With hundreds of reality shows in recent years, the sub-genres have gotten smaller and stranger. Cakes too big? How about cupcakes? Eight kids too few? How about 19?
Now let’s separate shows by geography and type of music: metro Atlanta R&B singers. The list includes Keyshia Cole’s “The Way It Is” on BET (2006-2008), Monica’s “Still Standing” on BET (2009), Kandi Burruss’ participation in Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta” since season two, TLC star Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas’ “What Chilli Wants” on VH1 (2010-11) and former Xscape singer Tameka “Tiny” Cottle’s “Tiny & Toya” on BET (2009-10).
Welcome Duluth resident Toni Braxton into this ever-expanding club, the biggest star so far from Atlanta to jump on the reality bandwagon. She and her four younger sisters dish and argue their way through “Braxton Family Values,” which debuts April 12 on female-friendly WE tv.
Braxton’s travails have kept her in the headlines in recent years but not in a good way. She’s filed for bankruptcy protection twice, most recently last November. She’s had major medical problems, including lupus and a heart condition. One of her sons Diezel has been diagnosed with autism. Her career peaked in the 1990s with now-classic hits such as “Breathe Again” and “Un-Break My Heart.”
Braxton understandably needs a paycheck. (She already appeared on “Dancing With the Stars” in 2008.) But the reality show wasn’t her idea. Her sister Tamar, a backup singer for Toni who briefly had her own solo career, convinced her to do it.
Tamar also happens to be the stand-out star on the show, based on the first episode. She overshadows her sisters with her jealous, diva-like attitude. Despite executive producing credit, Tamar doesn’t mind looking spoiled, petty or just odd. (She told her sisters in the first episode she’d like to adopt an Asian baby and raise him or her “black.” “I say silly things,” she said in an interview later. “I can be whiny and loud.”)
Calculatingly outrageous? Perhaps.
Keyshia Cole’s mom Frankie and sister Neffe were such drama queens on her reality show, BET created a spin-off show for them. Tamar has the potential to go that route herself.
For Toni, greater exposure on TV could mean more ticket sales, more downloads and greater receptivity from radio stations to play her music. Monica garnered her first No. 1 R&B hit in seven years after her BET show aired in late 2009. Kandi Burruss wouldn’t even have a solo career without “Real Housewives.”
“It could go both ways,” said Darrell Miller, an entertainment attorney who represents “Real Housewives” NeNe Leakes and helped broaden her appeal by getting her on “Celebrity Apprentice.” “Everyone loves Toni’s music. If it shows a sympathetic side of her, it could help bring back those wonderful feelings people had about her music… But if she comes across poorly, people might think she deserved what she got.”
The Braxtons actually were a girl group in the late 1980s but L.A. Reid, Clive Davis and Babyface honed in on Toni as a potential solo star, leaving the others behind. Those resentments still simmer years later, especially since two of Toni’s sisters (Tamar and Trina) are her backup singers and a third (Towanda) is her personal assistant. A fourth sister Traci is now married in Maryland but is itching to get back in the game. “I think they want their own lives and careers,” Toni said in a recent interview at the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead with her sisters.
For Toni, the show will allow people to see her beyond a singer and a tabloid headline, that she’s a mom and a sister. (She’s separated from her husband Keri Lewis of Mint Condition but that part of her life won’t get much attention on the show because she wants to protect her son, she noted. “We still work together,” she said. “You may see him in one scene but he’ s not talking.”)
She’ll also delve into some of her financial issues. In her bankruptcy protection filing last fall, Nieman Marcus and Tiffany & Co. are among some of her creditors. Does she have a shopping addiction? “No,” Toni said emphatically. Tamar added: “I have the shopping addiction!”
Toni has lived in Duluth for many years but is thinking of moving to Los Angeles in May because there’s a school there that could work with her son who has autism and to “just be closer to work.”
“Braxton Family Values,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, WE-tv debuting April 12
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog