. … Anybody can come out now. You don’t even have to have talent to be in the music industry now.
How do you feel about that, as someone with talent?
Brandy: I’m fine with it, because even though [American Idol] is a show that lasts — how long is the process, four months? Even that, it’s still 100,000 or 200,000 people you have to go through. You have to sing it in front of 90 judges before you get to the main judges. You have to be able to hold your courage and to face your fears while watching other people perform and still remember that you’re unique and you’re special and that nobody can come to where you are. You have to stay in your own place. That’s a lot of mental strength that people have to come through on these shows. I did Dancing With the Stars and that’s one of the hardest things I ever had to do, because it was about facing your fears and being courageous and getting comfortable in front of people as well as being judged. There’s a lot that goes into it, so I respect anybody that goes the route of American Idol or Majors & Minors. It’s still mental to be able to do something like that. It’s a lot of pressure when half of America is watching you. … If American Idol or Majors & Minors or whatever else is out there [had been] around when I was a teen I would do that, too. I tried to get on Star Search.
From your perspective, how are the Majors & Minors kids progressing from episode to episode?
Brandy: They’re getting better, and they’re getting more comfortable with who they are. But with getting greater and greater comes the nerves. The nerves get greater and greater, too, because you kind of need the nerves to push you forward. The greater you become, the more nervous you get. But it’s not about the nerves, it’s about realizing that you’re bigger than the nerves, and I think every time they perform live in front of new faces and new people, every time they meet a different mentor and the different advice that they get, they have the tools to overcome the nerves. You get to see that on the show. It’s going to inspire a lot of people. It’s going to inspire a lot of children that want to be what they see them being.
Photo: Courtesy of The Hub