Singer Nicci Gilbert once ruled the R&B era as the lead singer of ’90s girl group Brownstone, who were the first act signed to Michael Jackson’s MJJ Music label. But when the spotlight dimmed, Gilbert struggled to get out of the bubble that was Brownstone.
Now, as the star and co-executive producer of TV One’s new reality show, “R&B Divas,” (which premieres tonight at 10 p.m. EST), Gilbert is set to be a star all on her own. As a songwriter, TV producer and business owner, Gilbert is redefining her success. Along with castmates Faith Evans, KeKe Wyatt, Syleena Johnson and Monifah Carter, Gilbert has participated in recording a charity album in honor of Whitney Houston, with some of the proceeds going to the Whitney Houston Academy in New Jersey. BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Gilbert about the show, her clothing line, Curvato, and rebranding herself as an entrepreneur and TV star.
BlackEnterprise.com: As one of the executive producers of “R&B Divas” and the person behind the concept of the show, what compelled you to do reality TV?
Gilbert: There was a void in reality television. The images that I saw on television were not like the images of the relationships that I had with other women that I know.
Last year, Syleena [Johnson] wanted to walk the red carpet at the Soul Train Awards. She reached out to the PR company and they said they couldn’t accommodate her. But, as I’m going up the red carpet, I noticed NeNe [Leakes], Cynthia [Bailey], Shaunie O’neal—all these women hosting the carpet. I’m like, wow, we can’t provide access to walk the red carpet to a R&B singer, but we can put reality stars who are famous for being wives or mistresses of men and setting horrible examples. That’s when I realized, if you can’t beat them, join them.
What can be expected from you and the ladies on the show and your business ventures?
I’m in transition from music. I have been producing live theater after working with Tyler Perry, and you see me launching my clothing line, Curvato. I also wrote the title track for “R&B Divas.” I’m being very candid about my struggles with my weight, about [having plastic surgery at 23]. Monifah is being very candid about cocaine addiction and her sexuality. KeKe is being very candid about abuse. All these women have been working consistently in the touring circuit, which you’ll discover watching the show. For a lot of artists, that’s the only way you can sustain yourself because the record companies have taken such advantage of us in terms of publishing.
Was it difficult rebranding yourself as a TV and theater producer and writer?
I’ve struggled a lot to get people to take me seriously. Most people don’t know me as Nicci Gilbert. They know me as Nicci from Brownstone. I hope what people get from what I’m doing as a creator and executive producer in television is that you can diversify. In this era, where everything is disposable, you have to be able to arrive with the times and right now reality TV has everyone’s attention.
Talk more about your clothing line Curvato.
We are available online at CurvatoLifestyle.com, where the boutique will be opening Aug. 27. It’s specifically for women in double digit [sizes], from 10 to 30. I really want to be the big girl ambassador. It took me a long time to look in the mirror and love myself.
There’s Curvato Custom for a woman who wants a one-of-kind piece, custom fit for her body. Curvato Signature is a line for the woman who has a career and wants to go from work to play, and then there’s Curvato Boutique, which is trendier, less expensive for younger girls who may be plus size. It’s not just about mass marketing clothes to large women. It’s about mass marketing what I hope will be a lifestyle of accepting yourself in whatever skin you’re in.
You and the ladies of Brownstone were signed to Michael Jackson’s record label. What was your fondest memory of him?
I had an opportunity to talk to him and I [told him] I’m nervous because [we’re] your first artist. He said, ‘It’s not about competing with me. I signed you because you’re talented. Be the best you can be.’ ” I didn’t even realize the impact of that conversation until after he passed. I know I have an obligation to continue his legacy.
Do you and the members of Brownstone plan on recording more music together?
We’re toying with the idea of Christmas records, maybe even a live Brownstone DVD for the fans.
What lessons have you learned being in the music business?
The most valuable lesson is whatever I do I have to be doing it to help other people first. The wealth and the power comes with the service.
Reporting by Gerren Keith Gaynor