Metro Weekly

Raven-Symoné on ‘Celebrity Watch Party,’ her new album, and thirty years of making pop culture

Raven-Symoné is thrilled to let down her rainbow braids and just be herself

Raven-Symoné, celebrity watch party, raven, raven's home

Raven-Symoné — Photo: Quentin Ryan

After more than three decades spent growing up on stage and television, Raven-Symoné has made peace with the fact that her face, her roles, her music, memes, and merchandise have been a part of your life. But, as the performer says, “I tend to not dwell on this life that I have,” nor on her very public evolution from adorable child actor on The Cosby Show and teen star of Disney Channel hit That’s So Raven, to Billboard-charting recording artist, with adult roles in films and on Broadway, and a high-profile stint as a proudly out co-host of The View.

“I think I would go crazy if I actually thought about all the stuff that I’ve done,” she says. “I’m working on that with my therapist, thank you very much.”

Rather than looking back, the Emmy-nominated entertainment veteran focuses ahead on her upcoming album of new music, and her current role as star and executive producer of Disney’s That’s So Raven spinoff, Raven’s Home, in which the formerly teenage psychic is now a divorced single mom with two kids of her own. The show, co-starring Anneliese van der Pol, reprising her role as Raven’s bestie and fellow divorcée Chelsea, just aired its third-season finale — as the nation entered its second straight month of shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pretty much homebound, like everyone else, Raven-Symoné has devoted the unexpected downtime to completing tracks on her album, The Reintroduction. The collaboration with artist-producers Brian London and Austin Brown, better known as R&B duo Blvk Cvstle, definitely reflects Raven’s reinvention of herself as… more herself. The collection of neo-soul and mellow hip-hop tracks — including a few previously released on 2019 EP 33000, and 2020 EP Infrasounds — finds the singer-songwriter, billed as RAVEN, expressing an adventurous maturity, even rapping with swag about same-sex relationships. (For the record, she also reveals that she can see herself someday marrying a woman.) This is not little Olivia or Raven Baxter or Cheetah Girls. This is now.

“I’ve been in entertainment/Hollywood since I was 16 months old,” says Raven. “I’m 34, so I’m an old biddy and I feel good about it. It’s definitely a journey to last this long, and it takes some thick skin. I’ve got a lot of calluses, cuz. I’ve got a lot of calluses.”

That resilience has seen Raven-Symoné through public trials and controversies over the years, and she’s emerged confident enough to bare her truth on record. Last fall, she even took on the high-wire challenge of competing on season two of FOX’s phenomenally popular The Masked Singer. Performing as the “Black Widow” spider, she belted a mean version of “Before He Cheats,” before eventually going out in tenth place.

Now, the star returns to FOX on Celebrity Watch Party, the network’s spin on long-running British hit Gogglebox. The British version features a rotation of regular folks at home on their couches watching TV, reacting and commenting to the audience’s delight. A sort of stripped-down Talk Soup, the show feels tailor-made for a moment when people all over the world are spending plenty of time at home watching TV. So why not watch celebrities watch TV?

Celebrity Watch Party casts Raven-Symoné, along with the ever-entertaining Osbournes, father-and-son Master P and Romeo, Rob Lowe, Meghan Trainor, and Tyra Banks, among other stars, to hang out on-camera while flipping through the week’s TV offerings, from RuPaul’s Drag Race and Dr. Pimple Popper, to ABC’s virtual running of the Kentucky Derby. The hook is seeing the celebrities dishing on the good, bad, and ugly of pop culture, off the cuff.

For Raven, the show is another opportunity for the former child star to refresh her image and reflect the woman and artist she’s become — even if it does simply entail lounging on her sofa with her friends and her dogs, getting her life while watching Drag Race contestants lip-sync for theirs.

Brian London, Raven-Symoné, and Austin Brown

METRO WEEKLY: Where am I finding you today?

RAVEN-SYMONÉ: In my bed.

MW: And in what locality would that be?

RAVEN: In California. [Laughs.] Sorry, I don’t know you like that, I can’t give you my address. I don’t know if you’re gonna bring me Snickers or not. I’m just playing!

MW: Actually, you know what? I found out something about us that I think will start us off on the right foot. My birthday is December 9th, and yours…

RAVEN: Hey, what’s up, Sag? My birthday’s December 10th. Okay, we’re cool. We’re cool. We’re cool.

MW: Right, exactly. I watched Watch Party, and I feel like, first of all, this show would not have made any sense a few months ago, but right now it makes perfect sense.

RAVEN: I have to disagree with you. I think the show could have lived before corona. That’s because I’ve watched shows like this, and I love the way television is when it’s like this. Remember Talk Soup? They used to replay stuff? I love those kinds of shows on YouTube, and I love the original version [of Gogglebox] over in the U.K. and other countries. So I’m excited that America has finally embraced what the world has been going through, and is ready to watch other people watch television. I’m so excited.

MW: We’re in an era of people posting and watching reaction videos. Have you watched reaction videos?

RAVEN: I have watched reaction videos. My reaction videos are kind of interesting. I like the reaction videos of other music videos, and I like the reaction videos of opening boxes. I guess that’s a reveal video, but I like that whole just watching someone else’s reaction to something. It’s weird how we’ve evolved because of social media, like, “I’m going to watch somebody open a box of tissue and see what they feel about it.” I love watching that.

MW: It is weirdly intoxicating. Yesterday I watched the video of Zendaya reacting to the “Savage” remix. It was hilarious. Seeing people be themselves, I guess, is the thing. Is that what you feel this show is?

RAVEN: I definitely believe that’s why the show is going to be really, really big. For instance, myself, Meghan Trainor, Romeo, or Tyra, when we’re normally on screen, we’re in three hours of hair and makeup. We are two months of pre-production and a week of filming and one week of editing. But this [show] is like, “Oh, no, no, no. There’s no budget, so that’s your own clothes. That’s your own makeup style. You better get your hair braided and be on-air, and say action and go.” And there’s no one there telling you yes or no or maybe. This is all us, and then they edit it later to make sure everybody gets the time they deserve. But just know that you’re going to see me when I wake up. And I’m not going to work, so I don’t really keep makeup in my house anymore. So don’t judge my face when you see me, okay?

Celebrity Watch Party: Carolyn London and Tyra Banks

MW: I was going to ask about the braids, because the braids looked great on Watch Party. How are you keeping up rainbow braids during quarantine?

RAVEN: You should definitely see my braiding sessions, like hazmat suits, gloves. My dog is locked up in his little bubble. It’s a whole journey, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you, Aisha, I love you.

MW: When did you decide to not have makeup in your house?

RAVEN: After Broadway and after That’s So Raven, I was like, “I’m not doing this anymore. I’m not wearing makeup. I’m not wearing heels. If you catch me in a dress, eh, how about that?” With Watch Party, I’m able to be myself. I’m very vulnerable in this show. Even though I’m having fun and watching television like Tiger King and the Kentucky Derby, which was awesome. The virtual Kentucky Derby was awesome!

MW: That was really suspenseful. And I’m from Louisville, Kentucky, so I was like, “Bring it on.”

RAVEN: I would not have watched that if it wasn’t for this show, so I’m really excited to be on it and be myself, and you guys get to see all my weirdness. It’s going to be a great journey during this corona time.

Celebrity Watch Party: Ryan Trainor, Daryl Sabara and Meghan Trainor

MW: It was also especially nice to have your voice representing the community when Drag Race was shown, because of course we had every single straight guy say he has “never seen Drag Race.” I haven’t met one straight guy that admits that they have, and I don’t think there was one on that show last night who said that they have.

RAVEN: Yeah, yeah. They don’t watch that, so watching them watch that was fantastic. But I think Celebrity Watch Party picked the right clip when they showed Ozzy asleep. That was epic. My mom called me this morning. She’s like, “I’m in love with that family.” It’s like, I’ve been in love with the Osbournes since…. Kelly’s my girl. I love Miss Sharon, and I love Ozzy too, so I love that whole world. I’m very excited that they’re on the show with me.

MW: What was it like getting back into this character, Raven Baxter, now that she’s a mother, and in this day and age?

RAVEN: Oh, goodness. It was exhilarating. It was scary. I’m nervous. I’m stressed. I’m having a great time. I’ve made new friends. There’s a lot of emotions that come with it. The stress of failing, the excitement of never failing, the stress of, “Oh my goodness, my name’s on it three different times. Do not mess up.” Or, “Oh, that’s awesome! My name is on it three different times. This is like everyone’s dream.” There’s so many emotions that are wrapped up into getting your own show and having other people to look after, and creating titles for yourself like executive producer or director. There’s a lot of emotions. It’s hard to go through.

MW: I saw that you directed some of the episodes. Is that something you’re going to do more often?

RAVEN: Yeah, I’m probably going to transition a little bit more away from the front of the screen, and more to the back end of television. I’ve been on screen for the past thirty-three years. It’s time for me to push it back, and see what I can create without my face. If I feel like I need to bring my face back then I will, but I think I’m at that age where I can handle the spotlight in a different section of the club.

Celebrity Watch Party: Sharon and Kelly Osbourne

MW: Do you have any role models in that regard? I can’t help but think of Debbie Allen as a really great example.

RAVEN: Debbie Allen is a GOAT [Greatest of All Time]. She’s a GOAT and unicorn, Falkor. Like, she’s Falkor to me. I just want to be Debbie Allen when I grow up, but my leg does not go that high, so maybe just be myself. She inspires me. [Child actor-turned-director] Rich Correll inspires me. Danielle Fishel inspires me. Goodness gracious, there’s so many people in this world that are doing amazing things, that I can look at and say, “Thank you for your inspiration. Now, let me go slaughter this game real quick.” So there’s so many people out there. It just depends on my day.

MW: Did you already start production on Raven’s Home season four, or will you?

RAVEN: We did start season four already and we were excited about it. Corona kicked us out, and we’re going to continue, hopefully, once everything is done.

MW: When that time comes, what would it take for you to feel safe and secure on a set at this moment?

RAVEN: Well, you know we have people of all ages. We have people from nine years old to 72, so our employee list is very eclectic. Disney is very, very, very smart when it comes to protecting their employees, so I don’t have the answer for that. I just have to refer to the company that hires me, and I trust them that they will not put my life in danger. So when they tell me I’m about to go to work, I’m about to go to work.

MW: You’ve been on multiple shows that have had multiple seasons. What have you learned about what it takes to sustain a sitcom for multiple seasons?

RAVEN: For me, what I’ve learned to sustain a sitcom is to let people do their job. Yeah, I’ve been in front of the camera my entire life, but that doesn’t mean that I know how to work a camera. I know where it should be pointed and who I want it pointed at, but I don’t know how to zoom in. Let that person do their job. So when I was younger I was told, “Just listen. Don’t say anything. Just listen.” So when I got on the set of Raven’s Home first season, yeah, I had some opinions but I really stepped back and watched people that had good shows on the air before me, and kept them running as well, and learned from them. All the [Executive Producers] that have come through, all of the amazing, talented actors and writers that have come through our stage, you listen. You listen to the adults, and when you are super confident and you’ve had a couple years under your belt — so far three or four, which I’m feeling confident in — I speak up where I need to. If I mess up, I’ve got family around me. So they’re like, “Yeah, Raven. Not today. Maybe next episode. We love you, though. Go say your line.” I’m like, “Sweet, sweet. That was cool.”

MW: It’s funny to hear you refer to the adults in the room. You’re now one of the adults in the room.

RAVEN: Don’t tell me that. I don’t believe you. No, I’m not. I’m not an adult yet. I pay taxes, but I’m not an adult.

MW: A random question, but maybe not so random, because my husband had the same question when we saw Drag Race pop up on Watch Party. Have you ever met Raven the drag queen?

RAVEN: Yes, I met Raven the drag queen. Quick story — Raven the drag queen let me wear her pads on [ABC Family’s] State of Georgia, because when I started the show they said I was a little too skinny, so they needed me to put on a fat suit of some kind to thicken up. So I went to Raven and Morgan McMichaels, and they gave me their drag queen pads. So I am forever in debt to my fantastic family.

MW: Are you watching the current season?

RAVEN: I am not watching the current season. I watched the highlights, but I’m painting right now and I’m really working on my album, so I’m kind of focused.

MW: Music is helping me get through all of this confinement, so I have to ask: What music are you listening to, or whatever else is that thing that helps put you in a good mental place?

RAVEN: I’m listening to my own music, to be honest with you. And when it’s on Spotify, we’ll let Spotify choose who can be in the rotation, but mostly I listen to myself. [Laughs.] I’m sorry, did I say I was a little egotistical? I’m painting a lot. I am painting my album cover as we speak, actually, which is very cathartic for me, for many other reasons that you didn’t ask. And I’m organizing my house, like every baby drawer. Let’s just keep it 100. My underwear drawer is ridiculously organized. It looks like I’m staying at Victoria’s Secret.

That’s what corona did for me. And I’m kind of afraid to go back to work, because I know it’s going to be a big jumbled mess again because I’m not OCD’ing my house, but it’s definitely kept me occupied. I’m happy I got my house done. Let’s just say I tightened all of the screws in everything. Things are working.

Celebrity Watch Party: John Owen, Rob and Matthew Lowe

MW: Why is painting cathartic for you? Is it a relationship issue? Is it getting out feelings that you’ve been dealing with?

RAVEN: Painting is all of the above and more. Painting is a way to express myself. It’s a way to express the emotions I don’t know how to express. It’s a way to create something without anyone else’s teeth in it. The art that I’m a part of, we have a director, we have a writer, we have an EP, we have a dialogue coach. There’s a lot of people telling me what to do within my television and acting. I feel with my painting, I’m able to express it with no other person, right? It’s really cathartic for me.

MW: I get that. Also, that might change if you were showing it to people. Do you plan to show your paintings?

RAVEN: I do. I do plan. For the first part of, the first month of corona, maybe a little bit less than a month, from maybe 10 o’clock at night to three o’clock in the morning, I’d be on Instagram, and my fans and I are painting. We’re painting together. We’re listening to music, we’re painting, and I showed them there, from start to finish. Everybody was like, “I want a print.” I was like, “I’ll do a print when I’m super comfy to get it out of my hands.” Now it’s still in my hands. I can tweak it as much as I want to, but to really share my art it’ll probably happen next year or the year after.

MW: Do you title them?

RAVEN: Sometimes. It depends, it depends. One of them was called Swole, and it was my 3D art piece that I did outside. I did a live art piece where I painted everything black and stuffed clothes in, and created 3D human sculptures coming off of a piece of wood, along with all of the extra things that I’d gotten from all of my travels. Sunglasses, jewelry, knick knacks and paddy whacks that I’d received from different shows and it was called Swole, so it’s that way.

MW: What’s the scale of that?

RAVEN: That was around eight to nine feet tall, two feet wide.

MW: Looking ahead to summer, and with projects that you’re hoping to launch, this country is in the midst of something unprecedented and completely uncertain in how it will end. How do you hope we come out of this?

RAVEN: I hope we come out of this smarter. I hope we come out of this cleaner. I don’t mind wearing a mask in public. I’ve been to other countries where that is the norm, and it’s just another fashion accessory, with some health benefits I’m sure. But we can look at it as a little bit of a fashion statement.

Celebrity Watch Party airs Thursdays on FOX at 8 p.m. ET. Visit www.fox.com.

Raven’s Home airs multiple times daily on The Disney Channel. Check your local listings, or visit www.disneynow.com.

Follow Raven on Instagram at @ravensymone.

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André Hereford covers arts and entertainment for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at ahereford@metroweekly.com. Follow him on Twitter at @here4andre.

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