After such a heavy lunch, Syleena decides they need some retail therapy time to lighten things up. Although lightening things up doesn’t happen completely, because life coach Mo thinks Keke needs some further decompressing time. Which she probably does. So Mo sits her down on the couch and essentially says, girl, I’m scared to sing at this thing, too. But it’s important that we do it anyway. And then all three of them share a great MILF hug.
Remember when these girls didn’t even know each other?
All this and the ladies haven’t even started singing yet! Don’t worry! It gets even worse!
And by “worse,” I mean the level of tears is at an ALL TIME HIGH.
The waterworks start in rehearsal, first with Nicci, who’s singing “That’s What Friends Are For.” She says this was the first song that, for some reason, made her realize that AIDS didn’t just affect her family; it affects everyone. She sings the first verse but when she tries to swing into the chorus the tears start. And of course they do! Because this song makes me cry on a regular, every day basis! Throw in the memory of a dead loved one and anyone would be done with!
Things don’t go much better for Keke, who gets so concerned about her emotions during rehearsal that she decides she just needs to change the song to one that won’t make her cry as hard. Which seems unfortunate to me, as she must have chosen the original song for a reason. Luckily, Sheryl Lee is in the wings to swoop in with some killer advice, telling Keke that she might cry whether she switches the song or not. (True.) She just has to say true to the moment. (Yeah.) And if she gets to that point that she has to cry–well, then she has to own it. (Exactly.) I like Sheryl Lee.
Faith’s up first, looking fierce as ever and killing it with her emotional song, “Tears of Joy.” Up next is Keke, who deliberates about whether she wants to address the crowd or not. She ends up doing so, dedicating the song to her loved one, doing her part to speak up about AIDS. I think this also helps loosen her up, and she does a stellar job through the first half of the song, until a certain point when the tears threaten to take over. As she pauses at the mic, her hand over her face, Mo and all the other divas hold their breath back stage, whisper words of encouragement. And after a moment or two, that Keke Wyatt jumps right back in, belting out the words as if she never stopped, and when she does, the entire audience at the Nokia Center gives her a standing ovation, and it is all TOO. MUCH.
“It’s OK to cry. Sheryl said so.”
When she walks backstage afterwards, Syleena and Mo crowd her with hugs and congratulations, even as Keke herself is still overcome. “You did that, boo,” Monifah says. Faith says she can really see Keke growing up. It is a pleasure to see.
Syleena Johnson’s up next, who very appropriately sings her song “Stonewall,” which she describes as the ultimate song about coming out on the other side after a struggle.
Mo, who has made a commitment to be tear-free during this thing and holds true to her promise, sings her song “It’s Alright” without a hitch. She’s also introduced to the crowd as our girl, “OUT on black TV.” Damn right.
Last but not least is Nicci, whose fate in the crying department is not as bright as Keke’s. She gets almost through the first verse before she breaks down, but there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel here. As she tells the camera, she was done, on emotional overload. No more singing left in her. But divas don’t let each other drown, so Faith, Mo, and Syleena quickly get themselves microphones backstage. And when Monifah walks out on that stage, flawlessly bringing in the next line of the song, the crowd gets up on their feet again and I should be out of tears at this point but they keep coming! Nicci describes it as if she was in a movie, and in the midst of her breakdown heard angels singing. Simply put, it was brilliant. And after it all, it’s Nicci’s “enemy” herself, Syleena Johnson, who tells the crowd, “Nicci Gilbert, ladies and gentlemen!” once the song is through, and walks her off the stage, hand in hand. One of the best R&B Divas moments to date.
There was so much in this episode to celebrate, in a bittersweet way. The addressing of the real and heartbreaking problem of silence and shame when it comes to AIDS in the black community. (In all communities, really.) The acceptance of the queer black community that is inherently also linked to that. Expressing both pain and hope through song. And as always, supporting a sister in need. Lordy, lordy, lordy, was it a wonderful hour of television. I only wish more people had seen it.