Erica Campbell has learned not to put too much stake into what others—particularly strangers—think about her. But even with that armor, Campbell, one-half the Grammy-winning gospel duo Mary Mary, still feels stressed for her debut solo album, “Help,” to do well.
“I’m meeting people all over the world who have been greatly impacted by what me and my sister do,” Campbell, 41, said as she headed to a rehearsal session about 90 minutes outside of Los Angeles. “And the positive impact is much greater than the negative so I am very proud of the work and I hope to continue to do it as a solo artist.”
Campbell and her singing partner, younger sister Tina Campbell, 39, are currently starring in the third season of their WeTV reality series “Mary Mary.” And if you’ve been watching it, you know it’s been a doozy: the death of their father, conflicts with management and Tina’s unfaithful husband.
The married mother of three talked to XFINITY about her solo album, misconceptions about Christianity and how her reality show, “Mary Mary,” helped her become a better person.
“Mary Mary” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST on WE tv. Watch it here.
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How’s your solo career going so far? Your new CD “Help” drops on March 25.
It is very rewarding in that I am able to be an individual and make my own decisions and give my own yeses and nos. You know, everything has been together for me and Tina from what we’re wearing to what we’re singing so this is giving me the opportunity to stand on my own two feet and become comfortable in my own skin. I’m really learning a lot about myself as an artist and as an individual. I’m enjoying being Erica.
What can we expect from “Help”?
“Help” is a collection of songs that came from my heart and it came from a year that was probably the worst in my life: 2013. It was a very devastating year—to watch my sister go through her marital issues, having another change in management and embarking on a solo career. The album is called “Help” but it’s not a weak help. It’s not a “I don’t know what to do.” It’s a “I know where my help comes from,” “I know who to look to.” Even with the cover, you see a tear coming down my face but you see a lot of strength and determination in my eyes. And that’s really what I want to convey. I want people to know that they are not in this alone and they can overcome. It’s about knowing I’m not a failure; I’m going to make it through this.
Do you have any favorite songs that you like from the CD?
There’s a song called “Any” that I love because it’s talking about my dad. And there’s another song that kind of sounds like a Michael Jackson song that I can’t wait for people to hear. I had a lot of fun in the studio. It’s a really upbeat, creative album. I wanted Tina to come to the studio and help me write but she didn’t. And I think that was a good thing. If you’re going to do it on your own, then stand up on and do it. And that’s what I did.
You mention you’re feeling a bit of pressure for this album to perform well. How are you dealing with it?
Absolutely, I feel it. It is what it is. I feel like what God has given me is wonderful and unique and it’s lacking nothing and as long as I give my best efforts, I don’t have to deal with the pressure of worrying about what people will think or say because I have given it totally and completely from my heart and from the space of trying to connect people to God and continue what Mary Mary has been doing. I try my best to focus on the good, pushing out the negative and focusing on the positive. There are so many negative things in this world and in my life that there’s no need to put extra energy into it. [A lot of worrying about what people will say] is there but I try to minimize it was much as possible. I make sure I’m just giving good music, being creative and that it’s all flowing from my heart. And I believe what comes from the heart reaches the heart.
You said watching your sister Tina deal with her husband’s cheating made 2013 a tough year for you, too.
It was very hard to watch my sister probably have the most difficult year of her life. Our whole family just rallied around her and we were at her house as much as we could be, talking to her. We actually started talking on a family prayer line where we get on the phone every morning at 7:30 and every night at night 6:10 and we pray. We pray for the family, we pray for the marriages, we pray for the children when they go to school. It’s a way of connecting and having the same mind, the same vision and the same goal so we all can be the best that we can possibly be. Prayer is how we made it through. Prayer is how my sister is still smiling, being beautiful and gorgeous, and still glowing. She made it through. She’s so much better. I’m so very proud of her for disarming what could’ve been people finding out or using this against her. She just told you what happened. And so you deal with the shame, you deal with the issue, you deal with the anger and you move forward and try to forgive and be better. That’s amazing to me.
You and your sister had some rocky moments broadcast before the world. Do you have any regrets about revealing so much of your life on TV?
I don’t. I know once you open yourself up, you’re open to people’s criticism and if I cared a lot about what people thought then it would probably really affect me negatively. But I don’t. I do know that there’s more good than bad. And I do know that my sister and I are committed to speaking our truth with love and about having those uncomfortable conversations that sisters have to have about wanting things to change. In the first season, you saw us going to therapy and saying, “things aren’t working for me anymore.” I think a lot of times in families you just move on and get to be 50 or 60 years old and realize “I don’t really like my sister” because of those things that you didn’t address. I didn’t want that to happen and we felt like our music has mostly been inspirational and now it’s an opportunity for our lives to be that way. We’re committed to living what we sing about. And if you listen to our songs, we’ve never claimed perfection. Every song talks about tragedies and trying to overcome them. Everything we sang, we had to go through.
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You say you don’t care what other people think. How is having that attitude beneficial?
When I say that I don’t care, I don’t care about the people who don’t love me. People Like my mom, my pastor, my husband–there are a lot of people I go to for counsel, for instruction, to make sure that I’m not off, that I’m not tripping. And I have an inner desire to be right. When people attack me or my character or my choices and they know nothing about me, they don’t have the facts. If they had the facts, maybe they would feel a different way. I don’t even return anger and negativity to them. If they really knew me, they would understand because the people who really know me understand. And the show is a way for people to try to get to know me and understand my circumstances. If they still don’t understand, they can feel free to watch another show or buy another album or whatever. It’s really about being comfortable with oneself. When I look in the mirror, I go, “Erica, you’re alright; you’re pretty good.” I feel good about me so I don’t let someone else’s negativity damper my spirit. I have enough down days myself, I don’t need to add theirs to mine. Now that’s too much.
Do you find a lot of people put you on a pedestal because you are a Christian?
Absolutely and that’s only because they have a misconception of what they think a Christian is. If they just took a little bit of time and understood who Jesus was and who he hung with and who he was compelled to talk to and how many people he interacted with and how the religious people of that day disapproved of all his actions, then it doesn’t surprise me that people are greatly confused by what a Christian is. A Christian is a lover of God.
What lessons have you learned since working on your reality show?
Whew, because I’m so busy living all of that I don’t usually watch it. I’m more mindful of how I am with my sister. I think this show has made me and Tina more mindful of each other and how we say things and how we do things. Even with my other siblings, it just made me pay attention to how I interact with them. I’d ask, “Is that how I look when I look when I do this? I don’t want to do that again.” It’s made me want to be a better Erica. Not that we are horrible but I probably see flaws that people don’t see. I’m not talking on the outside, I’m talking about the inside.
Do you get to watch any other TV shows?
I do. I love “Scandal” with all my heart.
Did you watch the most recent episode? Who do you think was shot?
I think they shot David the lawyer.
What was the last good movie you saw?
“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” that I saw with my daughter. I just liked enjoying time with my daughter. The movie had a theme about parents and their children and respect and I thought that was a really good message. Before that, the last movie that impacted me was “12 Years a Slave.” That movie shook me to my core. It was a really intense reminder of what happened in this country many years ago and how we’re still seeing the effects of slavery in many, many ways with race relations and dehumanizing individuals and not treating people fairly. That still exists on some levels. It was a reminder that we came a long way and we have a lot to be thankful for.
A few months ago, some members of the Christian community were upset about a form-fitting dress you wore in a photo. Why do you think it rubbed them the wrong way?
I don’t know. I think the curves kind of made people feel uncomfortable. God gave them to me; I didn’t buy them. I just try to work very hard to make sure I maintain a healthy state of being. I’m a mother of three and I represent God so I don’t think I should walk around looking shabby and flabby. I try my best to be healthy and be my best self. The dress isn’t as tight as it looks, it was a comfortable fit. It was form-fitting. I felt beautiful and I felt strong. I’m comfortable with my sexuality and don’t have a problem with it. I think we’ve given sexuality too much negative press and I don’t think sexy is just curves and boobs out.
In the church that I grew up in there were beautiful women around me all of the time. They were very nice, they looked beautiful and they were attractive. Those were my role models. If you grew up in a church where everything was very conservative and you looked at a Christian who comes from California and is a little freer than someone who’s from the Midwest or down South then of course it would be odd to you. But it’s not strange at all.
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Be sure to read our interview with Erica Campbell’s sister and “Mary Mary” co-star, Tina Campbell, here.