‘Queens’ hopes to earn the respect of television intended for royalty

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NEW YORK – When Naturi Naughton read the screenplay for ABC’s new musical drama “Queens”, a feeling of déjà vu washed over her.

“It’s really a little strange to me. When I read the script, I was like, ‘Oh, this is what I went through. I actually went through some of the dramas and breakups and makeup of being in a girl group, “said Naughton, former member of 2000s R&B group 3LW.” That sense of identity is something to which I connect with my character, Jill. I always felt like I didn’t have enough time to learn who I really was. “

“Queens,” which airs Tuesday nights in prime time and also airs on Hulu, is the brainchild of executive producer Zahir McGhee. The drama follows a popular fictional ’90s female rap team, the Nasty Bitches, starring Naughton, Eve, Brandy, and Nadine Velazquez. The fictional group broke up at the height of their fame, but two decades later – now with members in their 40s – they’re trying to reunite after one of their biggest hits was sampled by a new artist.

A successful 2000s star and the cast’s only professional rapper, Eve was the first actor McGhee had in mind when creating the series. Her character, Brianna (stage name “Professor Sex”), is a mother of five who struggles to find her identity outside of her family while working on her husband’s affair.

Eve, who starred in her own sitcom of the same name from 2003 to 2006, said she had no interest in doing a show where recorded music was at the center, but was drawn to “Queens” because of the depth of the character.

“I don’t just want to do a show like ‘We just throw songs.’ I want to make sure that if I’m going to take that on, I want to be a full and complete character. Once I read it and read the script, I was like, “This is perfect,” “said the 43 The “Let Me Blow Your Mind” emcee recently announced that she was pregnant with her first child. “It’s hip-hop from a woman’s point of view. And I feel like a lot of times when we’ve seen hip-hop it’s from a male point of view.”

Brandy, the R&B icon whose songs and music videos remained in rotation throughout the ’90s and 2000s, has said her character, Naomi (stage name “Xplicit Lyrics”), is a “dream role.” . She plays a singer-songwriter who has struggled with musical relevance since the breakup, while also hoping to mend a strained relationship with her teenage daughter.

Brandy also pointed out that Naughton plays the wife of a pastor who no longer wants to hide her identity after falling in love with a woman.

“This is so much what television needs. And I love that we have the chance to contribute to the diversity of television,” said Brandy, the 42-year-old who appeared on the popular sitcom. from the 90s “Moesha”.

Dramas featuring four women of color on any major U.S. broadcast network are rare, especially one where three of the four stars are in their 40s. But the cast seizes the unique opportunity.

“It’s empowering to show that women of any age, even middle age, can still be sexy, can still look beautiful, can still make a comeback in their careers,” said Naughton, 37, the most famous. for her. starring role in Starz’s former flagship show, “Power”. “One of the things I love about the show is that it gives you the confidence that you can do anything at any age. It’s never too late.”

Velazquez, who left the cinema after not feeling fulfilled, said “Queens” made returning to the industry an easy decision.

“What finally attracted me to this project was the fact that it was diverse, the fact that the character was a woman and that he had experiences similar to those that I have already had”, said the 43-year-old actor “Major Crimes” and Actor “Six”. “I just thought it was just a way for the universe to show me another sign that I was on the right track.”

Velazquez’s character, Valeria (stage name “Butter Pecan”) is the only member of the group to retain any semblance of fame by becoming the host of a morning show until her desire to remain in the limelight. outweighs it. Velazquez, who is currently developing a project called “La’Tina” with Will Smith, is also the only frontman who has not been a professional recording artist.

“I learned between takes. I watched J-Lo videos. I watched TLC… everything I could watch about the ’90s,” she said. “Then everything the girls told me helped me. Eve was very helpful in my rap…

Music director Swizz Beatz, a close friend of Eve and her former colleague and producer Ruff Ryders, directs the music for the show. After chatting with McGhee and the writers of each episode, his team creates raps that follow each character’s story.

While the cast members don’t write their own lyrics, Eve – who mentioned that Swizz left her beats to “sit with” in case she felt the need to recreate some of her old magic – would speak. if the rhymes were out of date?

“One hundred million percent,” she laughs. “That’s one of the things I said to (McGhee). I was like, ‘Bruh, look, you know people will drag us if this music isn’t right.’ Thank goodness he’s a hip-hop fan too. “

Brandy, who released her album “B7” last year to rave reviews, says the series currently has her too busy to work on new music, but she won’t take another eight-year gap between them. albums as she did with “Two Eleven” in 2012. She wants to continue to grow in the profession of actress and would accept to assume more roles in the cinema.

“It’s a dream. I’ve never really taken my acting as seriously as I do now,” said the “Borderline” singer who played Disney’s first black princess in “Cinderella.” alongside the legendary Whitney Houston. “With this show I’m really inspired to keep pushing acting because there is so much I could do.”

Although the series has yet to be renewed, the cast remains optimistic. Eve, who recently took maternity leave to prepare for a February birth after completing her scenes, has left her script open in preparation for a second season.

“Queens” offers a unique perspective on the struggles and success female rappers face behind the mics, and the cast are hopeful that audiences will continue to buy it.

“We are not trying to be younger. We are not trying to be something other than who we are and who we are,” Velazquez said. “I think that’s what people really see, it’s the chemistry and the authenticity that we bring to it.”

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Follow Associated Press entertainment reporter Gary Gerard Hamilton on social media with his handle @GaryGHamilton

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This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Zahir McGhee’s last name.

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