Although she’s slain popular culture throughout her thirty-plus career as a fashionable teenage psychic, a cheetah-wearing girl-band member and daytime talk show host, Raven-Symoné has only now started to put her true self centre stage, and is thriving by doing so. In the past year alone, the Emmy-nominated entertainer has bared her soul like never before on the genre-bending INFRASOUNDS collection and mesmerizing Stripped Down EP, while continuing to bring joy to audiences as her career-defining Disney Channel character in Raven’s Home – the latter of which saw her step into the director’s chair. Her biggest achievement, however, is her marriage to ‘confidant, therapist and lover’ Miranda Pearman-Maday. Speaking with GAY TIMES, the star says the “shackles” from her past that constrained her from being authentically Raven-Symoné are broken, officially.
“I feel like I’m at that stage of my coming out that I’m… malleable. I’m very much like, ‘Ooh, what about this? Or what about this?’ because the constraints are off,” Raven admits over Skype from her kitchen (not that one). “I had some pre-conceived notions about myself and what other people want to see. So, the exploration of my sexuality and what it looks outwardly, what it feels like inwardly, has really had a pause on itself for a very long time. So, with that music, exploring that world, exploring that little thought in my head that I’ve always pushed back, getting married… It’s unlocked a lot of different shackles that have been a part of that world for me, so the music helped me to see those shackles and break them.”
This year, Raven collaborated with triple-threat entertainer and close friend, Vicky Vox, for her six-week web series offering insight into the creative process of making a show during our current pandemic. Here, we speak with Raven about her involvement with the show, the origins of her close and personal connection with the drag community, and why it’s finally time for her to connect with audiences as – yes, we’re italicising her name again to hammer it home – Raven-Symoné, not Raven Baxter. It’s just your typical Sagittarius x Gemini conversation.
Hello Raven! Can you see me?
Hello! No, I can’t. Oh now I can!
Hello! How are you?
Nice to see you!
It’s an absolute pleasure to meet you Raven Symone-yay!
[Laughs] Well thank you very much! Now I’m really in love with you. Okay, what’s up?!
I’m wonderful thank you! How’s your day going so far?
My day has been great. I woke up a little tipsy, still, and got to work. I had a meeting, sobered up real quick and now it’s you, and then I’m going to get a little more tipsy after you. So, I’m doing great.
I won’t lie to you Raven, I had a small glass of wine before this phone call.
So jealous. I applaud you. We’re on the same page.
Can I just ask, are you in the same kitchen where the iconic peanut butter sandwich meme happened?
No! I actually sold that house and moved. The peanut butter sandwich kitchen… is gone.
Did you up the value on the house? As it’s the birthplace of such an iconic event…
[Laughs] I’m totally telling my wife you said that! I’m so mad at myself for not doing that. Once memes create some currency… That is so true. I got to start thinking about that. That’s amazing, so smart. That meme, honestly, I wasn’t even thinking about it. It’s funny because normally, I delete my Instagram lives – back then, I don’t delete them anymore because of that. Wow, it’s amazing how that took off. I wasn’t expecting it. I wasn’t thinking about it. My life in the meme world is actually thriving more than my real life. It’s just interesting how this digital world has revived my weird face…
There’s a gif for everything Raven, so thank you for that. Also, I wanted to congratulate you on your nuptials to Miranda! How are you enjoying married life?
You know, it’s the best thing I ever did. Yes, corona. The Rona has put a dampener on everyone’s life but, because of her, I was able to get married to the love of my life in so many ways. It helped me stop and see what was going on instead of always being pulled left and right, having to focus on everything but my happiness. I love her. She’s upstairs now… making noise. She’s my confidant, she’s my therapist, she’s my lover – it’s fantastic.
What does a normal day in lockdown look like with Raven and Miranda?
It looks like her trying to keep me in bed, because I’m an early bird and she’s not. I’m always like, ‘I can’t! I have to go, my body is getting up.’ If I’m going to work, she’ll make an amazing breakfast and she makes the best cup of tea! She’s coming for you. She makes the best cup of tea honey! I’ve been to London and I have blood-related family there. Every time I drink a tea I’m like, ‘My family over there is gonna love you.’ My favourite part of lockdown with Miranda is us trying to find date nights. Right before lockdown I was doing so well! Now it’s like, ‘Babe, wanna go upstairs, lay in bed and watch a movie?’ So, we’ve really gotten in to watching The Great Pottery Throw Down on HBO Max. So good.
Ooh, I’ll be honest. I’ve never heard of it.
It’s so good! It’s like the pottery version of The Great British Bake Off. Paul Hollywood cries over the weight of a pot and the way the glaze drips down the side of the bowl. It’s everything. It’s your new meme, trust me.
Alright, I’m gonna give it a go! What else have you been watching?
We’re watching Full Blown, it’s a florist competition. We watch it for the beauty and the host’s outfits. They are epic, honey. We’re watching YouTube like our lives depend on it. I know how to make every single kind of kimchi, cookie, cracker. It’s a plethora of knowledge over here! I need you to throw me some stuff, it’s almost date night!
Okay let’s do it, when does date night occur?
Whenever I don’t have to work the next day.
I’m loving WandaVision right now, and I’ve just finished my annual rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Have you seen Sabrina, the new one?
Yes! What did you think about the ending?
Oh my goodness, so my sister-in-law told me that she’s so mad at the ending, so I’m holding off. I refuse to watch it to be disappointed. I heard everyone is disappointed.
Oh no! I don’t want to watch it. I wanna see it!
I’m so sorry Raven. I actually signed the petition for Netflix to bring Sabrina back, like, I was that die-hard person. Then the final episode happened and it was just… Seriously, WTF?
[Laughs] I refuse to have that feeling in my body! That’s what she said. I love that show so much and it brings me back to when Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sarah Michelle Gellar was on, know what I mean? Just nostalgia fantastical.
Let’s move on before I say anything too… damaging. Let’s talk about The Vicky Vox Project – how did you get involved in the series?
Before there was the Rona, I was known to frequent many a drag show with all my girls. I remember, I think I was on a date with my wife many years ago, walking into a drag show, and most of them lip-synced. But, there was talent on that stage that was undeniable. I am drawn to talent like a moth to a flame. Just watching Vicky up on that stage… That voice, that dominance, that comedy. I was like, ‘This is my soulmate.’ We clicked right away. Over the years, we’ve kept close enough to where I’m like, ‘I know Vicky, what’s up?’ When Vicky hit me up and said she was doing this project, I said, ‘First of all, yes, because you deserve an outlet to showcase how talented you are as a human being, in drag or not in drag. And yes, for you putting it on yourself so that you have no restrictions, so that you are not forced into a box of someone else’s thought process of what you should be.’ Every box was checked. Being a part of something like that with someone I believe in has been a pleasure, and the fact that she made it super easy for me! I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to put on makeup? Girl, let’s go.’ And the production company, the director – everyone was so perfect, especially during such a tumultuous situation.
I enjoyed this series so much, especially the power ballad moment at the end. It was gorgeous!
It was. It was absolutely beautiful and she did her damn thing. Her talent is undeniable.
You’re very connected to the drag community, but I didn’t realise that you had such a close bond with Raven and Morgan McMichaels?
Raven, obviously it’s a bit egotistical as to why I wanted to be friends with her! I was embraced. I felt like Raven was my drag mother for a little while. We really connected during a series I did called State of Georgia. I love telling the story of me losing a whole bunch of weight before filming State of Georgia, and the creatives wanted me to be thicker. Instead of me going through that emotional journey, I went to Raven and said, ‘Lemme use some of your pads.’ So, she showed me how to stuff myself. I got the tuck conversation, hips conversation and it was amazing. Again, talent always prevails. Raven with the artistry and Morgan with the dance. I’m just drawn to people who, yes, they’re in it because they’re having fun, but they have that talent. It brought me so much joy working with them on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I haven’t seen them in so long but we’re always talking to each other on the internet.
Can you remember when you first became entwined with drag culture?
I can! I don’t have the names. I’m not good with, ‘It was this drag queen in this year,’ but I remember I was on tour and I was around 18-years-old. I was in San Fran and I went to a drag show with my dancers at the time. I remember, back then, I posted a picture somewhere and my management at the time was like, ‘Don’t post a picture! You can’t do that!’ It was not the look of what my “brand” should be, but I thought it was the best world I had ever experienced. One, I had not come out yet. My management didn’t know about my orientation. I knew, but didn’t stress on it. It’s a long story, but anyway, I went there and I remember saying, ‘Every single female performer has ripped off the drag community and will not give them props.’ I told Raven and Morgan this. ‘Every single Beyonce, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears performer needs to bow down to ya’ll, because ya’ll doing it bigger and better on a budget.’ It’s like, ‘Well, I guess I don’t have to go to Gucci to look fly!’ know what I mean? They know how to make it work and I appreciate that. I come from DIY mentality. Yes, I was part of some amazing productions, but after the productions, being a Black girl in an interesting part of America, you have to work hard to put things out there for yourself. Seeing other people – I wouldn’t say “struggle”, but be self-advocating in that way – is the drag community. They don’t get the opportunities that some of these pop stars get. If it wasn’t for RuPaul right now with Drag Race… They’re still pushing through, and I think that their talent is immense. They’re seamstresses, makeup artists, musicians, creators, actors, dancers and they deserve all the beauty that they get right now. They are coming up and showing the world, ‘We know how to do this better than any of ya’ll, get back!’
Did your love for drag start at that moment or did it arrive later?
I loved it right then and there. I said that I would go and never document it because I didn’t want to get in trouble with my management anymore. But, I went and went and went and was finally like, ‘I… don’t care. I’m documenting.’ Then I started doing more with Raven. I’d go up on stage with her. I didn’t care anymore because the talent was too immense.
When I was re-watching That’s So Raven, I realised that Raven Baxter was probably the first drag character I’d ever seen on television.
[Laughs] Honey, she was beat! Just lifted.
Liz Agne’s “Bring Victor back!” is one of the most drag moments on mainstream television.
That was a drag queen moment, if there ever was one. She was also a drag king, a lot of the times. She’ll take that!
It’s really quite beautiful hearing you talk about your passion for drag, because although the art-form has worked its way into the mainstream – thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race – and A-List celebrities are appearing on the show more and more, it feels like the impact of drag on the world is still lost on so many.
Big impact, and I think it just goes back to what we were programmed to think about the community in the ignorant world that we lived in. There’s so many outlets now for that ignorance to dissipate, so there’s no need for it anymore. A lot of these people in the forefront will hire them and not give them the credit. They’ll give it to them in person or over text, but like you said, it’s not outspoken as much. Talent is talent no matter what it is wrapped in, and there’s talent to be had there from the satire and musicality of it all. Again, just bringing it back to Vicky, I mean… oozing with it. The comedy is so clean and crisp, deserving of a sitcom I think in a heartbeat, and live on both sides of the fence. I’m working on it…
Was the segment in the show about the Instagram blocking true? Gimme the T.
It’s funny because I’m a Sagittarius, and a lot of people think that because I don’t reach out, they’ve been blocked. But, if you text me, I’ll answer right back. I just don’t call first! I think that’s just my Sagittarius life. No, I’ll never block Vicky! Never.
Before this call, I researched your star-sign and as soon I saw you were a Sagittarius, I was excited, because my best friend and sister are the same.
[Laughs] Yes! What are you?
Well… I would say my star-sign is one of the most hated. Can you guess?
Well that’s between a Gemini and… is it Cancer people don’t like?
You got it right the first time!
Gemini! It’s funny, we are connected. Gemini’s and Sagittarius’ have a weird connection. It depends more on the person. Are you the devil-faced person or do you just have pent up anger?
It might be a mixture of a both! It’s more like half the time I’m bouncy and bubbly, and the other half of the time I’m sat in the darkness listening to power ballads.
So that’s the part that I connect with. I connect with the person in the room listening to power ballads. That’s when I’m like, ‘That’s my bestie! Let’s Daria together, okay? I’m down for the cause!’
I have to ask, because we’re deep into the drag conversation now and you’re a tea drinker, have you tuned into Drag Race UK?
No I haven’t watched a Drag Race in a long time. There’s two reasons. One, I don’t get that channel right now, and two, I don’t look it up on YouTube because I’m too busy trying to learn how a factory works…
You’re gonna have to explain that last bit to me…
[Laughs] That’s just during corona! It’s been a whole year of not connecting, so I have get onto my P’s and Q’s. Don’t tell anybody, they’ll get mad at me.
What I’ve learned to accept about our current situation is that we don’t have to move forward, we can just binge the telly – or learn how factories work – and be unapologetic about it.
Yes! There are so many pockets that I have not dived into because of the hustle and bustle of life before corona. I agree with you, you don’t have to move forward right now. It’s a set time to marinate in your own juices, really do self-exploration. Stay safe, mask up, give prayer and energy and love to those who have not succeeded during corona. I turned inward and realised… I like food more.
You’re selling yourself short right now, Raven, because not only are you starring again as Raven Baxter in Raven’s Home, but you’ve started directing too!
Yeah, I direct. We actually did our last episode of season four yesterday and I directed that. I’m definitely going to be moving more into directing. It makes me happy and my wife says, ‘You’re a different person when you direct and I like her.’ I’m like, ‘Ooh, if you like her, let me keep going!’ I love it. I’ve been in the sitcom industry since I was three-years-old. I’m 35, I can do this shit, so…
Do you still enjoy being on the screen, or is behind-the-scenes an avenue you want to explore more?
Behind the scenes of a television show is what I want to explore more, unless there is a character or series that I can’t not be a part of. I love hosting and I love a little bit more of being myself. But, I’m up for anything. I’m never going to shut the door fully on any opportunity, but I’m definitely making a big ol’ sliding window to the directing world and focusing on that. Who knows? If that turns out well, I won’t have time for anything else and I can go more into that world, which I’d like.
Raven, can I just say that you define the word longevity. Take your Emmy nominations, for example. That was 30+ into your career!
Thank you! I got nominated for Raven’s Home and The View… I don’t strive for awards and the politics and drama that come with the award game. I was never good at school with the popularity world, I just wasn’t a popular kind of person. I mean, you have to rally and kiss-ass. I don’t do that.
I wanna talk about your music now, because last year you released such beautiful material as ‘RAVEN’ with the genre-bending Infrasounds. Later, you released Serah and the Stripped Back EP. With both projects, it feels like we’ve never witnessed Raven like this before. Was it freeing for you to share more of yourself with the world?
It was very freeing for me, working with Brian [London] and Austin [Brown]. They really made me feel comfortable in my own skin and that genre, which I hadn’t before. They created a world that was so soft and cushiony to where I felt like I could say something. Normally, I live in a world where this rigid ass box is keeping me from expressing myself. There’s still music that has not been released because I got back into television and I had no more time. Now that I have more time, I might dive into it a little bit more. Thank you for listening and understanding how important that project was for me as a human being, because it really opened my eyes to who I am as a person in the LGBTQ+ community. I feel like I’m at that stage of my coming out that I’m… malleable. I’m very much like, ‘Ooh, what about this? Or what about this?’ because the constraints are off. I’m not saying I’m different than anybody, but I had some pre-conceived notions about myself and what other people want to see. So, the exploration of my sexuality and what it looks outwardly, what it feels like inwardly, has really had a pause on itself for a very long time. So, with that music, exploring that world, exploring that little thought in my head that I’ve always pushed back, getting married… It’s unlocked a lot of different shackles that have been a part of that world for me, so the music helped me to see those shackles and break them.
Serah, in particular, was the moment for me where I saw how comfortable you are now. I won’t lie, I went to Barcelona just so I could strut to Strut from The Cheetah Girls 2 soundtrack, but Serah and the whole EP feels authentically Raven-Symoné.
Thank you. I really wanted to find my people, you know what I mean? There’s some artists out there who acquire 40 million people because their music touches 40 million people. There’s some people out there where it’s just a few hundred people, and I don’t think I ever found or connected with my audience as me. I connected as Raven Baxter, and I connected as Raven-Symoné [starts singing Supernatural]. But even that audience, when I meet them, I think, ‘You don’t like to sit in a dark room and think about your feelings, do you?’ [Laughs] You’re over here, happy and go lucky and shit, and I’m over here like…. So, I really wanted to put who I was into that music. And look, we’re peoples. We’ve found each other, you and I. The darkness in you came out and that’s what I’m about!
You get me Raven. When I sit alone in the darkness, I’m not listening to The Cheetah Girls 2 soundtrack. I’m listening to Stripped Down EP. So, what’s the status on your new album, The Reintroduction?
It’s on hold right now. I had to go back and finish Raven’s Home. I had some other television projects in the making. I got married, and I’m one to put 100% of my time into a project, so I can create something that I’m proud of. Also being a Sagittarius, I’m like, ‘I wanna do that, I wanna do that and I wanna do that.’ I really need to calm down! I’m hopefully directing this next project and we’ll talk about that when we can. It doesn’t give me that much time for music. Also, doing music is an in-person activity, and we’re social distancing right now. One of my guys was like, ‘Yo, we need to get back into the studio and write,’ and I was like, ‘I know, but can you set up the studio in my house?’ I work better in a communal vibe. When I’m by myself I’m like, ‘I don’t wanna do it!’ It’s gonna happen. Listen, one of the things that I learned about life during corona and the 35 years is: there’s time. Yes, something might happen tomorrow and I might not be here, but I also don’t wanna run myself ragged doing everything at the same time and creating lacklustre projects. I’ll have more content because I’m going through another change right now, personally, that I’m trying to put words to. It’ll happen! I have those songs, maybe I’ll do something with it, but…
Go at your own pace, right? You have given us so much over the past year, in a COVID world, so thank you. And like you said, you’ve just got fucking married!
[Laughs] I now have an energy that I have to give to her, you know? I have to divvy up my time and I still have to find time for myself, for her, for my projects. We’re so used to the rat-race of life and pushing forward. Take a little time, sit back and enjoy it.
What’s Miranda’s star-sign?
She’s a Leo.
[Laughs] That eye! Yeah, she’s my Leo…
There are some good ones.
There are a few, but my horse and her lion work well together.
Well, please give Miranda my love. Raven, it’s been such a pleasure speaking with you today.
You made me smile today, thank you. I can now go finish the rest of this bottle…
The Vicky Vox Project is now available to stream on YouTube. Listen to Raven’s stunning 2020 single, Serah, here or below.