I am so honored & grateful to have been interviewed by Shawn Setaro for Forbes about Finding Forever please check it out.
Karyn White is a name that anyone who loves 1980s R&B will remember instantly. Her hit songs “Romantic,” “Secret Rendezvous,” and the iconic 1989 smash ”Superwoman” made her a star. She made records with some of the top production teams of the era, including L.A. Reid & Babyface and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (the last of whom was also her husband for most of the 1990s).
After a long break from the entertainment industry, during which she had a successful run in real estate, White returned to the music industry in 2012 with her album Carpe Diem/Seize the Day. But now she’s adding a new line to her extensive résumé – actress.
We called White to talk about acting, music, and why she had to quit cheerleading to save her singing career.
Shawn Setaro: How did Finding Forever come about?
Karyn White: [Series creator, writer, and director] Stacey Muhammad reached out, looking for the lead and an executive producer. Her partner said, “We can’t wait to see her. She just moved to Atlanta, and it sounds like a perfect fit.” They were talking about doing a modern-day How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and people always mistake me for being a lot younger than I am. I got my swag on these days [laughs].
I met and read for the part, and we talked business-wise. It was a great connection. I have a company, Karyn White Enterprises, which released my last album, and we’re in the process of producing various film projects. So this was just something that was the right thing at the right time, and I was able to get on board as an executive producer. I’m really excited about working with Stacey and [co-executive producer] Mark Lamont Hill, and it’ll be a great project.
S: The Terri character, like you, has a child who is a young adult and has recently left home. Was that something added to the character after you came on board, or was that in the script already?
KW: No, that was in the script. Leaving New York, being in the entertainment industry – there were a lot of similarities between me and Terri. I understood the relationships with younger guys, because I did that in the past, and it didn’t work out. But I could definitely relate to what she was going through – this whole thing of aging and saying, do I still have it? I had all of these things in common with the character, so it was great.
Neil, who is played by Travis Cure, is this model, a pretty beautiful man. It was pretty easy to have a connection with him as the lead character.
S: He’s better known as a model than as an actor. Was this his first major acting role?
KW: Yes. And he’s a natural. He’s really, really good. I love the fact that he’s taking it serious and he really wants to be an amazing actor. It’s really great chemistry overall.
S: You had a couple years of looking around for the right film project before settling on this. What was that period like of trying to transition into film?
KW: What I will say is that I have such respect for actors. Mainly because, when I got into the music industry I was young. I started out my career and things happened fast. At 18, I’m signing to Warner Brothers with Benny Medina as my executive A&R person. I left the industry for 17 years raising my daughter, and was doing other things. I come back in and I’m like, wow, being an actress is really tough!
It had nothing to do with, I had a brand and I was popular in the 80s. It’s the work. I really love the fact that I didn’t get to hide behind previous success that I’ve had. I got in there grinding and going to auditions just like any other actress. I’m going to classes, I’m really taking this thing seriously. But I’m seeing that I’m really loving it and I’m growing. I love acting, and I’m really excited about it because I feel like it’s a career where you don’t have such a timeline on your age. There’s roles for everyone – more so than music, where artists are younger and people say you’ve kind of had your day. For me, it’s a new venture. I’m just glad to have something that excites and moves me, and acting really does.
S: In those early auditions, were there ever any times when you were like, “I’ve got Grammy nominations, I’ve got hit singles. Do I really need to go through this audition process like I’m a newbie?”
KW: No. Because I really broke myself down. When I left, I became a businesswoman. I was flipping homes. I would buy homes and decorate and make them beautiful. I was very successful. I did that until the market collapsed in 2007. I needed to get out of there before I made some bad business decisions. So I just emptied myself. Stepping away from the industry, I wasn’t bitter. I looked at it like, this is another venture. Now I’m coming back not expecting anything. I knew it was about the work.
S: You did real estate for a long time, and you got out of it a year before the crisis. Did you have a sense that, hey, something’s not right here?
KW: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I lost, but I didn’t lose as much as I could have. I had the instinct that there were too many loans, and everything was being approved. I would be getting like 30% appreciation in two years on the houses that I would buy. It was just crazy.
The last house I sold was to a ballplayer in Sacramento, and he bought it in 2007. Every time I would buy a house, I would go up, use the money that I made and invest that back. There was a formula that I had. So I had sold the house for $2 million, and I bought it for $1.4 [million]. Right after I sold him the house, maybe a year later, he ended up getting traded and the house wound up going into foreclosure, and it’s on the market for $750,000 [laughs]. I was just like, thank you God! It was in the air, but I guess when you want something to keep going, it’s easy for your heart to go, yeah, I want to keep making 30%, you know? So I had to get realistic on that.
S: I read that you were discovered by Don Cornelius. Is that true?
KW: Yeah, somewhat. I remember being 17, just graduated from high school. I really don’t want to just give the credit to Don Cornelius, because it was O’Bryan, but Don Cornelius was O’Bryan’s manager. O’Bryan was an 80′s up and coming singer, really talented. He was a sex symbol back in the day. They auditioned all these singers to go on the road. We were opening for the group Cameo on a tour. I was 17. I went to an audition, and Don Cornelius was like, I think she’s great.
I felt like Don was a father figure to me. He was very encouraging in my career. He would send me money. I think he saw that I was going to make it happen. At 18, I wrote a song for Stephanie Mills. I invested the money that I made from the song. I was in the Bay Area, working with musicians and trying to come up with a demo tape.
He found out that I was serious about what I was doing and, like I said, would send me money and encourage me. Whenever I’d come to Soul Train, he’d say, “Do you want to dance today?” I was able to get featured with Jeff Lorber, a jazz fusion artist, as a singer [White sang on Lorber’s 1986 album Private Passion], and my career took off.
S: Do you ever see old footage of yourself dancing on Soul Train?
KW: Yes, I do. [Laughs]. Now I think, oh my God, what was I doing? But it’s fine.
S: After you wrote the song for Stephanie Mills, how did you have the presence of mind to save the check you got and put it into getting your career started?
KW: When I went to elementary school, I was this little producer and promoter. I created my world. I was saying that I want to dance, I want to perform, I want to sing. I had a vision about where I wanted to be at a young age. I knew that I wanted to be in the entertainment industry. I was great at separating myself and focusing on just accomplishing a goal.
I also quit cheerleading. I was the co-captain, and I said, it’s ruining my voice, I’ve got to quit. For me, cheering was everything. We had a great team at Westchester High. Ken Norton’s son was a football player. We were very popular in the league. I quit because I saw that doing all the hollering out there was making my voice change. That’s when I knew I was really serious.
S: Benny Medina was involved in your career very early on. This was before he became the manager-to-the-stars he is now. What do you remember about Benny?
KW: I loved Benny. He was always brilliant at putting the right people together. He was like, “I want you to come meet this duo. They just did something with The Whispers, they’ve got something with Bobby Brown coming out. I think they’d be a good fit for you.” I was like, okay. We met, and so the whole introduction with Babyface and L.A. [Reid] came from Benny Medina.
He had the vision of being able to separate me as an artist. I did the sex symbol stuff, but having such an iconic song like “Superwoman,” [which Babyface and Reid co-wrote and produced] that separated me from the Janet Jacksons and the Pebbles and the Jody Watleys. It was substance. I could call him in the middle of the night with an idea. He loved it. It’s no wonder why he’s successful, because it really is what he was meant to do. He’s great at taking people and seeing their gifts.
S: With Finding Forever, how involved are you in the music that will appear on the show? Will there be any Karyn White songs on the soundtrack?
KW: Yeah, there’ll be Karyn White songs. I don’t know if you heard the soundtrack by [producer] Da Dreak – he did the first song. I’m looking forward to working with him. He’s very talented.
As the music director for the show, I have other artists that I want to help. The music is such a big part of filming. It tells a story itself. So I’m definitely going to have music there.
S: Where are you in the production process of Finding Forever now?
KW: We did the sizzle. In May, we’re starting to do the pilot. We’re trying to figure out if we’re going to shoot all the episodes for the first season or if we’re going to just do a pilot, sort of like what the show Being Mary Jane did. We want to get the content out there, but we want to find a good home too.
We’re not afraid to build this thing brick by brick. We just know that we’re not going to stop. We’re going to get to network some way or another. We’ve had a really great start over the Internet. We’ve had a lot of likes and shares, and we’ve got a good buzz about it. People want to hear this black love story, the modern-day How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
S: Do you have multi-season arcs sketched out of what happens with Terri?
KW: Stacey Muhammad is actually in the process of finishing the writing. But I love the fact that it’s showing the vulnerability of aging and starting over, of being an empty nester, and of finding love and not knowing if it’s true love.
I really love this character because I can relate to these insecurities, but yet you have so much wisdom as an older woman. It’s very interesting subject matter, and we’ve been getting a lot of feedback about it. Plus, people love Travis when they see him. It’s like, “Oh my God, who is this chocolate drop?” [laughs].