In the fast-moving world of R&B, three years feels like 20 – kind of like dog years.
Monica, the Atlanta-based singer whose star shined brightest in the late 1990s, has stayed under the radar the past four years raising her two kids. So what better way to get back on the scene than a reality show?
“Monica: Still Standing” debuts tonight on BET at 10 p.m. after the BET Hip Hop Awards.
“I think it gives people an in-depth look how hard it is to stay relevant in the music business and balancing family life,” she said in a phone interview last week. “A lot of people aren’t comfortable baring their souls. I am. I’m a work in progress. I’m going through things every day just like everybody else.”’
Monica has ridden a roller coaster of a life, packed with highs and lows. Highs include breaking it big with a quintuple platinum debut album at the age of 15 and taking home a Grammy three years later.
But life took a left turn in 2000 when she saw her boyfriend commit suicide in front of her. She followed that with a rocky relationship with rapper C-Murder. And she didn’t meet eye to eye with her label over her last album in 2006, her least successful to date.
“I’ve learned to rely on faith,” she said, “how to depend on things within and stop looking at worldly possessions as real success and find out who Monica really is. That’s what the show reflects.”
“Still Standing” is executive produced by James DuBose, who has also done a string of other Atlanta-based BET shows, including “Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is,” the spinoff “Frankie & Neffe” and “Tiny & Toya.”
Monica, in fact, is friends with Cole and said her experience with DuBose through Cole’s show convinced her to do her own. Unlike many other reality shows, she said nothing was staged. There is no manufactured drama, as often is the case on Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
“I respect ‘Housewives,’ “ she said. “But my show is the complete opposite. It really is. It’s about love and God.” She said she may have a chance to talk to 100 kids at a group home. A TV show allows her to reach hundreds of thousands.
In some ways, the show is therapy for her, though she said she won’t spend a lot of time dredging up the details of past incidents.
And the song “Still Standing” is symbolic of where she feels her life is. “I didn’t think it was possible to summarize my life in three minutes but that’s exactly what [producer] Bryan Michael Cox did.” (Her cousin Ludacris helped write the song and does guest vocals.)
Happily timed with the show, her newest ballad-heavy album is slated to come out in December.
“I’m kind of wowed by the time I stepped away,” Monica mused. “I gave my entire childhood to music. I started my first album at age 12 and didn’t stop until I was 24 when I gave birth to my oldest son. I wanted to experience motherhood without anything else mixed in.”
She had her second son last year with her long-time boyfriend and rapper Rodney “Rocko” Hill Jr.
“I was overdue,” she added, “for a vacation.”
Her thoughts on “Tiny & Toya”: “People assumed their show would be about the men in their lives but it was really about them. I’m proud of them. Tiny & I have known each other for a long time. I was about 12 or 13 when she and I first communicated. We have never stopped. I’m proud of how hard she works and strives to be her own person.”
Her take on Kandi Burruss dealing with AJ’s death: “She has great family, great friends. She’ll be fine. This is probably one of the hardest things she’s ever faced. I was in her shoes. I’m able to give her advice. I’m living proof you can find love again and live your life you’ve always wanted. I ask her what she needs day to day. She hasn’t asked for anything.”
What were Monica’s feelings when she head about AJ’s passing: “It was very hard for me because it brought me right back to what I felt ten years ago. It’s the type of pain you don’t want anyone else to experience. There is life after death. When you love people and lost them, that’s one thing I consistently tell her.”