Kelly Rowland Paints the Town Red
by john katsilometes
On her way to perform for a crowd of nearly 30,000 at the Supafest music festival at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, Australia, Kelly Rowland takes some quiet time on her ride to the venue to mentally prepare. The lineup is strewn with contemporary music stars, such artists as Chris Brown, Lupe Fiasco, Naughty By Nature and, of course, Rowland herself. It will be very loud later, but for now she is talking softly and peering out toward the fans awaiting entry to the stadium.
“I can’t believe this,” she says. “The line is miles and miles long. My fans are here so early and tweeting from out there. Being able to travel and perform like this—I can’t believe how fortunate I have been.”
Fans have followed Rowland by the millions for more than 15 years, ever since she, Beyoncé Knowles, and Michelle Williams vaulted to stardom as one of the hottest acts in R&B history, Destiny’s Child. In an eight-year burst, the act sold more than 45 million albums around the world and is commonly regarded as one of the great female groups of all time. Their sales rank third in the recorded history of pop music among female groups according to Billboard magazine, trailing only the Spice Girls and TLC. Two of their albums—1999’s breakout The Writing’s on the Wall and 2001’s Survivor— are on the Billboard list of the top 10 female group albums sold worldwide.
But as is often the case with acts that reach fame as one, and early in life, the members of Destiny’s Child splintered off to pursue individual careers. Their fourth and final studio album, the aptly titled Destiny Fulfilled, was released in the winter of 2004.
For Rowland, who has been a famous figure since her teens, going solo has meant consolidating her thoughts and her maturing message and speaking directly to the fans. She says her upcoming CD is a particularly overt, no-ambiguity effort. She has been recording since February, working around her travel schedule, her commitment to judging Simon Cowell’s The X Factor contest show, and other projects such as a cameo in the blockbuster Think Like a Man, in which she hilariously shoots down Kevin Hart’s character at a bar.
“I am more excited going into it this time than last time [her third solo studio album, Here I Am, came out in 2011], because I have a concept,” Rowland says. “I’m making this album for my ladies, oh, yes, and it is strong. All of the producers I’ve been working with get the concept so much that they brought in a little more aggressive—and sometimes masculine—approach, but there is a really incredible top line: I want to tell women how incredible we are, how our intuition is so spot-on. Sometimes we don’t listen to it, but it is the thing that can actually make us happier.”
When asked if, um, her male listeners could find a message somewhere in the new release (the time frame for which is still being worked out, with the end of the year being the target), Rowland laughs again. “I know that men will buy it,” she says. “Y’all will definitely buy it and sing to it. You’ll say, ‘I can’t believe I’m singing to this!’ If you want to learn about women, listen to my next album!”
Rowland is currently fine-tuning a music style close to her heart: classic rhythm and blues. To prepare, she re-listened to her favorite R&B records by artists including Whitney Houston, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder. “What triggered it all was when I was on tour last year with Chris Brown,” she says. “I stopped by Hitsville U.S.A. [the nickname for Motown’s first headquarters in Detroit], and saw all of this history; it filled my soul up to the point where I wanted to tell my story. To me, it’s really about having something to say, and people love that. That’s what’s so great about Adele: She is a storyteller.”
One of the tales Rowland tells, upon prompting, is her introduction to Las Vegas when she was just 18. That was in July 1999, when Destiny’s Child performed at House of Blues at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, just as the group released the prophetic The Writing’s on the Wall. Tickets for that show were only $15; those in the audience that night were blown away by the exuberance of the then-emerging act.
“There was just an energy of being there, and I remember thinking, I can’t wait till I’m older!” she says. “The whole atmosphere was really fun.”
Williams, who joined the group the next year, remembers young Rowland as polite and kind, but tough enough for show business, too. “Kelly was the sweetest young lady,” she says. “She had such a beautiful smile and was so warm. But some people would say mean, cruel things, and Kelly would speak up and say, ‘You will not disrespect me nor my sisters!’ I remember her snapping on a reporter at the Grammys in 2001, I believe it was. She was a girly girl, but she did not play games. Watching Kelly right now is awesome. She’s growing and blossoming right before our very eyes as she continues to soar.”
Rowland’s most recent local appearance onstage was during the all-star performance celebrating Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday, which was also a fundraiser for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health at MGM Grand. She will be here once again this June, to perform at Vegas magazine’s ninth anniversary party at the Boulevard Pool at The Cosmopolitan.
Unlike many solo stars who shun where they came from, Rowland gracefully talks of her great debt to Destiny’s Child. “Destiny’s Child was a huge part of my career, and I think it’s only natural for people to refer to Destiny’s Child when referring to any of us,” she says. “For people to call us one of the greatest female groups of all time—are you kidding me? Beyoncé and Michelle are two incredible women and deeper than what the public sees. Destiny’s Child, to me, was a sisterhood and a kinship that the three of us shared. You want people to respect that you have your own identity as an artist, but they also remember how they met you.”
photography by robert ascroft; Styling by The Kids, Sammy and Judy; Hair by Kimberly Kimble using Kimble Hair Care Systems for margaretmaldonado.com; Makeup by Latasha Wright; Styling assistant: Odessa Nikolic