Tevin Campbell recently opened up about his life and career in a way we haven’t heard the ’90s heartthrob speak before. In a candid conversation on the PEOPLE Every Day podcast, the R&B singer talked about the image he was forced to lean into as a teenager in the music industry and how what was portrayed was far from his reality.
“I don’t think the sex symbol thing worked, but the love songs last,” the 45-year-old said speaking to the packaging of his successful debut album T.E.V.I.N. in 1991 and I’m Ready in 1993. “I had no idea at the time, like when I was 15 or 16 recording [‘Can We Talk’] that it would have that impact,” he added. “I was just a kid singing in the studio.”
As a child, Campbell wasn’t concerned with his sexuality — neither wanting to lean into it or conceal it, he explained, saying, “I just kind of wanted to be me, you know?”
“I didn’t hide anything about me. I didn’t try to act a certain way or anything,” he added. “You just couldn’t be [gay] back then.”
At least not in the public eye when young Black girls were the key market for his music and even that of the fictitious teen idol and crush of Ashley Banks that he played on an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Those closest to Campbell knew the truth, however.
“When I came out to my family and friends [at] about 19 or 20, that was it for me. And then I went on the road of discovering myself. I didn’t know who I was,” he shared.
Performing in the Broadway musical Hairspray beginning in 2004 helped him find himself. “Being around people who were like me, LGBTQ+ people that were living normal lives and had partners. I had never seen that,” he said. “That was a great time in my life.”
While speculation around Campbell’s sexuality may have lingered for years, many fans felt no questions remained after Campbell responded to a Twitter user’s question about famous singers who are rumored to be gay by tweeting, “Tevin is…” with rainbow emoji earlier this year. As for his choice to tweet that comment, Campbell said, “It was a casual thing for me. I love my fans, but what they think about my sexuality is of no importance to me.”
Listen to the full podcast here.