ESSENCE Fest alum and R&B diva, Leela James has a lot going on! She’s currently on tour with fellow #EssenceFest alums, Ledisi and Raheem Devaughn, working on new music, and is also back on your TV screen in the newest season of R&B Divas. She took a break from her busy schedule to talk all things R&B Divas, being her friend’s rock as she battles cancer, and the infamous Ledisi/Grammy’s controversy.
ESSENCE: When you were first offered the chance to do R&B Divas, was there any hesitation or was it a no-brainer for you?
Leela: There was some hesitation. There was definitely some apprehension. Reality TV tends to have a very negative stigma attached to it. I definitely didn’t say ‘yes’ right away.
ESSENCE: How do you feel about the new cast members that are just joining the show? I know Stacy Francis and Brave just joined this season, how do you feel about them?
Leela: I’m fine with it. Brave is a really sweet girl, so far. Stacy is cool. You know, I don’t really care to get into judging folk. It ain’t my TV show.
ESSENCE: Being that they’re new to the show, if you could’ve given them one piece of advice before they appeared on the show, what would it have been and why?
Leela: Don’t stress about the makeup! (Laughs) Do you! When I first started last season, I remember…I was like, “Oh my gosh, I gotta try to do this and do that!” [But] I don’t really like make up like that. After a while, I was like, “I don’t give a cotton pickin’ care!” You know, it’s whatever. If anything, girl…just show up! If the camera catches you with a pimple, so the heck what. That’s real TV.
ESSENCE: I know on the show you’ve actually been supporting your friend as she battles cancer. How difficult has it been to stay uplifted and how do you in turn, keep her uplifted as well?
Leela: It’s very difficult to watch anyone deal with that. I don’t know if you can imagine but it’s not an easy disease to have to go through. She’s been going to chemotherapy and radiation and really fighting. Everyday it’s a battle and all you can do is try to pray and always wish for the best. Fortunately, right now she is in great spirits. She has a very strong personality and spirit. She’s been fighting like a soldier. I think because she has such a strong spirit, it helps her physically. She’s doing better than we even thought. The chemo is seemingly working and some of the tumors are shrinking in her body. Because she’s always in great spirits, I can’t help but be in great spirits.
ESSENCE: What else can we expect to see from you this season on the show?
Leela: I just think you see more of my personality, my humor. Just my human side, in general. You all know that I am clearly an artist. I can sing but you know, I’m a person with a real life and real emotions. I have a family. I have a dear best friend. I think with a lot of those things, you get more of a glimpse into who I am as a person this season, compared to last season.
ESSENCE: How much thought goes in to what you decide to open up to the cameras about on the show?
Leela: It’s not a lot of thought. It is what it is. They capture what’s happening in your life. I guess if you are comfortable with some of things in your life being captured, it gets captured. Otherwise, it probably doesn’t but you can’t just plan your life. We all would like to but life is life. I don’t wake up everyday like, “Ok, this is what I’m going to do”. You hope for certain things in life, but there’s a funny saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him what your plans are.”
ESSENCE: I know you’re currently on tour with Ledisi and Raheem DeVaughn. What’s it been like touring with Ledisi?
Leela: It’s been great, I’ve been touring with Ledisi over the years for some time. It’s really great to be able to share the stage with your peers and bring good music to the people. That’s what they want and we are able to give it to them. We are able to travel the world and do it. It’s a good thing. We are just doing what we love to do. I wish this aspect was able to be captured on television as well.
ESSENCE: I know there was a lot of online chatter about Ledisi after Beyoncé performed Precious Lord at the Grammy’s instead of her. Do you feel like urban artists are often marginalized by certain music organizations and how does that affect the way you move within the industry?
Leela: Absolutely, but all you can do is keep doing what you do. At the end of the day, people have their own minds. We are [still] able to go out here and do a tour and our shows are sold out—that speaks volumes.
ESSENCE: Are you currently working on new music?
Leela: I am but as you see, I am in the middle of this tour. I will really have the chance to settle down and focus on recording the album when I come off the tour.
ESSENCE: Are there any other parts of the entertainment business that you haven’t really delved into that you would like to?
Leela: I haven’t really done a film and being that I’ve done reality television, I wouldn’t mind doing scripted TV as well as film.
R&B Divas airs on TVOne Wednesdays at 10/9 Central.