Syleena Johnson Talks “Woman” Album, Fitness Competitions, Her Doc-Series (Exclusive Interview)

Syleena Johnson is one of those artists who has simply given us so much quality music for so long now. Although she has flown under the radar at times, it’s been very impressive how she’s found creative ways to remain in the spotlight for her music while pursing her other passions like television and fitness competitions.

We recently caught up with Syleena Johnson for an interview to discuss her latest album “Woman”, how she got into fitness competitions, her recent docu-series, staying true to herself, and much more

YouKnowIGotSoul: Congratulations on your new docu-series “One Stage To The Next”. For those like us who know you very well from music, how did you originally get into fitness competitions?

Syleena Johnson: I’ve always wanted to do it since 2003 or 2004, but because I was so knee deep in my music career, the trainer that I was training with at the time, told me it would be too hard. He kind of discouraged me. As entertainers, we’re constantly working out or training for something. Plus I was a three sport athlete. It was just second nature for me to train for something like this. I’ve always wanted to do it. The trainer that I had was a body builder, and I used to see all the different pictures of people he was training. I was so intrigued by the sport. I didn’t get the balls to do it! *Laughs* Until I was 42 years old, which is nuts, but better late than never I guess.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Which stage do you feel the most pressure on, when performing your music, or when competing in fitness competitions?

Syleena Johnson: Ummm, I’d say the hardest stage is the fitness competition stage. It’s nuts because it’s very quick. But the build up to it is nuts! It’s not artistic at all. It’s not creative, there’s nothing creative about it. It’s extremely technical. The fun part and creative side of me comes on stage, that’s when you wear the costume and can pose. But when I’m on stage, it’s probably 10 seconds! It’s really quick. You train for months and months for three moments of 15-20 seconds. That’s to me boring! If you look at overall, that part is a harder pill to swallow. I’ve been performing on stage since I was a little girl. Performing live and singing and creating albums since I was 15 years old. That has become second nature. That is where my heart is, I’m in therapy on stage, I’m going through mental and emotional roller coasters. I’m everything and then I leave it there. When I get off the stage I can go back to being whatever I was before I got on there. That is something that I have grown accustomed to and grown used to, it’s in my DNA. I wouldn’t say that it’s easy, but it’s so rewarding that even the hard stuff feels easy.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s talk about music a bit. During the docu-series, there is footage of you recording your latest album “Woman”. How do you reflect back on that album since it came out?

Syleena Johnson: I have to say, it’s really painful. That’s because I dropped that album in 2020, January 31st. Right after that, I was supposed to go on the road, but then Covid hit, and took away everything that I had worked for two years in regard to that album. I’d been working on that album since 2018. It took away the promotion of that album, and the pandemic also took away the eyes from music. Who had time to worry about music, when we were just trying to survive? In that moment, catching Covid could have meant death for people. We watched death on television and people dying in social injustices. We watched police officers killing people. We watched protesting. People dying in protesting. Literally watched death unfold on television. Then we watched our government speak death over our country. It was just an awful year all around. Musicians lost their job, they lost their stage, my talk show was canceled. Thank the lord I picked up Fox Soul, but Sister Circle was canceled after three years. It was a lot of heartbreak. When I think of the “Woman” album, I think of how many possibilities it was supposed to have. It was the first album that wasn’t a “Chapter”, it was supposed to be my step out on my own album, talking about Woman stuff. The pandemic just stole it. It’s hard for me to accept, but I’m thinking of releasing a live album, on the same day of the anniversary, around the same time. I’m also getting ready to record a new album. It’s scary. The “Woman” album was so good, and I don’t even know what more I can say. I’m 14 albums in, and you’ve always got to top the previous.

YouKnowIGotSoul: The amazing thing is that even if people might have missed that album when it came out, your music will live on forever, and can be discovered at any time by music fans on streaming. Going back to your entire discography, we really have to thank you for all of the great music you’ve given us over the years.

Syleena Johnson: Thank you. It’s platforms like you guys, that have kept our music alive. With your listeners and viewers, your work behind the scenes, how you research. It’s people like you guys who keep us alive, and some of the underrated artists alive. Pretty much we are all the same. It’s just a matter of opportunity between us. You allow us to keep the interest of our fans, and have avenues and outlets for our fans to be able to know what we’re doing. Like right now. So thank you guys.

YouKnowIGotSoul: We’ve got to give you props for always persevering and still being here. A lot of artists who came out around the time you did, really haven’t made it this far. We thought R&B Divas was a great outlet at the time for you to let people know you were still here. What was your take on that experience?

Syleena Johnson: It was supposed to be our platform to present what our music is, our talent, these voices. You had amazing voices on this cast. Sisterhood within music. What it turned into was, and I won’t say whose fault it was, I don’t know whose fault it was, but because of the reality world climate at the time, it kinda ended up swaying to that catty TV. It was never supposed to be like that. It really was supposed to be a docu-series and been more of an informative, real-life depiction of what we actually go through, how music is created, how black women in the industry are painted in terms of personality, how we are not compensated the same way men are and have the same records sales. It was supposed to blow the whistle on the struggle. I guess they didn’t feel like that was important enough. They felt like we needed to fight, be stupid, curse each other out, have a bad time. So scenarios were perpetuated to bring that to fruition. It started off in the beginning, the intention of it I believe was to do just that. The climate I believe made it sway a different route. I think if it came back it may be better in this climate because of what has gone on in our country. Really just trying to get away from that fighting on TV stuff. I don’t think people really want to see that anymore. I don’t think that’s interesting like it used to be, people are sick of that, it stresses you out! I think if it did come back, and it did have an energy to really show the music and the beauty of what it does for people, and what it does for us. I feel like if we were in a predicament where a show could be presented in that light, it would be amazing. I think that’s probably more of what you’re looking for. And then it would push and promote all of this music. It could be women and men, it doesn’t need to be a straight cast of women. The camaraderie, how we stick together. It doesn’t have to be throwing glasses and foolishness. For me, R&B Divas was some of the worst behavior I had to have. That’s the type of stuff you’re not supposed to see! Looking back, I don’t think it was good, I think it was awful actually.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s talk more about the new music you’re working on. Sonically, what’s the direction you’re going?

Syleena Johnson: I would like to go 70’s R&B. I would like to give Marvin Gaye, I would like to give the soundtrack of the Civil Rights movement. That energy in terms of music, but with 2022 lyrics. I am an R&B singer, that is Rhythm & Blues, that’s where it comes from. I’m not interested in these new beats and waves. There are some amazing artists out that have some excellent music. I absolutely love HER I absolutely adore Jazmine Sullivan, she to me gets it. I absolutely adore Ari Lennox. I love some of Summer Walker’s stuff. I love Jhene Aiko. Of course Mali Music. There’s so many men out too. Khalid. Daniel Caesar. There is some great music out here. But I am from the old school. I want to bring back the origin of the soul in the music. The soul is missing. You’re going to get it from Anthony Hamilton, from Kenny Lattimore, I love Kevin Ross right now. Jacob Banks is phenomenal. There is some good stuff out there, but I want to bring back that old soul and give them today’s feelings.

YouKnowIGotSoul: What’s great listening to your latest album “Woman” is you always know how to keep it authentic. You’re not chasing a younger audience, you’re not chasing what’s trendy. How hard is it to do maybe what’s not popular even if it means staying true?

Syleena Johnson: I can never not be me. It’s just something I don’t know how to do. I feel like if you start being something else, then you’re going to have to keep that up, and that’s not who you are. I also have found that sometimes when an artist tries to change, then the fans that they did have, are now pissed. Now you lost them. You can find a fine line between doing both. Let’s just keep it real, you can do it in Pop music, you can’t do it in R&B. For example, Pink came out singing R&B music. Then she turned around and is all the way Pop music. But she still blows. But she really realized that this is what she wanted to sing. Me personally, I love Soul music and R&B music, but I love Sade. That’s my favorite artist of all time. If I could do a whole album and just sound like Sade, I’d be perfectly fine, but I think my fans would be pissed! So I won’t do that, but you will hear moments of that. That’s how I satisfy myself as well. I have to be happy with it because I have to do it on stage. Artists still need to evolve with music, but you have to stay true to who you are. You evolve with the times and stay true to who you are, because you still have other fans. I think the artists that does this excellently is Beyonce. She’s the same voice but her music evolves and it’s ok. She’s still true to what she has done. That’s easier to do in Pop music, it’s already popular. But technically they weren’t supposed to be Pop, they were singing Black Music that became popular. But for me, it’s something I choose to do for the fans I have. They’ve been loyal and I don’t want to disappoint them.

YouKnowIGotSoul: What can we expect in 2022 from Syleena Johnson?

Syleena Johnson: You can expect touring. You can expect more television. I love television. I really want to get more into it. You definitely, positively, can expect another album. Two more actually to be exact. You will get a live album and a brand new album. I’m almost done building my home studio, so that I can just be as creative and in a comfortable space as possible. It’s definitely going down, I’m never going to stop doing music, you’re going to get more television shows. You’re going to get more Syleena Johnson in other components. But you will never not have the music.

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