Chances are you won’t get a drink thrown at you reality show-style for calling Love & Hip Hop Atlanta star K. Michelle one of the most polarizing personalities we’ve come across in a while. She’s loud, quick-tempered and seemingly always ready to rumble. But then you hear that voice and her life story—a college grad who became a stripper—and it’s harder to ignore her as another crazed reality star.
Two seasons after her turn on Love & Hip Hop, Michelle says she’s ready to hang up her bad girl image. Armed with a new record, Rebellious Soul, a new charm offensive (she was syrupy sweet on the recent reunion show) and her own kinder, gentler VH1 reality show debuting this fall, the Memphis native says her drink-throwing days are behind her.
We spoke with Michelle about her Rebellious Soul, dealing with her anger issues and how she responds to critics who say she’s a horrible representation of Black women.
ESSENCE: We’ve known you as the bad girl of reality TV for a minute. But this season you tried to soften up your image.
K. Michelle: I don't even know if it's a try as much as it was having a reality check and saying: you have this big voice, you play these instruments, you can write, you can do all of this, and these girls love you. I don't know how I would be able to sleep knowing that I had that much impact over your daughter's life, or something, and I'm just cursing people out and yelling. I just stopped caring [about the show] this season. I've been traveling, selling out my shows, doing everything. My mind is somewhere else when the camera's rolling so I'm sorry I don't care that Stevie J. cheated on you today.
ESSENCE: At what moment did you get to ‘I don't care’?
K. Michelle: I think when you have management and a real record label. The other aha! moment was when I realized I couldn’t allow my son to watch me on TV. He's very bothered that his friends get to watch me and he can't. I don't allow him to watch it. Also, when you have positive people around you saying this is bigger than you think, your self-esteem must be low because you don't see the gift. You start trying to look at yourself and then you'll just be like, ‘Why am I doing this?’
ESSENCE: Did you get help for the anger issues?
K. Michelle: I’ve been to therapists before. But recently it's just been me and God. I had women on my Twitter timeline saying, ‘Can you please get off this show?’ Not one, not two, not 100; a lot of women saying you're so talented, can you please get off this show? And that's not people who are making money off me. They're just saying how they feel. I've always been very connected with my fan base, so something had to be done.
ESSENCE: You think people are ready for non-fighting K. Michelle on your new reality show?
K. Michelle: My life is very entertaining, even without me yelling.
ESSENCE: What do you say to people who say K. Michelle is not a good representation of Black women?
K. Michelle: I get it. Everybody doesn't get to hear my story. They can only go on what they see in an hour. You’re on the show eight minutes out of the hour and they see you cursing and yelling at people. They don't understand what happened three hours before that. They don't understand that you were calm, that you’ve been standing for three hours and you’re irritated when the cameras roll. They don't get it. So I respect that, but at the end of the day they have to understand that’s one side of me and there are a lot of other sides. No one ever focuses on what I do for my community, how I put my Google number up and talk on the phone with my fans, how I go to the mall and say, if you're a single mother let me pay your child care and I pay it on the spot. No one does that. They want to focus on the negative. I can't knock them for thinking that about me, because they don't know what I'm doing. I can't really get mad. That's what I have to deal with in finding the balance within me.
ESSENCE: What do you want your fans, especially the young women who love you, to see in you?
K. Michelle: I want them to see honesty; that I'm human. I want them to look at me and say, regardless of anything, she always made good music. You might not understand me in other aspects, but I feel like musically you can. I want them to know that everything I do is not to be followed but to learn from because I'm also learning as I go. I'm just bold enough to let you see it.
ESSENCE: When you signed up for Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, what did you want to get out of it?
K. Michelle: I wanted something. I had nowhere to be. I was sleeping on my manager's couch, didn’t have any money. I didn't have anything to lose. The realest thing ever said to me was by Marlon Wayans—I'm cool with [his brother] Craig Wayans. I said I was worried about my brand and Marlon said, ‘what brand? You ain't got no brand.’ That was a real saving. I had nothing to lose. And I needed the money.
ESSENCE: Did you expect your life to be what it is right now: the fame, the reality show.
K. Michelle: I didn't expect it. I've been let down a lot, so I’m used to expecting things and they don't happen. I didn't know what my music was going to be. The past two months have been a shocker. To have people screaming and crying when they see me has been a major shocker.
ESSENCE: Your debut album Rebellious Soul debuted at number one this week. Shocker?
K. Michelle: I think it's going to shock people because I'm really great at making music. I was reading my Twitter mentions and some guy tweeted a comment like ‘I don't like her but her music is amazing.’ I’ll take that. I brought in live musicians for this album, strings from Berkeley. It's very musical, but the lyrics are wild. I feel like I still have so much in me to sing. If I could I’d be in the studio coming up with a song every day. This transition I’m going through right now is a lot to sing about. My mentor R. Kelly always said: you’ve always got a job if you write music about life.
ESSENCE: What do you make of comparisons to Keyshia Cole?
K. Michelle: Keyshia was the one who reached out to me when I was spazzing out on Twitter. She told me, ‘Get off the Twitter! Right now!’ [laughs] We are a lot alike. We've had late-night talks. I really love that girl. When people compare me to her now, I get it.
ESSENCE: There are so many layers to you: college grad, sorority sister…what more don’t we know about you?
K. Michelle: I love country music and always wanted to be country singer. I studied psychology with a minor in music. I got into law school but I didn't want to go. My daddy is a college professor. I’m a Delta. I did a lot of Miss America preliminaries. I got a scholarship for yodeling. Yes, I yodeled.
ESSENCE: How have fellow Deltas responded to you?
K. Michelle: The first season they were against it. I'm sure the higher-ups probably still feel that kind of way, but the young Deltas are supportive. [laughs] I put up my sign and people said I was putting up the Illuminati sign. The young Deltas are always there and they're very supportive.
K. Michelle’s Rebellious Soul is out now.