As we grow through our life experience, occasionally we make bad decisions, but imagine your biggest blunders are blasted in headlines and your mugshot broadcast on the evening news. This level of humiliation now goes beyond you. Your family is affected by your misfortune too. How do you recover? How do you rebuild a life and repair a family in the public eye?
Five women answer this question and more in new Centric docu-series From the Bottom Up, executive produced by Queen Latifah and Shakeme Compere of Flavor Unit and Nicci Gilbert.
Gilbert, former lead vocalist of 90’s R&B group Brownstone, explains why From the Bottom Up is the ultimate redemption story for both the cast and audience alike.
With a similar premise to that of R&B Divas, Executive Producer Nicci Gilbert takes another stab at reality TV intended to uplift and inspire women of color by showing them as victors as opposed to victims of circumstance.
Cast members Sara Stokes (Making the Band 2,) Chrystale Wilson (The Players Club,) former Detroit Mayorial Chief of Staff Christine Beatty, Madam Kim Smedly known for performing illegal butt injections and Atlanta-based event specialist Stacii Jae Johnson share their truth as they work together to hold each other accountable and rebuild their lives in order to follow their dreams.
Gilbert says the idea for this ‘labor of love’ came to her at a point in time when she had hit a personal rock bottom. At the time there was an ugly legal battle surrounding the R&B Divas franchise and she lost her best friend and band mate Charlyne “Maxee” Maxwell. “It all just became a blur, and I just wanted it to disappear and never to return,” is how Gilbert remembers this experience.
Gilbert says once she realized she wasn’t alone in hardship, she felt charged with the task of helping others have their own “Come to Jesus Moments.”
“Creatively, I like to be honest in how I tell my story and how I work to provide platforms for other people to tell their stories,” Gilbert says. She adds, “What’s real for me is real for my friend Stacii Jae over here who just lost her job. It’s real for Sara Stokes who called me and was like ‘Hey, I’m in jail.’ So, I was like how is it that we can share these stories that entertain us and hopefully uplift us.”
Although Gilbert’s triumphant return to television is its own story of perseverance, we won’t be seeing her on-camera in this series. While she is proud of the lessons she learned from being “a hard head and a big mouth,” this time around Gilbert has established herself as a “real” partner in the venture in an effort to preserve the integrity of this show’s premise. She says she wants to be more actively involved in the end result of what the public sees.
“I have the amazing blessing of being able to partner with Queen Latifah of Flava Unit and Centric, which is the network designed for black women. Everybody involved in this partnership has a very clear vision of something that empowers and uplifts and gives women a second chance, and tells real, honest stories. So I feel like the difference [between From the Bottom Up and R&B Divas] is that the entire team is on the same page with the same vision,” Gilbert says.
The 6-part series will showcase the ensemble cast as a sister circle of genuine friends working to get through their lowest moments together.
Not all of them are from the entertainment industry. Of course the two most notable from the entertainment industry are Chrystale Wilson, who played Ronnie in The Players Club. She’s blonde hair, tight purple pants, leopard shirt. She was everybody’s favorite cult classic mean girl stripper, and she actually had some really serious things happen in her life and career. I don’t want to give it away. Some of it is in the trailer, but everything is in the first episode. Well, not everything. What she did is in the first episode.
Then we have Sara Stokes from Making The Band which was on MTV. P. Diddy’s Making the Band. I think that they’re the ones who had to go walk for the cheesecake. (laughs) Sara has had a very volatile– publicly displayed, volatile relationship with her husband, and we actually have Sara on the day she got released from jail. So it’s real. It’s not about creating and crafting stories, it’s about what’s really going on in these women’s lives.
The other two women came from the political space. Christine Beatty is a sista who was the Chief of Staff for the city of Detroit. She was very instrumental in [Kwamee Kilpatrick’s] election. Unfortunately, there was this big scandal involving some text messages. I think it was the first sexting scandal or whatever, so she literally ended up with two felonies and served time for perjury. So she’s going to share her story. Not just about that but how that incident affected her life, and how she’s growing and all the women are moving beyond that.
Stacii Jae Johnson, she works for special events in Atlanta and she was really connected politically in terms of fundraising. She was pulled over for a DUI and lost her job. She was on cloud 9, on top of the world and lost it all based on one decision.
And then we have a woman who wasn’t in the industry herself, but she had clients who were. She calls herself Madam Kim Smedly. She was doing illegal butt injections, and she did 18 months in jail because of her crimes. She’s trying to rebuild her life and find a new way to take care of her family.
All of these women are being very honest. They are not proud of what took them to this place, but they’re absolutely determined to take the steps to get to another level of their lives. And it just shows you how people can be on top and in a blink of an eye lose everything and you right back at rock bottom. And when you do that publicly it’s just something that’s like–ugh! magnified 10 times. So hopefully we’ll publicly show them rising.
From the Bottom Up airs this Saturday at 10PM on Centric.
More discussion with Nicci Gilbert
It’s amazing. It’s an honor. All I can do it is be thankful that we were officially inducted into that group of artists who’s art transcends generations, and can be as successful for one group as it can be for another. It’s very rare that you get great remixes and they mean something, and they reach a different generation of people almost the same way that they reached the original. I think he’s speaking the language of this generation, and that’s obvious in the fact that the record is successful. I think often we get caught up in what was the original, but sometimes those derivative, translations and all that– that’s just dope because it speaks to that generation, and we can’t exactly speak their language but the know that enough of what we put out there is getting out to the people. and I’m thankful that the message was more positive than a lot of of the other messages with artists in his age group. So, I would say that he did a great job.
That was just so much fun. You know what, Martin back in the day– once again, back in the day we talking– I mean, people would rush home to watch the episodes. So we see the re-runs and we’re like ‘Oh that’s cool. That’s Martin,’ but back in the day that was a big deal. So, I remember getting that part and just rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing until I really was hoarse, and really could not sing. So, I’m not going to put it all on good acting ability, that was just real life. The whole hoarse moment or whatever, but I was so excited to be on Martin and with Tischina and Martin and Tommy. They were so great to me, and it really gave me– it was a part of that acting bug that I picked up. I was just really shy about the fact that it was Pam, Gina, Martin, and like I– I was focused on work. I’m such a worker. I think that it blew my mind to hear Tischina and Tisha like ‘Oh, I love your music. It’s dope.’ You know what I’m saying? And like, yeah Tischina– they probably hit a verse, but I was just so like ‘Oh my god, I’m on set with Martin and Tischina, it was like I was just so focused on making sure that I could sing… and acted.
Always was interested in acting. Nicci studied theater Susan Dorris from Detroit, and went to college on a theater scholarship– so acting was always something she wanted to do. looked to be multi-hyphenate in acting and Hollywood after Brownstone. Working on first scripted television project based on stage play Soul Kittens’ Cabaret starring Fantasia, which has been adapted into a series. Going into the table read phase.
I have to be very careful and I don’t even like the idea of going back into the stakes of legalities like that, but I will say that series [Hollywood Divas] is produced by– I believe Carlos King produces that series with TVOne and Think Factory Media, who were our partners in R&B Divas. Faith and I do not receive credit for producing that series. And I lost Maxee around the same time that that stuff was going on so it all just became a blur and I just wanted it to disappear and never to return and that’s kind of how I think about the process. So there’s nothing much more to say about it other than that. I just want to be clear with everyone– the R&B Divas franchise was and I believe has the potential to be a really amazing franchise. And there were so many great women associated with that show who were either introduced or reintroduced or whatever. I don’t regret any part of what it was for me. I don’t think anyone would regret what it was for them, because it did bring some really talented women back into the public eye. I hope that, should the opportunity come to revive the franchise and do it again, I hope that we just consider what we started in season 1 of ATL and get back to that (laughs) and I think that it could be great all over again. But I just wanted to be clear that I hold no grudge against those women– not one of them– or the series itself.
Oh Lord, that was God. Relationships. I pride myself in being– I don’t do everything right at all. I learned a lot of hard lessons. I was a hard head and a big mouth for a lot of my career. (Me: Girl you sound like me) She laughs. I mean, that’s how we break through, right? But I was lucky enough to be one of those people that had connections with people who really knew who I was at the core. It was about picking up the phone and being like ‘ Hey, Chuck M. you know things have been a certain way. I’ve learned some valuable lessons. I want to put those into some great content.’ I was able– by the grace of God– to have some solid relationships with really solid business partners who understood the vision even before R&B Divas. Who were gracious enough to come on board and support me in kind of putting this show together. The uniqueness of this situation is that we own the series– Flava Unit and I. And licensed the series to this amazing network that’s about empowering women. It’s the little show that will hopefully prove that we can have great content that doesn’t set us back 50 years or 100 years, and it truly entertains and empowers people.