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Interview Wed Jul 03 2013

Andrea Kelly: Reality and Keeping It Real

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Andrea "Drea" Kelly is vivacious, witty, and loaded with artistic talent; as owner of the Andrea Kelly Dance Theater, the Chicago native has emerged, in her own way, from the shadows of her famous ex-husband, R&B superstar, R. Kelly. And now, as part of the ensemble cast of VH1's hit show, "Hollywood Exes," the scene-stealing Kelly has definitely made her mark in the world of reality television.

Having been involved with the entertainment industry for years as principal choreographer and dancer for R. Kelly's award show appearances, music videos, etc., not only has Kelly long been aware of public personas and images, she certainly recognizes the stigma attached to reality TV stars. "If you act a fool, honey, they're gonna edit a fool," she said. Recently, I spoke with Kelly about her love of dance, what fans can expect from the show's second season, and what makes "Hollywood Exes" stand out from its reality television counterparts.

"Hollywood Exes" premiered last year and was a hit for VH1 and the second season gets underway July 8--how does it feel?

It's amazing. I'm just really happy that our audience got it--that they love the show. It's the polar opposite to what's out there when it comes to respect of the African-American woman right now; it's showing us as entrepreneurs, mothers, and friends, and that we really do lean on each other and have each other's back.

Thanks to the show, more people are now aware of your artistry as a dancer and choreographer; in fact, I saw you in action this past spring at the WVON 50th anniversary show--you did your thing!

Thank you! I honestly believe that dancing chose me. My parents said before I could even walk, I danced. I went from scooting around on the floor to one day pulling myself up by the TV and they said one day "Soul Train" was on and I was getting it! It wasn't like that little off beat, jumping around and carrying on, they said I was on beat and keeping time. They said they knew from that moment on what I would be doing. I just feel so free when I'm dancing. I always tell people when I'm on that stage and when I'm dancing, that's when the audience gets to see my soul.

The first season of "Hollywood Exes" showed you dancing and getting the audience more familiarized with the Andrea Kelly Dance Theater, but mostly in the Los Angeles community--will we see any Chicago action on the show during this second season?

We did not get to do much here in Chicago because I was actually healing from that incident I had in first season. So it's just getting to that place when I did that performance here in Chicago--I was like, "What a way to be welcomed back to the stage, here in my hometown." That was my first performance I had done since rehab and working on getting my foot better. So hopefully, if things go well with this second season, we'll bring that to you and we can do some more dancing.

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You travel a lot which means you've seen and know all kinds of dance cultures and style. When you choreograph, do your Chicago roots factor into your routine? Do you mix or merge styles?

I would call it a "dance fusion"--it's a mix of everything. Chicago--we're known for steppin' but we're also known for that "footwork," and I'll throw that in. We grew up with house music and percolatin', and we go in when we're at the parties, so I'll throw in a little bit of that, too. And then you also get that formal training--I love Bob Fosse's Broadway jazz style--that's the one style I love more than anything. You'll also get some African dance and belly dancing, so I'll say my choreography style is "dance fusion," because you get a little bit of everything.

On the show, you openly expressed the difficulty with suppressing your love for dancing because you were mostly relegated to all the behind the scenes action when you served as your ex-husband's background dancer and choreographer. Now that your career continues to grow, what are your thoughts now that you're in front of the camera?

Well, I wouldn't so much say "suppress my love" for the art as much as it was me being on tour--people didn't realize I was right on stage with him as the principal dancer. So I felt like it was a shadow cast on something that was my passion and my love; just like he's just as passionate when he grabs that mic, I'm just as passionate when my feet hit that stage. We did the Billboard Awards and Soul Train Awards--I mean we go back--I even did "The Arsenio Hall Show" with him! Okay, I'm telling you my age right now... [Laughs]. But I have put in the work--and not to get that recognition... It's like, "inside" people knew and the masses saw it, but they just didn't know it was me.

As you know, there are several reality TV shows with predominately African-American female casts and inevitably, there will be comparisons. What would you say makes "Hollywood Exes" stand apart from the bunch?

I would say the thing that sets us apart is because that you're talking about entertainment royalty. You're not talking about a group of women that somebody said "Oh let's just find five women and make them friends and see what happens." Each one of us, we have that bond and those ties from our exes being in the industry.

You mentioned "entertainment royalty"--on other reality shows, many feel that a lack of "star quality" diminishes the show's status or lessens the credibility, somewhat. Given that this is not the case with "Hollywood Exes," do you agree?

Well, we're not talking about a one-hit wonder--we're not talking about somebody where all their films were a flop--we're talking Eddie Murphy, Prince, my ex, R. Kelly, Will Smith, and Jose Canseco. And now, we have Shamicka Lawrence on the show--we're talking Martin Lawrence--that's nothing to blink at. So I think that within itself sets our show apart, but I think the main component that sets us apart from all the other shows is that "Hollywood Exes" is not a show about these men we divorced; it's about these men and these women and why they married us in the first place and why we were dynamic when it came to the relationship. And we're grown women; sometimes, I think when you're put into the limelight and you haven't had that time to mature and grow and develop as a woman, it's a lot. But for us, you [can] put a camera in front of our faces--we had cameras in our faces for most of our lives so it wasn't a shock to our system. It wasn't new. We didn't have to learn how to act in front of a camera--the camera has always been a part of our lives.

Speaking of Shamicka Lawrence, the newest cast member, what's it like with her added to the mix?

Ms. Shamicka--I love her to pieces. She is just a dynamic woman--a beautiful spirit. She is just that sweetness that reminds you of your kindergarten teacher, but don't play with her, because she will get you right together. And you'll see that this second season.

You seemingly get along well with your cast mates; in fact, you've formed a particular bond with Mayte Garcia [ex-wife of Prince] because of your shared dance and choreography background. What is your relationship like?

Mayte and I--our lives are so parallel that we didn't even realize it: We got married on the same day in the same year, we both started as our exes' choreographers and dancers, then we both made that transition to fiancée, then we made the transition as wife and mother. It just amazes us. She has a beautiful spirit and she's so sweet and grounded--she's so resilient and she's been through a lot and she shared that during the first season. And with the second season, for all of us, you'll see so much growth and our bond is so much stronger because at the end of the day, the average person is not going to understand, "Well, you all had these famous actors [or singers]--what do you have to worry about?" It's a lot to worry bout when you're living your life in front of a camera and it's a lot to worry about when you have an argument--it's not just an argument--it's an argument that's now in The [National] Enquirer and in People. When you have somebody who understands yours tears--that they don't look at you and see your tears as like, "Seriously, what are you crying about--you have 'red bottoms'." We have real pain. We go through real struggles. We worry about things like everyone else--it's just on a different level.

In addition to the VH1 show, you also have a book coming out, Under the Red Carpet: My Life as R. Kelly's Wife. Tell us about it.

I'm gonna change my direction--I'm still going with "Under the Red Carpet," but it is going to be motivational speaking and a one woman show. I felt like my audience has just attached to me--because they feel like I'm their sister, their auntie or their home girl--so what better way to get your point across than to sit down and have that intimate moment so they can hear from my mouth. And once you've gotten that taste, that appetizer, you can go get the book for the full course meal. I am a people person, I wear my heart on my sleeve, it is what it is, and I don't know how to be anything else but who I am. I understand not everybody is going to like it but I feel like they will respect it because whether I'm on TV or you see me sitting on that stage doing motivational speaking, one thing you will say is: "Drea is real--all the time."

Will the book still have the subtitle, "My Life as R. Kelly's Wife?"
You know, I think I'm gonna remix that. She's doing very well on her own--we gotta take the training wheels off that bike-we're poppin' wheelies now!

So you've chosen to redirect the book to focus on where you are now, personally and professionally...

I have so much to share with you guys. I feel like I'm on a "me" journey right now, and at the end of the day, because Robert and I are divorced, it doesn't mean we're not family. We have three beautiful children together but right now, it's really my journey. I really want women to get that--to stand on your own two feet, before, during and after.

What will we see on this season--sneak peek what can we expect?

It's the sisterhood, but you're going to see us love each other and get on each other's nerves--and there's gonna be drama and conflict but we still stay true to the root and the foundation that our show was built upon. You'll see us working through the conflicts--the conflicts don't take center stage--how we deal with them is what takes center stage. It's so much fun and so much excitement--it's just a really great season.


Catch the second season premiere of "Hollywood Exes" on VH1, Mon., Jul. 8 at 9pm CST; for more information and a sneak peek, visit

Photo credit: Derek Blanks.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

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