Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child
By Bryan Buss
In our March issue, Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child talked about playing an HIV-positive character on UPN's Half & Half. Below is the full interview in which she tells us what she thinks of Alec Mapa, how she reconciles her beliefs about God with the gays in her life, and what becomes of the sexy outfits she gets to wear in her music videos.
You play an HIV-positive character on Half & Half who dates Spencer (Chico Benymon, pictured, with Williams). So did you read up on HIV or AIDS in order to learn more about what the character would be going through?
Actually, when I was in college, I was a peer educator about HIV, AIDS, and STDs, so I got the chance to really look at the statistics and really get to know about HIV and the fact that all these myths can be uncovered. I like the fact that with the medication out there you can live and you don't have to sell out your dreams and goals. You don't have to sell out your life experience. And I've known people who have died from AIDS and I know other people who have lost people close to them as well. So I'm not just playing something that I don't know anything about. I kind of picture myself in this role, this Naomi Dawson, as a record executive who's very successful, people look up to her, but she kind of has this secret, that she is HIV positive, and Spencer is into her' And he tells her that it doesn't matter. We may have to do things differently if we decide to do them one day, but I'm liking you as you are. And she hasn't been told that in maybe six years. She hasn't had any serious relationships. She caught HIV from her first boyfriend, they didn't wear a condom. But Spencer still loves Naomi. It's wonderful because I'm happy to be part of this life-changing episode that I think will be big, because you can tell people that are living with HIV and AIDS that someone out there can like you. It takes an angel to come down and say 'It's OK. I'm gonna love you.' I think that'll make that person feel like they can live even longer. You know, you need the medications, but when you're in love too with someone that really loves you, to have somebody understanding'just to find somebody period. Someone who's understanding, and loving, and likes you for you. That's hard to come by these days.
Did you enjoy working on the show?
I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. Everybody here is so amazing and so cool. You know, they're looking at me, like, 'Wow, Michelle, you're normal!' I'm like, 'Yeah, I am!' But you always come to places with different expectations of people that you never worked with and yet they have expectations of you. Or they may have heard rumors about you. And then you come on here and you tell people, 'Hey, I'm normal, I'm like everybody else.' So we all get along so well. I told my manager, I said, 'They're gonna have to kick me off of this, because I'm not leaving.'
Did you get to work with out funny guy Alec Mapa, who plays Adam?
Alec'incredible! Hilarious. I love him so much. I love his spirit, I love his energy. He's just hilarious on the set, off the set. His humor is incredible.
Do you plan to pursue more acting after this?
I definitely plan on pursuing more acting. I've been having meetings with various people and some scripts are coming my way, so I'm taking this thing seriously. I love music, and I love acting. I was able to do some Broadway in New York. I played Aida in Elton John and Tim Rice's musical Aida, so that opened up a great door for me. I'm gonna do some more Broadway next year as well.
Regarding Destiny's Child's retirement. You guys are so hot, you're on top of the world right now, so why retire now?
Because it's better to retire when you areon top, when you still can say you really love each other. And it's best to do it now instead of being mad at each other. We've been able to overcome so many obstacles and stand through storms that no one else seems to be able to manage. And we were able to do it. We all have the same dreams, the same goals and aspirations, and we've sold 50 million records collectively. And, yeah, I'm sure we could've sold more, who's to say. I look at so many people who say they've retired, but because of the love of the music, they always come back.
You also had a #1 gospel album, Heart to Yours. How do you reconcile your religious beliefs with your gay fans?
You know what, I just say that your spirituality is kind of a personal thing between you and God. I don't force my beliefs on anyone else, and if someone asks me a question about something, then I'll share with them, and I'll tell them the truth, because the thing that people are looking for nowadays, they just want the truth, you know, someone to be loving and compassionate, but at the same time tell them the truth. My relationship with God I think is absolutely incredible because I wouldn't be sitting here if it was not for Him.
Have you always had gay people in your life?
Yeah. You know, definitely there's people that surround us, and we don't even look at them or single them out, you know, oh, you're gay or anything. You know, you can't say, oh, you're gay or you're black or you're this, you're that. No, you're you.
How was it working as a backup singer for Monica?
It was really wonderful. She is just absolutely an incredible artist. I think she's working on some new material. So hopefully she's gonna come up with something soon. She just had a baby boy not too long ago, too.
What's your favorite Destiny's Child song?
My favorite Destiny's Child song' Um' Wow, I think the song 'Stand Up For Love.' I think that's one of the best songs that we've done collectively. Vocally, it's incredible. It's for the World Children's Day. And I'd say 'Say My Name.' That's a nice one. That was a hot song. OK, 'Say My Name,' 'Cater 2 U,' 'Stand Up For Love,' and 'Free,' which is on the Destiny Fulfilled album.
You don't just sing, you're also a songwriter. How do you find inspiration as a songwriter and what is the difference in the two ways you express yourself, through singing and writing?
Through songwriting, you just kind of write about your experiences, what you've gone through, or you take other people's experiences that inspire you. And then singing it, the fact that you wrote it is almost like you can feel it better. Even if you didn't write it, but it's written for you, someone decided to look at your life and write something for you, you can sing something that you really feel, something that you're familiar with. It comes across. And I encourage singers to try to write everything in a journal, and before you know it, you can start writing a song. And it's weird, too, because it really helps.
You and the group did a song called 'Survivor.' If the three of you were on the show Survivor, who do you think would come out on top, and why?
Wow, we all would.
It's a big difference going from studying criminal justice at Illinois State and performing before thousands. Do you think you'll go back to get your degree at any time?
You know, it's funny that you say that, because I was just thinking about going back to school because sometimes I talk to kids about staying in school, but at the same time, I'm like, Yeah, but I dropped out of college. But it's like, I want to go back and also be an example to my younger sister as well because she clearly has it backwards right now' I just really think going to school, getting your education, having something to fall back on [is important]. I want to go back to school and study because I love the criminal justice field. Maybe one day I could help juvenile delinquents turn their life around.
You mentioned 'Stand Up For Love' and World Children's Day. You guys were global ambassadors for 2005. Is it important for you to be involved in charity?
If you're not [involved in charity], then I'd have to look at you a little sideways. Like, how can you not bless someone when you've been totally blessed? Even if you're not blessed so much, you can donate to the Salvation Army, giving a few dollars, you know, even at McDonald's, the change, you can use that and drop it right into those little things in front of the cash register. Everybody can play a part in charity' It always feels good to be able to make somebody smile and have a good day. You can't sit around all posh and have a great lifestyle if you don't do anything to help somebody else because one day it could all be taken away from you. And one day you're gonna need the help.
What celebrity's given you the best advice on how to handle fame?
Janet Jackson. We were in Holland at the TMF awards and something she said to us that we are now able to do is, she said, 'Live your lives. Don't let it all pass you by 'cause you just work, work, work, work, work, work, work. Enjoy it. Smell the roses. If you go to a city you've never been, take time out to be a tourist. Go to the caf's. If you're in Paris, go to the Eiffel Tower. Do this, do that.' And it really helped us, kind of like, you know, she is right. Now that we don't have to work so much now, you know, we still work hard, but now we can really enjoy the places that we actually go to.
Who inspired you as you grew up in terms of wanting to be a performer?
I grew up in church, and that definitely helps. There's a producer, a friend of mine, named 'Big Jim' Wright. He works alongside Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and he's given me some of the best advice on performing. It's being real, keeping that emotion. [Also,] learning from Beyonc' and Kelly when I first got in the group because all I wanted to do was sing in the background. I said, You know what? I got my mind made up on the people I want to sing background for. I want to sing background for Whitney Houston and Luther Vandross. And I actually had the chance to open up for Mr. Vandross on my first solo tour. And I told him, 'You know what? I have to sing background now. You are one of the only two people that I would sing background for.' Because I like their professionalism'. Learning from Beyonc' and Kelly really keeps me going.
What advice would you give to aspiring performers and singers?
I would tell them, make sure that this is something that you really want to do, because there are going to be some times in which it's not gonna be like you think. I mean, when I first got in the biz, I thought, Ooh, I'm gonna get my hair and makeup done! But I didn't realize that I'd have to wake up at 6 in the morning, gotta work till 8 o'clock that night, do interviews, then you gotta worry about the criticism, you gotta worry about this and that, and, you know, the money'it doesn't come at you right away. So don't get in here for the wrong reasons. If you're coming in here thinking you're gonna make money right away, you're not. A lot of people you think that got a lot, they really don't. Only be comin' in because you love to sing or you love to dance or you love to produce. Only come in here because you love the art.
How does it feel to be a sex symbol?
Wow. A sex symbol. I don't know. I don't consider myself a sex symbol. We in Destiny's Child, we always say sexiness comes from within, not because of what you got on or anything. But being classy and mysterious, that's always good.
Do you ever get to keep any of the slinky clothes you get to wear in some of your videos?
Yes, we have a big old closet in Houston, Texas, where a lot of that stuff goes.
Do you consider yourself a diva? You know gay guys love their divas!
Well, yeah, I do consider myself to be a diva, but a good one.