Brandy was riding high. At 15, the singer released her self-titled debut album and racked up hit singles with 'I Wanna Be Down' and 'Brokenhearted,' her duet with Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men. A few years later the Mississippi native found success starring in the sitcom Moesha, which became the UPN network's most successful show. She made her big screen debut in the 1998 thriller I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and also costarred in the made-for-TV movies Cinderella with Whitney Houston and Double Platinum with Diana Ross. However, her career-defining moment came days after her 20th birthday in 1999 when she took home the Grammy Award for 'The Boy Is Mine,' her smash duet with fellow R&B singer Monica.
Then her career came to a halt.
A frail, anorexic, and overworked Brandy was hospitalized for dehydration and exhaustion. She was also trapped in an abusive relationship that she once referred to as 'very bad, very, very bad.' In 2001 Brandy returned to music, releasing Full Moon, followed by Afrodisiac, and last year's Human. All three failed to set the charts on fire. Then on Dec. 30, 2006, her Range Rover crashed into another car, killing a 38-year-old woman. After a year-long investigation, the Los Angeles City Attorney determined that Brandy would not be charged with a crime, but to this day the tragedy still haunts her.
But Brandy Norwood is rising once again. The second season of her VH1 reality show, Brandy and Ray J: A Family Business, will premiere on September 18, and Brandy will also strut her stuff on this season's Dancing With the Stars, premiering Monday, September 20th on ABC.
Out caught up with Brandy in New York just before she began the grueling rehearsals for Dancing With the Stars. In one of her most revealing interviews to date, no subject was off limits and we chatted about everything from living her life in the spotlight to her candid disappointment with her latest album to her love of Diana Ross.
Out: What made you decide to do a reality show?
Brandy: I will be honest -- at first I was a little hesitant. When you're on a reality show you have to be completely yourself, no phoniness. That's what I was concerned about. If you're feeling bad, you have to show that. As a celebrity you've been trained not to let them see you sweat. You always have to keep a smile on your face.
Then what finally made you do it?
I loved the concept with it being my brother, Ray J., my mom, and my dad. Our family is very unique.
We are a family that is trying to build a business. Every family in the world is not doing that. However, for normalcy we are just like everyone else. Also, I think my brother and I are insanely close.
Were you always like that?
It's always been like that, but when we were kids we fought a lot more. I'm his biggest fan. I love being his sister. I wanted people to see that.
But isn't the show scripted?
We're not. I don't know how the others work.
A lot of people in the public eye try to keep their private lives to themselves. Why expose yourself like this?
I don't think for us it's airing our business. We're teaching how to join this business and how to stick together as a family. I think our show is very classy and has a lot of quality.
On one of the episodes from last season you addressed the car accident you were involved in. Why did you decide to put that on TV?
My mom kind of brought it up. I didn't know she was going to. When she felt that I should address it in detail and make a whole interview surrounding it, it freaked me out. I want to do what's best, but at the same time that was such a tragic experience for me. It's almost like you don't want to say anything to disrespect anybody else that was involved. You don't want people to think that it's a publicity stunt.
Did you feel like you were exposing too much?
But I'm really not. I'm putting my emotions out there, but I'm not going into what happened in detail and how. It's not that.
How do you think the episode turned out in the end?
I didn't watch that one.
How did you feel after you addressed it?
I feels better to get it off your chest, but it's a situation I don't think I can ever really explain. It's one of those experiences you wish had never happened. It was something management and publicists thought I should address for some reason.
You had your first hit when you were 15. How is that Brandy different from the Brandy today?
I'm so much more evolved. I'm so much more spiritually grounded and connected. I have more of an idea of who I am as a person and not just as an artist.
And who are you?
I probably have one of the purest hearts you'll ever come in contact with. I'm a very loyal person. I'm fascinated with God and life. I embrace beauty all around me. I love my daughter so much. I try to lead by example as much as possible, without becoming a nun! Even though I am a nun because I don't have a love life! You can definitely rely on me. I'm becoming a better friend as the years go on.
Let's talk about your most recent album, Human.
To hell with that album!
Why? You didn't like it?
I believe a lot of the songs on that album have inspired some of the fans. In that respect it's a blessing. But, where I felt creatively it could've gone and the space I was in creatively, I needed everybody around me to be in that same space.
What would you have liked out of that album?
First of all, it would've been a different album, but with the same inspiration and same blessing for other people. It would've been hotter music and a hotter look. Number 1 on the charts! Platinum!
Which brings up a good point. Your career has slowed down over the years in terms of chart success. How does it feel when you're no longer number 1?
It feels terrible. I say this in the most humble way, but I'm a winner. So, when a winner feels failure, it doesn't feel right or good. It's a like a champion who gets knocked out. That's why I'm so hungry on making this next project about what feels good to my gut. When I follow my intuition or my creative guidance, there's success.
Another difficult obstacle you've faced is an eating disorder. Is that something you still wrestle with?
Oh hell no! I want to be so fit, but I can't get fit! I want my butt back! I want my thighs back! When I was younger I just had all of that. It was a very tough time, and it was around the time when skinny was the thing. I ended up in the hospital. Not just from wanting to be thin, but also from being overworked and not taking care of myself in a lot of ways.
You also struggled to get out of an abusive relationship. What advice would you give to men and women who are in an abusive relationship?
Get out of the situation and understand the worth of who you are. The reason people end up in situations like that is because somewhere in their mind they believe they need this person to validate who they are. That's not the truth. The only person you need to validate yourself to is yourself. You need to tell yourself every day, all day, who you are and say it until you believe it.
Your mother, Sonja Norwood, is also your manager. She's known around the music industry as being very tough. Is she the best manager?
I think she is a great manager because of the passion she has for her artists. She'll fight for artists with everything she's got. It's a little different because she's my mom, so sometimes the dynamic changes when it comes to our relationship, but at the end of the day, I know my mom loves me. She believes in me.
Does she differentiate between Brandy the artist and Brandy the daughter?
She does, and she's learning through the show because she can see herself now. She's learning how to balance it all a little better. It might be a little late because I am 31, but it's never too late to make a difference or make a change.
You once said, "My mom so wants to be a star. It's ridiculous. She so wants to be a star."
I said that?
I could see that. Definitely. It's almost like she is, though. I don't even think she wants to be. She is the star.
Are you a star?
Ummm ' What do you think?
No, no. I want to know your thoughts!
I know what I think in my mind, but I don't know if it's appropriate to say. People can twist it around and project their own negative whatever. But, I know what I know about me. I can say that I am very gifted, and I'm blessed with a unique talent.
Gay men love you.
I love gay men!
Why do you think they gravitate toward you?
One of my best friends is gay. I met him on the Internet about two years ago. He got on the phone with me and said, 'Listen, I'm worried about what's going on with you. I don't see enough press. I don't see enough of this and enough of that.' I asked him why he was a fan, and said, 'I just love the sound of your voice.' I don't know if that's for everybody because I'm not a diva type.
I'm not that at all. I don't know what my other gay fans think, but I do value his thoughts.
Over the years you've worked with some divas. You did Cinderella with Whitney Houston and Double Platinum with Diana Ross --
She was my favorite.
She was just so interesting to me. She was so fabulous. I remember having a conversation with her because you know the whole rumor about her having to be called Miss Ross. I think that's so amazing! I love that! So, I go to her and said, 'I just want you to know that I'm going to be calling you Miss Ross.' She was like, 'No, honey. You don't have to call me Miss Ross. You can call me Diana.' I was like, 'No, you know you want me to call you Miss Ross!' But she was open to me calling her Diana. I called her Miss Ross the whole time, and I think she loved that I respected her enough to call her Miss Ross.
What was she like on the set?
I loved how she did her lines. She wouldn't read the script. She would have her lines playing in her walkman. She would go over the lines in her ear. Then we'd get on set, and she would know all of her lines, and I was just so amazed. What I liked was whatever she wanted she said in a way that was so kind, but she still got what she wanted.
Do you keep in touch?
I've seen her here and there, but I don't have her phone number of anything! I'm mad about that. If her son Evan can call her, why can't I? She does have a cell phone because I every time I see her she's on it.
And what about Whitney? You grew up idolizing her. What are your thoughts of her today?
Her voice is the best voice in the whole world. You know what? Nobody really knows. Nobody has walked in her shoes. We don't know what she's been through. For her to be as brave as she's been to come back time after time and really try, we should applaud her for that. There will never be another Whitney Houston in life.
Your daughter, Sy'rai, turned 8 in June. What kind of mother are you?
I'm a friend. I would love for my daughter to answer this. I'm understanding and very, very loving. I must kiss my daughter a trillion times a day to the point where it irritates her.
Was your mom like that?
She didn't do a lot of that. Not the way I do. My mom was really tough and protective. For me, I'm over the top! I'm tough when I have to be. I'm big on if you know what's right, then do what's right. I never want my daughter to be afraid of me. I don't want her to make the choice out of fear of what I'm going to say. I want her to make the choice because she feels like it's right.
Would you want her to go into show business?
If that's what she really wanted, I would support her. If she didn't want it, I wouldn't encourage it.
What you have done in life besides singing?
I would've been a lawyer. I would've been a hell of a lawyer. Maybe a professor. I probably would've done hair in my spare time.
Out of all of your songs, which is your favorite?
Honestly, I identify with all my songs that I've written. There's this one song that I really love. It's called 'Freedom.' It's not on any of my albums. It's like an unreleased track, but I love that song. Fans can find it on the Internet.
After all that you've done, what are you the most proud of?
In my life, is my daughter. In my career, it's the Grammy. The way I behaved going to get the Grammy ' Oh, my God! So embarrassing. Honey, that was the moment! It was like time had stopped.
If you had to it over, would you have still rushed the stage to accept the award?
If I win ' No, when I win another Grammy, I'm going to do the same thing. I already know my speech!
To learn more about Brandy, visit her official website.