At first "Monica: Still Standing" sounds a little dull -- a reality show that doesn't focus on catfights and drunken outbursts, but instead features R&B singer Monica Arnold performing in church, having a quiet dinner with her fiance and celebrating her album release with her family and the mayor of Atlanta. But the 29-year-old is banking on her recent BET success to help launch her first album in four years and cement her place as a mature, family-oriented woman capable of speaking to other middle-class African-Americans.
"I originally didn't think it'd be a good idea -- I assumed it would be what you usually see on reality TV," says Monica, who uses just her given name professionally. "But they told me it wouldn't be scripted -- it would just be me. If they would've gotten me 12 years ago, they would've gotten a lot of drama. That's just not the life I'm living anymore."
Monica has taken a few years off to focus on raising her two sons, 4-year-old Rodney "Lil Rocko" III and 2-year-old Romelo, with her fiance, rapper Rodney "Rocko" Hill Jr. Her last album was 2006's "The Making of Me," which has sold 323,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
She's preparing to release a new album, "Still Standing," March 23 through J Records, and the singer says she's "back full throttle." Monica also will continue to work on her reality show; the series' first season just wrapped on BET, and she's in negotiations to film a second go-round.
EAGER TO TESTIFY
"I've gone through so many different things that my testimony should be shared," Monica says. "Even if you can't relate all the way, maybe some things that I've experienced will make the load feel lighter for the next person. The idea was to strip down the album to remind people I am human -- to share my life experiences and tell people how I got through them over a real '90s-mixed-with-modern sound."
J Records senior vice president of urban marketing Carolyn Williams says it's this same honesty and growth that keep Monica's fans by her side. "One thing that's unique about Monica is that she's a different type of survivor -- she has a different type of success story," she says. In 2001, her boyfriend committed suicide; a few years later, she went through a rocky relationship with rapper C-Murder. "You don't have to come from a poor background or deprived upbringing to experience life-changing pain."
Williams says the show has helped tremendously in promoting Monica's album. "The interesting thing about Monica is that she has an audience that ranges from the '106 & Park' audience to the gospel demographic and everything in between," she says. "We launched the single during the show's finale week, and all her fans were able to see the genesis of the album and what goes into creating and finding a single. It was a great lead-in to this project."
That first single, the Missy Elliott-produced "Everything to Me," entered Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at No. 61 in early February, and jumped to No. 19 on the most recent list. Other songs the feel-good "Betcha," which samples an Evelyn "Champagne" King beat; and "Just Me," which Monica says has a beat that "rappers can be on, but I'm singing on that track, much like I did before when I sampled LL Cool J's 'Back Seat' track" on her breakthrough single "Don't Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)." The album's Ludacris-assisted title track is the theme song for her BET show.
The network will partner in promoting the album. A half-hour special is already in the works as well as some performances, a behind-the-scenes "Access Granted" episode and the premiere of Monica's video on BET. Some late-night and daytime show appearances are being scheduled, and the singer is in talks with BET to join its "106 & Park" tour beginning in April.
In addition, Monica is working on her boys' clothing line, Regions of Rock, which was inspired by her sons. It will be available in department stores by the end of the year.
Aside from the album and the promotion that goes behind it, the fashion line is the only thing Monica has scheduled for 2010. "I'm not a person that believes in planning a lot," she says. "Whatever comes my way, I'll move toward it."