Iyanla Vanzant (pictured above) is a self-help author, life coach, and star of the hit reality-show “Iyanla: Fix My Life”. Her show airs on Saturdays at 9/8c on the OWN Network (Photo Credit: TVguide.com)
However, as my relationship with God deepened in my ‘20s, I realized that Iyanla was a Yoruba priestess and maybe I didn’t need to seek that kind of wisdom from someone who didn’t share my Christian beliefs. Still, I occasionally thumbed through her books to extract the positive messages without being lured into her belief system. And then, suddenly, I stopped hearing about her altogether. Apparently, while Oprah was grooming the self-help guru to have her own talk show – similar to the way she groomed Dr. Phil – Iyanla reportedly gave her an ultimatum: give me a talk show or I’ll secure one with another media outlet. Oprah did not give her a show, but Barbara Walters did. The talk show, however, was short lived, only lasting for one season. The loss of Iyanla’s talk show marked the beginning of her descent: her husband divorced her, she lost her daughter to cancer, and declared bankruptcy.
Once Oprah started the OWN network, the media queen and her protégé eventually mended their relationship. In February 2011, the two held a raw and honest multi-episode conversation and reconciliation that revealed what really transpired just over a decade earlier. After their exchange, Iyanla received an invitation to be an expert on “Oprah’s Lifeclass” show and, ultimately, an offer to host her own show, “Iyanla: Fix My Life”, on Winfrey’s network. I watched a few of the first season episodes, but this season has set media outlets and social media buzzing. The April 13th season premiere featured DMX, a rap artist who has become as well known for his multiple arrests and erratic behavior as he is for his music, and his estranged teenage son Xavier. The episode made for gripping television: DMX nearly threatened Iyanla; shared tender moments with his son; and spoke in his trademark staccato speech patterns (which sound better in a rap song than an interview). The rapper, whose birth name is Earl Simmons, talked about being sent to a group home as a child, his drug abuse, meeting his now estranged wife Tarshera and cheating on her with multiple women. When the 90-minute show ends, the audience knows a lot about DMX and his family, but it doesn’t seem that DMX’s life has been “fixed.” In fact, he doesn’t want the show to be aired again and is reportedly planning to sue Iyanla.
In the second show, which aired April 20, Iyanla endeavors to fix the life of Sheree Whitfield, the former “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” star, and Bob Whitfield, her ex-husband and former Atlanta Falcons football player. From this episode, we learn that their marriage was troubled from the beginning: Mr. Whitfield wed his ex-wife because she was pregnant. Whitfield accused her of creating drama to be used as footage for the hit reality show and obsessing over the construction of her dream mansion Château Sheree. Sheree, on the other hand, accused her former husband of being a deadbeat dad because of his refusal to pay child support and take care of their two children. By the end of the episode, both parties readily admitted they don’t like each other and Iyanla admitted that she had not “fixed” their lives.
Today’s episode will feature popular Atlanta DJ “Sasha the Diva,” her 17-year-old son, and her new husband. Apparently, the son she raised as a single parent is acting out now that his mother has gotten married. I heard Sasha speaking about the episode a couple of weeks ago as she was the host of a seminar at a bridal show I attended. She said before she called Iyanla, she thought she was going to have to either choose her son or her husband, but Iyanla helped her to maintain both relationships. Well, I guess we will have to see for ourselves what transpires because if the past two episodes have been any indication of what is to come, there will be a whole lot of business sharing but not as much fixing.
Nevertheless, I must admit that I am a fan of the show. Iyanla has highlighted issues impacting the black community – such as drug abuse, single parenthood and blended family drama – in a way that addresses them without exploiting them. At the same time, I wonder if being on a single episode is helping families resolve issues that will likely take years of counseling to address. And while I haven’t heard Iyanla make any pointed references to her religious beliefs, I wonder if she is promoting them in any way as she counsels her show’s participants. Her new show is entertaining and educational, but Christians may need to be discerning about her advice.
The children of America’s greatest peacemaker, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., are once again squabbling over the rights to their parents’ estate. Following DreamWork’s announcement that Steven Spielberg would produce a biopic of King’s life, it came to light that only one of the three surviving siblings, Dexter King, actually gave permission to the studio. The others now say the sale of these rights is invalid. What a shame. As of now, DreamWorks says it will not move ahead with the project until all the King siblings are on the same page.
If the film does actually make it into production, we’re curious about who Spielberg will get to play the starring role. Sean Smith at Entertainment Weekly is throwing Jeffrey Wright’s name in the ring. You’ll remember him from Casino Royale (Felix Leiter), Cadillac Records (Muddy Waters), and W (Colin Powell). He delivers strong performances in all of his flicks and even played King in the 2001 HBO movie Boycott. He could be a great choice, but to be honest, the pickings are slim. All of the standby black male leads like Denzel Washington, Will Smith, or Forrest Whitaker aren’t right for the role, either due to age or body type. Perhaps this will be the career-making breakout role for an emerging black actor with little notoriety. We want someone who can allow us to sink into King’s life, evoking the aura of the great preacher, without the ghosts of his previous roles haunting the screen.
By now, you’ve probably heard about 23-years-old church worship leader Kris Allen’s win on American Idol. Though he clearly lacked the crowd appeal of competitor Adam Lambert, past crowd-pleasing winners have taught us an important lesson: American Idol viewers don’t always translate into CD buyers. Last year’s winner David Cook has experienced only minor success despite his popularity and talent. The question now is what kind of album will Kris Allen make? Will the support of Christians that likely pushed him to the top on Idol ultimately help or handicap Allen artistically as he goes to work on debut album? Time will tell.
In case you’d forgotten how old you’re getting, this past week marked the 25th anniversary of The Cosby Show. Most of the cast celebrated with a reunion on the Today Show on Tuesday. However, celebration over the inroads African Americans have made on television was short-lived for some fans as news surfaced Thursday of the CW network’s cancellation of The Game and Everybody Hates Chris. While the content of both shows lacked the strong moral character of The Cosby Show, sometimes reinforcing negative stereotypes of the black community — The Game‘s Wendy Raquel Robinson’s colorful “ghetto hustler” persona and the ongoing baby mama drama storyline between Tia Mowery (Melanie Barnett) and Pooch Hall (Derwin Davis) are examples — many African Americans were just happy to see black actors on television in lead roles that offered realistic portrayals of African American life. UrbanFaith’s own Nicole Symmonds broke down the lack of multi-dimensional black characters on television for us at her Loudmouth Protestant blog, saying she doesn’t think the CW is prejudiced, just shortsighted. The network “does well at depicting the many faces of white America while giving black America short shrift. We exist!” Is there any positive urban programming left on television? What are you watching these days?
Ciara’s ‘Mama’ Drama
The drama surrounding pop and R&B singer Ciara’s controversial change in management has extended to the release of her film debut in the gospel movie Mama, I Want to Sing! Back in 2007, websites like BlackVoices were buzzing about Ciara’s starring role opposite Patti LaBelle and Lynn Whitfield. But since the studios originally had hoped to piggyback off of Ciara’s album promotion, when the record label delayed Fantasy Ride‘s release the studios were forced to push back the film as well. Now FoxFaith and CodeBlack have scrapped plans for a movie theater release, sending the film straight to DVD this August or September. We sure hope the movie’s worth all the trouble. Mama, I Want to Sing! is the longest-running off-Broadway black theater musical in history, about a preacher’s daughter who leaves the church choir to become an international pop star. The original stage play was written by Vy Higginsen and loosely based on her sister Doris Troy’s rise to fame.
From Beyoncé to Smokie
BET has released the nominees for the 2009 BET Awards, set to air live on June 28th at 8 p.m. ET/PT. We’re sure all the usual suspects will appear, like Beyoncé and Kanye West who are both scheduled to perform. But we’re more interested in the gospel music category, as its always telling to find out who’s garnering the most attention in the secular music arena. Nominees for Best Gospel Artist include Regina Belle, Smokie Norful, Shirley Caesar, Trin-I-Tee 5:7, and Mary Mary. It’s nice to see Smokie Norful and Trin-I-Tee 5:7 getting some love, as both were passed over for Dove Award nominations. Who do you think should win the category?
DMX the Televangelist?
While finishing up a 90-day jail sentence for drugs, fraud, and animal cruelty, rapper DMX told reporters about plans to start his own Christian TV show called Pain and Perseverance. He said, “It’s about how I can reach people that the average person can’t reach because I’m grounded. I’m going to give my first sermon, in the church. That’s going to be incredible for me and hopefully the congregation of that church.” This isn’t the first time DMX has talked about going into ministry. Back in March 2003, he toyed with the idea of retiring from rap, but eventually decided to continue his career after seeking advice from born-again rapper Mase. “I talked to Mase. I said, ‘Dog! I’m fed up with this rap sh–. I know the Lord. I know my true calling is to preach the Word, where do I go from here?’ He was like, ‘As long as the Lord gives you the talent to do what you do, do it. He’ll call you when he’s ready.'” Fast forward a few years and X was back to battling the demons of drug use and other criminal activity from his past. But maybe now DMX is ready. God’s clearly had a hold on his life for some time, as X often talks about his strong desire for a deeper relationship with Christ and a hunger for his Bible. We want to give him grace and trust that he’s serious this time. But we’ll believe it when we see it.