We all know what it feels like to pull all-nighters; to put in countless hours on a project and only receive a pat on the back. Yes, you may be working towards an end goal or a dream job, but sometimes the climb to the top can feel a little thankless. Those we read about in the news or see on TV who have reached the pinnacle of their careers inspire us to keep going. But rarely do those of us still on our way up get any recognition, before we get the corner office. *Cue Drake’s Started from the Bottom.* That’s why we love to highlight Made Women on the rise -- those who have just earned a promotion or secured a new job. They may not be calling all the shots just yet, but we can learn a thing or two from their journey thus far. Our Made Woman of the Month for March is LA’s own Amber Wilson! Amber recently made a career move that turned out to be her best move; landing her dream job at Live Nation Entertainment– the world’s largest live entertainment and e-commerce company. After working for years in the non-profit sector, Amber’s new gig put her closer to her goal of working for a global company, doing corporate communications. Congrats, Amber!
It was a special treat to interview this Made Woman because she is a dear friend of mine. A fellow USC Trojan, Amber and I met freshman year of college. I always loved that Amber knew who she was, what she wanted, and how to get it. Unlike some other Gen Y-ers, she didn’t suffer from feeling overwhelmed by her options or unsure of her next steps. A communication major, she enjoyed writing, music, travel and connecting with others; and hoped to take the things she loved and turn them into a successful career. Her self-assurance made her one to watch on campus. A true leader, she made time between internships and classes for volunteer groups like Blacks In Action -- where she spearheaded the creation of an annual scholarship for incoming freshmen who had given back to their communities.
During school she interned at Atlantic and Hidden Beach Records and wrote for publications like Saturday Night Magazine. She also took time to travel and studied abroad her senior year -- living in Bilbao, Spain for four months and then in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Amber was able to soak up some sunshine and some culture during her time abroad but it wasn’t all about fun. She credits this experience for sparking her desire to work for a company with a global reach. “There are defining moments in our lives that shape who we become, and studying abroad in Spain and Argentina was that moment for me. I learned so much about myself and became exposed to many other different types of lifestyles and culture. To this day I still have friends around the world from when we studied together. It made me a global citizen and showed me how connected we all can be, if we want to be.”
While Amber did know what she wanted, getting from point A (being recent college grad with no experience) to point B (having the career of your dreams) is not always a linear journey. After graduation she worked for the Century City Chamber of Commerce as a membership coordinator where she used her skill set to boost membership and manage communications. She worked there for four and a half years moving up to membership director along the way. Working for a non-profit meant budgets were tight. Amber was forced to get creative when thinking of ways to build membership and host networking events that members would appreciate. She crafted unique experiences for attendees, inviting out masseuses for one event and partnering with the Microsoft store for another – creating a live, interactive gaming experience. At a time when Twitter was just emerging, Amber also oversaw the launch of the Chamber’s social media platforms, and added value to local businesses by sharing news on their events and promotions. Her ideas added a fresh spin to the Chamber’s media and promotions without breaking the bank and the experience taught her how to be resourceful and think on her feet. Though she valued her time with the Chamber -- along with the connections and knowledge she gained along the way -- Amber found herself wanting more. Her world perspective made her daydream about working for a company that made a global impact.
Instead of just dreaming about it, Amber decided to do something to gain more experience and connections around Los Angeles. She started her blog, Wilson’s "Where to" Guide, a source for reviews and write-ups on local businesses and events for young urbanites who love travel and good food. Amber honed her writing skills and built a powerful network while blogging about the city she loved. “LA is just so rich and diverse. It’s a place where you can do so much. Just when you feel like you have a handle on LA, you learn something new...you can never get bored. And if you do -- ‘Hey, check out my blog,’” she says laughingly. People began to connect with her posts and started inviting her to attend their events. She interviewed people like Calvin Richardson, Brian McKnight, DJ Lady Sha -- the first female DJ to spin on live radio in South Africa -- and other trailblazers who were making an impact in their communities. All the while she was perfecting her skills as a writer and editor. “For three years I wrote a blog post every single week, regardless of what was going on with my full-time job, or my social life,” Amber says. Traveling and writing for her blog gave her an outlet for her creative energy.
Amber realized she had learned all she could working in the non-profit sector and wanted to move on -- but the tough job market stunted her progress. “There was a point when I wanted to make a change; I was applying for job after job, I was interviewing and getting to the final stages but nothing was happening.” Amber didn’t give up on her dream and become complacent. Instead, she got creative and focused on how she could stand out as an applicant. Finally, the stars aligned and preparation met opportunity. Amber was offered the position with Live Nation Entertainment as a corporate communications coordinator working alongside the Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications. The company manages tours for heavy hitters like Beyonce, Jay Z, Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus and Linkin Park. They also are the parent company for venues across America like the House of Blues and the ticketing site Ticketmaster.
Amber says that she is always excited to go to work now and see what is happening firsthand in the music industry. Amber drafts press releases for upcoming tours, corporate or charitable partnerships, handles media inquiries, writes and distributes a daily newsletter to 45 countries. She manages social media and stays on top of industry news. She said she was nervous about distributing content to media partners at that level when she started but has since gotten the hang of things: “If you are really a writer you can write about anything.” Her position in the C-Suite alongside all the executives allows her to learn from other leaders and see what it takes to run a Fortune 500 company. Her success with her blog breeds more success at her current position. She knows the value of her connections and understands PR better now that she has a media perspective. “You always have a vision of how you think something is going to play out professionally… it doesn’t always happen that way. But the key is to be prepared when opportunities do come, so that if it’s the right opportunity you can jump on it,” she says.
Now that Amber is a bit closer to her dreams she says that it was her perseverance that made the difference. Even though her course wasn’t quick and easy, she has now established herself in the professional world and created a network that she can count on throughout her career. Even though the going gets tough she knows that it is through hard work that dreams are realized, “We are not owed the right to follow and pursue our dreams; it is a blessing and an honor.”
This article was originally published on "Wilson's Where To Guide."
This past holiday season in December, I attended Hill Harper and Nate Parker’s Annual Manifest Your Destiny Toy Drive at Drai’s Hollywood.
On a trip to the ladies’ room, I ran into the lovely Brely Evans, who you may remember from her hilarious Twix candy commercial (shown below), her role in Just Wright as Queen Latifah’s friend and who you’ll now see in the upcoming remake of Sparkle, being released this summer.
Her warm, friendly smile was just as radiant as her energetic, bold personality, so I found myself excited to talk with her, rattling off about her acting projects, my blog and everything else. We parted ways, promising to link up again for an interview. And, later on as I caught glimpses of her working her way around the room with such charm and confidence, I knew she was someone with a great story to share.
And what a great story she had!
During our meeting at one of her favorite LA destinations, The Viceroy, Ms. Evans shed light on everything, from how she transitioned from her girl group Emage into films to what it was like working with the late Whitney Houston.
I’ve split up the interview into two parts: this week’s part touches upon her professional endeavors and acting career, and the second part, debuting next week, sheds light on where she “where to’s” in Los Angeles and around the world.
Ms. Evans: Oh my goodness, the experience was a-maz-ing. My wonderful girlfriend Jeanette Jenkins who is a celebrity fitness trainer was like, “Brely! You’re not famous because no one knows you’re alive. We’re gonna produce some videos on you and put it on YouTube. Everyone else is getting famous off YouTube.” So we got a camera crew, we wrote a show out called The Brely Show, and I begin to do these sketches. At the time, Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” was hot. So I was like, “Beyonce? You mean Brelonce? She got it from me!” And we put those sketches up, and it wasn’t like it got 15 million hits, because that’s usually what happens. Mine maybe you know, soared around 2,000, maybe even sometimes, 100, 300, because things started to cook for me around the 300 range. Maybe not a lot of people saw it, but the right people saw it.
And, the story is, when the cast was taping Just Wright, and I affectionately call Dana my – well, Queen Latifah – I call her my big sister. She was laughing at some of my videos on set – this is the story I hear – it’s been passed down so many times. And her and Paula Patton were watching them, and Paula goes, “Dana has this little sister that’s the world’s best kept secret. She dances, she sings. She’s an actress. She’s amazing. Why doesn’t she put her in anything?” Then Dana’s laughing, “Are you talking about Brely? That’s not my real sister.” The director [Sanaa Hamri] happens to walk in and she was like “I have a little one-liner for her.” So they gave me one line.
And in the beginning of the movie while the credits are still coming up, you’ll see me come in with Queen Latifah into the hospital. I play a physical therapist. I come in and I go, “Whatcha gonna wear for your date tonight?” And we both go, “black.” That was my one line.
I got in my trailer and I was like, “Thank you, Jesus! I’m in a film! Oh my god, a huge film!” Got a knock on my trailer door and they were like, “you’ll be here all week. We just love your energy. Can you learn these lines and be ready?” I was supposed to be there for one day, for one line. I ended up staying to the wrap of the movie. My name was CO-WORKER 1 and I went to SABRINA GILLAR, being Queen Latifah’s best friend at the hospital. It was an avalanche. It was great.
Miss Wilson: Did Queen Latifah or the director give you any words of advice on "making it" in the industry?
Ms. Evans: Not really advice, but more so inspiration and telling me, “Girl, you got this. We’re waiting on you. You can do this.” They gave me inspiration and the go get 'em attitude that I needed to succeed.
Miss Wilson: And I read that you were in a gospel stage play with Shirley Murdock and you also worked with Whitney Houston in Sparkle. Was it inspirational as well to work with these women?
Ms. Evans: Can I just say, this is when you’re glad you used to be in a singing group! The Shirley Murdock thing happened first. I had come off the movie Just Wright, gotten home, was like “Oh my Lord, this is great.” My phone rang. It's the director. I had auditioned for this play nine months prior but didn’t get it. He said we’re reviewing our tapes and we would like to have you come in for the lead role and you’re gonna be playing opposite – not come in, excuse me, we’re gonna give it to you – opposite Shirley Murdock. I was thinking, I get to sing onstage with Shirley Murdock. You know her vocals are crazy, right? So I went to Boston and we did this stage play. She’s like another mother. She’s a very spiritual woman. She’s like “God has created in you something that the world needs to see and let them see it. Don’t be ashamed. Be bold and be you, because there’s none like you.”
Now fast-forward to just getting off the movie Sparkle. Whitney Houston. First of all, walking on set and seeing her, you’re kind of like quiet, and you’re like, "Oh my god. That is Whitney Houston." And you’re just kind of watching her every move, seeing how she eats, how she picks up her purse, how she’s talking to people. And then she looks over at you like, “Come here, baby. What’s your name?” And I’m like, “Umm, Brely?” – I turned into a baby. So we’re all loosening up around her and she’ll start singing, playing her gospel music, so we all start singing, too. And she’s like, "do this, baby" [Brely sings a couple of runs]. And we’re singing and she’s telling us how to do different runs. Crazy. And again, she was like, “I’ma call you niece. You my niece.” I was like, thank you!
And Derek Luke? An amazing actor. Just to watch his process and how on set he’s very solemn and quiet. He doesn’t do a lot of talking because he’s in character the whole time. Omari Hardwick, who is super fine. Can I get that on tape? He's about to get married soon, but girl, you know what you got. He’s amazing and loving, and they just embraced me like, oh there’s the baby on the set, because I’m kind of new. But although Jordin Sparks is also new to the film, she did an amazing job.
Working with Salim Akil – you know the Akils obviously from The Game and Girlfriends – T.D. Jakes was on set. I’m just overwhelmed by being a part of such people who have done great things in their career, and that my talent allowed me to be a part of that.
Miss Wilson: It sounds like you had a lot of mentors who took you under their wing. Would you say that’s the norm in Hollywood, or is that something that’s rare?
Ms. Evans: I think it’s very rare, and I think that it is a great necessary for anybody in any industry to have a mentor. I didn’t per se have an up-close and personal one that I distinctly called mentor, but I took those various moments that I was able to interact with someone who was great, and I got any questions out. I asked them their thoughts on what I should do. I did have mentorship moments, but it’s not like I had someone I could just pick up the phone and call and say, hey, you know what should I do here? I didn’t really have that and a lot of us other actors and entertainers won’t have that.
So I just want to encourage everybody, too. That even though you don’t have that, should you pass someone’s way, take that moment to not be scared of them because they’re so amazing. Take that moment. They’re willing to give. It’s just that those are not the typical questions that people ask. I would say definitely seek out mentorship, but if you don’t have one, like I said, take the moment and just use it to your benefit.
Miss Wilson: And do you have any other advice for aspiring singers and actors as well?
Ms. Evans: I would say hone your craft. If you’re a singer, sing all the time. I don’t care if it’s in the car, in the shower. Make yourself available – I don’t care if it’s for Craig’s List to sing for a funeral. Make yourself available to use your gift because really, I think our gifts were given to us by God for others. It wasn’t for our own edification. You should share your gift as often. Share it for free. You don’t want to know how many times I’ve sang for free or how many times I’ve been in a production, acting, for free. Because the money will come. And I know people say that when they got some. No, trust and believe. Struggling as I am, even sometimes today, I still realize that my gift is not my own and work begets work. So if you find yourself working, then somebody else in that audience might say, hey I’d like to hire you for something else. Work, work, work. Just work your craft.
And I would like to assassinate the word “aspiring.” I can’t stand it. You’re not aspiring to be something. You are. You already are. You sing? I’m a singer. I’m not an aspiring singer. You’re an actor. I’m aspiring – no, I’m an actor. Already claim who you are.
Miss Wilson: What motivates you to keep on going, to keep on pursuing acting and singing?
Ms. Evans: The one thing that motivates me are the people who constantly congratulate me. The people who say “I’m watching this” and the people who say “I need you to succeed and you inspire me.” Those are the people that push me to greatness, because I feel like if I don’t do it, I’m doing them a disservice. If I get nervous or scared, then I can’t fully live out loud for them to see that they can do it, too. So it’s really the push from the audience and those who are following my career.