In a climate dominated by pop, dance and hip-hop, it can be hard out there for an R&B artist. And that doesn't include life issues like addiction, abusive relationships and financial hardships. But in life-as onstage-the show must go on.
That's the premise behind "R&B Divas." The TV One cable network series focuses on singers -- and friends -- Faith Evans, Nicci Gilbert, Syleena Johnson, Monifah Carter and Keke Wyatt. Standing at different crossroads in their respective careers, the ladies also seek a rewarding balance between their entrepreneurial aspirations and personal lives.
"We're not about jumping on tables and throwing bottles," says Evans, who doubles as the series' co-executive producer with Gilbert. "We wanted to show regular life behind the music. We're still human but with resolution, helping each other through situations."
One of the quintet's rewarding resolutions takes center stage on Oct. 2 with the release of "R&B Divas." Spotlighting music featured and inspired by the series, the album was executive-produced by Evans and is being released through her eOne Music-distributed label Prolific Music Group. The label's initial output was Evans' 2010 album, "Something About Faith." It debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard 200 and at No. 4 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and has sold 77,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Reminiscent of the 1995 female-centric "Waiting to Exhale" soundtrack, "R&B Divas" provides a platform for the ladies to shine vocally together and separately. Lead single "Tears of Joy," penned by Claude Kelly, who co-produced with Chuck Harmony for Evans, moves 29-26 on Adult R&B and debuts at No. 92 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. Rounding out the 12-song set are standouts like the show's theme, "Lovin' Me"; "Sisterfriend"; and a cover of Cyndi Lauper's No. 1 "True Colors" with Fantasia and Kelly Price. Mike City, Shep Crawford, Rykeyz and Big Jim Wright also produced on the project
"This album is a reminder that R&B is something our culture is hungry for," says Evans, who's also working on her next solo album due next year. "There's still a need for what we bring to the music game."
The idea of recording "an album of stellar music with great female singers" first came to Evans several years ago, but simmered on a back burner until last February. That's when Evans, Wyatt, Monifah and Gilbert attended a Grammy Awards weekend celebration at Los Angeles nightclub Tru Hollywood. That event, "Kelly Price & Friends Unplugged: For the Love of R&B," featured performances by Price, Evans, Wyatt, Monifah and what tragically turned out to be Whitney Houston's last onstage appearance. Fittingly, a portion of the "R&B Divas" proceeds will benefit the Whitney E. Houston Academy of Performing Arts in East Orange, N.J.
"With all of us in the building that night, I had a revelation that we needed to work together on an album," Evans says. Then after TV One signed on, she adds, "everything lined up by divine order."
"R&B Divas" ends its eight-episode run on Oct. 8. The one-hour series premiered Aug. 20 and became the most-watched original premiere in TV One's history-drawing nearly 900,000 total viewers during its debut and encore airings, according to Nielsen. Phil Thornton, one of the series' executive producers, says the show's success proves that "you don't have to be a train wreck to reach a lot of eyeballs. There's a genuine bond that comes across on camera."
While there's no official word yet concerning a second season or a possible tour behind the album, the ladies are busy with other projects. Wyatt has reunited with singer Avant on new single "You & I." Gilbert has launched plus-size clothing line Curvato as Monifah and Johnson are onboard with solo album projects. And Evans is rolling out her Glass Hair Products venture.