Almost 1 million viewers tuned in to catch the very first episode of TV One’s ‘R&B Divas: Atlanta‘, thanks largely to the show’s compelling fly-on-the-wall look into the lives of five singers who’ve left their stiletto print on the genre.
Today its creators Faith Evans and Phil Thornton are the proud parents of a Los Angeles-based spinoff, and so- ever eager to keep you in the know- That Grape Juice caught up with the latter to discuss his growing empire and the glass shattering divas at the heart of it.
Thornton’s interview with TGJ’s David below…
Thornton was just 15 when he worked his way into an internship position at Arista Records, tasked with helping to keep the machines behind Biggie Smalls, Whitney Houston & Aretha Franklin moving and shaking before starting his very own company.
Its name? Bright Star Entertainment, the backbone behind acts such as 112 and ‘R&B Divas L.A.’ star Lil’ Mo, both enjoyed the benefit of Thornton’s marketing major and the expertise that would seen see him launch the TV series ‘Lisa Raye: The Real McCoy’ and ‘I Married A Baller.’
It was his success on these shows that prompted Faith Evans to approach when she conceived the idea for ‘Divas.’ He reveals:
The show was brought to me by Faith Evans because I’d done a few other shows like ‘I Married a Baller.’ I loved the concept and helped her develop a casting reel and then we partnered with Think Tank to take it wider. Our goal was to be the light of positivity in the TV landscape and we chronicle the real introspective backstage live of the R&B diva. We don’t really do the drama, we’re very big on resolution.
Finding a home for the series and assembling it cast was no easy feat.
It was very challenging. We took it out to every network and most of them wanted to do a Faith Evans show but she was adamant about making it an ensemble cast. TVOne understood the vision and has been a great and supportive partner on this journey. It’s interesting because some of the networks that turned the show down have gone on to create their own versions of the show.
So, just what does it take for an R&B diva to find a home in ‘R&B Divas’?
Every season the network will test and research potential divas to see who are the most popular, but my business partner and I think about who would compliment the existing cast. We usually do that by figuring out which of the potentials has a genuine relationship with the cast, we then take our findings back to the network.For example we went to Angie Stone before the second season started taping and I ran her through what we had in mind, we wanted a diva who would mentor the girls. On the L.A. side Kelly Price and I sat down to see who would work and I knew I wanted Lil Mo. We reached out to Chante Moore and courted her team and then Kelly reached out to Michel’le.Claudette Ortiz got on because my friend Lamar Chase recommended her. It’s all team work. I used to live near Dawn Robinson and I saw her one day so I stopped in the middle of the street to pitch it to her.We exchanged numbers and the rest is history. I’m very grateful to Lamar Chase and Kelly Price for their help.So yeah, you have to know at least one girl in the cast so it’s natural and theres an authentic connection. It comes across well on camera. All the potential ladies are asked who they know in the cast before joining.
As a person of colour I’m conscious of the images I portray but in the same breath it is about balance so we try to show that on the show because every black woman isn’t the same. Are there heated moments? Yeah, but that’s life. We have seven ladies in L.A. right now so it’s important that the story is authentic because we have 42 minutes to tell seven stories so we do pull some “funny moments” out. I come from the world of music so I’m super sensitive about the images going out into the world and each ladies’ brands, so the show makes sure not to tarnish their image and to make sure they can use the show as a platform to move onto bigger and better things.I’m fortunate to work with women who are willing show their best and worst sides.
I love Stacy! I was a fan of her group Ex Girlfriend and she was based in L.A so I reached out to her about joining the show on Twitter and she replied.We spoke and I was intrigued by her story so she met with the team and she’s been a great addition to the cast. She gives it to you straight like no other and I’d say that she’s definitely a different diva.Some of the fans were unhappy about her arrival but you can never please everybody but they’ll get to know her more as the show continues on and see much more of her than they did saw on X Factor. I was actually in the room when the Whitney thing happened and so I’d say don’t believe everything that you hear.I will say there was a relationship and Stacy has always shown love to Whitney as does the show because the first season was all about raising money for charity in Whitney’s name.I don’t think it would be fair to discriminate against someone because of allegations.It was never the show’s intention to offend Whitney fans when we put her on the show, we actually did it to show that you don’t have to be 18 to still grind and work towards your dreams and it’s been great to see how different her journey is when compared to the other ladies.
Our conversation then turned to ‘Hollywood Divas’, the TV series ‘R&B’ fans had assumed Thornton had created when news of its arrival hit the net.
Unfortunately, despite baring a similar name and concept to Thornton’s creation, ‘Hollywood’ wasn’t an idea Thornton was behind. It was created by ‘Real Housewives of Atlanta’ producer Carlos King and Todd Tucker (married to ‘Housewife’ Kandi Burrus.)
Now, months removed from ‘Hollywood’s first season reunion and the copycat claims it faced, Thornton had this to say when we asked him to weigh in on the series.
(laughs) I (pauses),I think there are some similarities and TVOne does acknowledge that ‘Hollywood Divas’ is an ‘R&B Divas’ spinoff. I mean, imitation is the best form of flattery. Todd is a friend of mine and I don’t know Carlos but I do support those two brothers…but yes, I have noticed quite a few similarities.
We then made our way to the banks…or at least the pockets of ‘R&B’s leading ladies. Are they earning as much as the reported $1.5 million NeNe Leakes per season on ‘Housewives’?
It depends on the Diva, a lot of them have different streams of revenue. I’ve seen some ladies make as high as six figures by making the most of the platform. The show helps to increase the their potential as touring acts because promoters are more inclined to book them because of the show. I’m happy to say I’ve seen all of the ladies’ incomes rise since the show started.
One diva Phil would love to break bread and make money with is the R&B siren Ashanti, one of many artists he hopes to work it if the series was to ever find itself in New York City.
We’ve talked about branching out into new cities but I’m satisfied with Atlanta and L.A. because those are very music based cities. There are a lot of divas in NYC and I’d love to skew it younger if we moved there so I”d love to include more emerging ladies like Tiara Thomas, Elle Varner and a more established artist like Ashanti. there are so many things we could do with the show out there. Right now, I’ve been working on a new pilot and I hope to announce its pickup date soon. I’m also focused on creating more films (Lap Dance) and more music from my stable of artists here at EOne.
When all’s said and done?
I want to be remembered as someone who had integrity as trail blazer and trendsetter. Someone who was fearless, someone who excelled in Film, TV and in life.
Be sure to catch the next episode of ‘R&B Divas’ when it airs on TV One Wednesdays 10/9c.