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.”
Justin Timberlake’s return to music has been a whirlwind. First, he dropped “Suit & Tie,” then followed it up with a full album announcement, a “lyric” video that honestly could be a standalone video if he wanted it to be, a show at DirecTV’s Super Bowl party, and then an incredible performance at The Grammys this past Sunday. What you may or may not have heard is that Justin went straight from The Grammys to The Palladium in Hollywood to perform a sold out show for approximately 4,000 fans. He only announced this show via his Facebook and Twitter with minimal fanfare, and the tickets went on sale the following day; selling out quickly. I was lucky enough to catch the announcement and snag tickets. I knew it was going to be amazing to see him in such a small venue doing a sort of comeback-to-music show, but he still managed to blow my mind.
With MW’s own Serena Watson as my date, we arrived about an hour and a half before doors were scheduled to open at 9:00 p.m. We were stunned to see that there was already an overwhelming number of people waiting in line outside. Had we known that Justin wasn’t actually going to hit the stage until 11:30, we would have come a lot later than we did. However, the aching feet complaints went out the window when we finally made it inside and the lights went down as his band started to play “Like I Love You.” Justin hit the stage in full force, effortlessly gliding through the song like he never even left the music scene. Being that the stage is a lot smaller than something you would see in a big arena, noticeably missing were the backup dancers and signature elaborate choreography, not that anyone gave a flying f#*&. Justin could have stood up there and warbled the phone book and it would have been exciting. I mean, he’s BACK, yall! His 16-piece band and backup singers were the perfect accompaniment to him as he took us through his biggest hits. Next up was “My Love,” followed by “Cry Me A River.” Then he broke into a rendition of Juicy J’s “Bands A Make Her Dance” for a hot minute, which was as awesome as it sounds.
At this point Justin treated us to some new music, going into “Pusher Lover Girl,” which you heard if you watched him perform at The Grammys. A decidedly soulful song, it had the crowd attempting to sing along by the end even though we barely knew the words. And the hits kept on coming, as Justin went through everything from “Senorita” (which he jumped over to the piano to play along to) to “Lovestoned” to a funky rendition of “FutureSexLoveSound.” He also treated us to another new song, called “That Girl,” which is sure to be a fan favorite.
Showcasing his versatility (or maybe just the fact that he kicks ass), he then launched into INXS’s “Need You Tonight.” Other highlights included a trademark JT beatbox break, the music from Jay-Z’s “Just Wanna Love You (Give It To Me)” weaved into “Rock Your Body’s” chorus, and a classic rendition of Jackson 5’s “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground),” where his backup singers joined him at center stage to help him perform J5’s original choreography. As a diehard MJ fan, I especially appreciated this. And when I say appreciated, I mean I screeched like a banshee throughout the entire thing. And that’s all, folks.
Just kidding! Justin did the end of show fakeout, and came back for his encore to perform “Suit & Tie,” which his good buddy Jay-Z joined him onstage to perform. Oh, did I forget to mention that in the highlights? While the crowd went completely apeshit watching this heaven-sent colliding of worlds, the two of them looked like they were genuinely having a good time sharing the stage. I like to imagine that they carpooled together from The Grammys with Jessica Biel and Beyonce, gossiping about shenanigans they saw backstage. But I digress. As Jay-Z left the stage and we figured that was probably it, Timbaland came out and did “Sexy Back” with him. What better way to end the show than to remind us exactly who brought Sexy Back....and more importantly, who’s bringing it back again? Justin then bid us all adieu, promising that this was just the beginning of his triumphant return to music: “It's going to be a fun year. I hope to see all of your drunk faces when I come back on tour at the Staples Center." You can bet your sweet ass you will, Justin.
The biggest takeaway from this amazing night was that Justin is exactly where he needs to be. He looks at home when he’s onstage performing, his voice live sounds just as amazing as it does on wax, and it all just looks effortless for him. While he’s proven that he can do it all, music is where he shines the brightest. Please don’t leave us like that again, Justin. Music, and all of us, need you exactly where you are.
Full Set List:
Like I Love You
Cry Me A River
Pusher Lover Girl
INXS - Need You Tonight
End of Time
Rock Your Body
J5-Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)
What Goes Around
Suit & Tie
Thursday, January 10, 2013 started off like any other day. I woke up feeling a little under the weather, hit up 3 different stores looking for flavored coconut water in an attempt to hydrate, failed miserably at finding any at all (really, LA?), then arrived at work unable to find parking. This, my friends, is clearly the life.
As I rode the elevator up to my office, I asked myself if I should just throw in the towel and write Thursday off as a loss, because things were obviously not going to go my way. But then. THEN! I logged into Facebook, and saw a status update from Beyonce. I felt my mind slowly unhinge as I read the following simple, beautiful words: “The first original Destiny's Child music in eight years! Pre-order it at http://smarturl.it/dc_lovesongs_amzn“ I excitedly logged into Gchat to voice my excitement to anyone online that would listen, one of my friends retorted, “As if Justin Timberlake’s announcement about his new album wasn’t enough.” Wait, what? JUSTIN. TIMBERLAKE. NEW. MUSIC. ??? Clearly the universe is trying to give us all a collective heart attack. It’s almost too much to handle. Did Justin and the DC ladies get together and say let’s freak out the entire world today? OK everyone, why is this such a big deal? If you need any sort of reminder on how momentous this is, let’s recap:
From No, No, No to Bills, Bills, Bills, Destiny’s Child (Beyonce Knowles, Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams, LeToya Luckett, LaTavia Robertson) proved they were awesome at repeating themselves and also dominating the airwaves. From the very beginning, Beyonce always stood out as the star, and after four albums and a string of hits, it didn’t really hit anyone as a major shock when the group disbanded in early 2001 to embark on solo projects. Michelle Williams achieved success in the gospel circuit, while Kelly Rowland had some hits domestically (most recently, “Motivation”) and achieved even greater success internationally. I don’t really need to say anything about Beyonce. We all know everything she’s been doing because her career skyrocketed and she became one of the biggest superstars in the entire universe, with incredible success in music, movies and everything else you could possibly succeed in. Fans of the group have longed for a reunion ever since they split up officially in 2004, but it didn’t seem in the cards up until very recently. There was a period when it seemed like the girls weren’t really close anymore, and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine some resentments between them. I mean, would you want to stand in Beyonce’s shadow? Yikes. However, the girls have been increasingly publicly friendly and supportive of each other the past few years.
With Beyonce planning her big return to the music scene following some time off to birth the next ruler of the world, aka Blue Ivy, with hubby, Jay-Z, and a hugely anticipated Super Bowl halftime performance in the works for February, this seems like the perfect time for a Destiny’s Child reunion. Their new single, Nuclear, leaked on Friday and that track plus a slew of their hits will be released into an album called Love Songs on January 29th. The single definitely has a 90’s vibe about it, and it’s a smooth sounding mid-tempo track that should make for a sexy, fun performance during the Super Bowl. So get your popcorn ready, the “writings on the wall” (sorry.) are telling me this sh*t is going to change your life. Or at least entertain you for a few minutes.
Much like Beyonce always stood out in Destiny’s Child, Justin Timberlake was arguably the spotlight hog in N’Sync. N’Sync had a crazily successful run, selling 50+ million albums together over the course of their career together. But in 2002 the band said Bye, Bye, Bye to each other (are we sensing a pattern here?) and Justin wasted no time getting to work on his solo material. Can you remember when his first solo single, “Like I Love You” hit the radio? I sure do. I was one of those girls who was so anti-boy band. Then I heard the track and grudgingly admitted to myself that I straight up loved it. His first album solo, Justified, was a huge success.
There was no denying that JT knew what he was doing, and his follow-up album, Future/Sex Love Sounds cemented him as a solo star sex god from the heavens. After touring to support the album, Justin, now at the absolute top of his solo career, did the only logical thing he could do at that point. He said, “f*&k this, I need to act now.” He announced his hiatus from music in 2004. Since then, he’s been in several movies and occasionally pops up in other people’s songs, but he has shown no interest in putting out his own material. In fact, the man always seemed rather annoyed when people would ask him about it. His claim that he just wasn’t ready or inspired enough was repeated so much that his fanbase couldn’t help but write off his return to music as a pipe dream. Which is why the short video he put on YouTube Thursday culminating with him standing at a mic saying, “I’m Ready,” then flashing to a countdown leading up to Sunday, 1/13 at 9PM PST was such a huge surprise. Maybe his marriage to Jessica Biel was the inspiration he needed to get back in the booth.
I logged onto Twitter at 9 on the dot last night and saw Justin share the link to his new song right on time. The song? Suit & Tie featuring none other than Jay-Z. The song doesn’t break any new ground for Justin; it’s the vintage JT/Timbaland combo we all know and love. Not mad at all at the premise -- what woman doesn’t like to get dressed up and go out with a guy in a fresh tux? Jay-Z blessing the track is the icing on the cake. Justin sent out an open letter to his fans with the song, saying he started creating what’s shaping up to be his next album, The 20/20 Experience, back in June, and he promises a “big 2013.” That’s all he’s sharing for now. I, for one, can’t wait to hear what else he’s got for us.
They came, they sang (or rapped), they won our hearts. They broke through barriers, and--in some cases--changed music as we knew it. Then they....disappeared? WTF. They’re now on the list of Made Woman’s Most Wanted, and here’s why:
Andre Benjamin, 3 Stacks, Cupid Valentino, Ice Cold.....whatever you choose to call Andre 3000, one fact remains: he’s one talented brother. Anyone who could have a part of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994)--which arguably laid the foundation of southern hip hop as we know it--and go on to make the more commercially palatable, yet equally genius The Love Below (2003) has forever earned a place in my heart. What I don’t love, however, is the fact that we’re now forced to experience samplings of his genius through random verses on pop songs. Get your money, 3k, I get it. The industry has changed, and I’m sure being the sole feature on albums like Beyonce’s 4 isn’t hurting your pocketbooks. But please, for the sake of all that is fair in this world, come back! While it’s cool to see you on the big screen in movies like Idlewild or Four Brothers, what we really want from you is music. I hear whisperings that we may get an Andre 3000 album as early as 2012, with an Outkast LP to follow, and I am waiting with bated breath. For now, I reminisce with some throwbacks: Behold a Lady, Jazzy Belle, Spottieottiedopaliscious.
As someone who grew up on a fair helping of soul, R&B and hip hop, Gwen Stefani (as part of her band, No Doubt) single-handedly made alternative music cool in my life. What other chick could rock out like her and steal the spotlight from 5 plus dudes? Don’t Speak became the break up anthem of all anthems. And the fact that she made a song telling off the man she just broke up with and had the poor shmuck play the bass on the track was pretty damn bossy if you ask me. She’s since gone on to build a highly successful solo career, a fashion empire in L.A.M.B. and pretty much transformed herself into a cultural icon. We haven’t had a solo project from her since 2006’s The Sweet Escape, when family matters began to take precedence--she’s had two children with husband Gavin Rossdale (one in 2006 and one in 2008). But while she did go back on tour with No Doubt in 2009, she confirmed earlier this year that she will not be continuing her solo career, much to our dismay. But who knows, maybe she’ll have a change of heart? While we’re not holding our breath, we can still rock to her upcoming No Doubt album, and of course her past hits: It’s My Life, Hella Good, Luxurious.
Oh, D’Angelo. Oh, D’Angelo’s abs (and more). Let’s take a moment of silence. *sigh*
Man. I could stop there, but I won’t. In addition to having a body that rivaled the fine specimens of the movie 300, the man could SANG. And write. And make (marijuana induced) 10 minute jam sessions into classic album-worthy tracks. Don’t believe me? I’m gonna need you to revisit VooDoo. His career: Brown Sugar, Untitled (How Does it Feel), Africa.....the list of classics goes on and on. It seems like the rock star lifestyle got the best of him, though; he’s had legal issues throughout the 2000s (soliciting a prostitute--ew, possession of an illegal substance, etc.), which I’m sure have contributed to his absence from the music scene. There were rumors that he was back in the studio last year, with an album slated for sometime this year--but it’s hard to be sure. So I’ll just say this: D, for the sake of women everywhere, please get your personal life right, hit some crunches and get back in that studio!
Justin, Justin, Justin... He’s had a PSA dedicated to urging him to “make music again,” but it’s looking like Mr. Timberlake will continue to keep us on the edge of our (movie) seats. Sure, we’ll watch him take a turn in acting with movies like Social Network, In Time, or Bad Teacher--okay, maybe not Bad Teacher--but we really just want to watch him sing and dance around while subtly seducing us with his white boy swagger. Is that so wrong? We’ve all but forgotten the fact that he used to cuddle with his male band mates, and that he’s probably the one that sent Britney into her downward spiral. What more does he want from us? I say we stage a boycott until he’s forced to give in. But first, some selections for your listening pleasure: LoveStoned/I Think She Knows, What Goes Around...Come Around.
Mya came on the scene in the late ‘90s with a girl next door demeanor (with some sass) that caused girls everywhere to relate--and guys everywhere to swoon. The singer/songwriter’s crisp, smooth vocals and natural beauty catapulted her to stardom, earning her a Grammy and a spot in the critically-acclaimed blockbuster, Chicago. It sounds like issues with her label may have (at least partially) caused her lengthy break from the music scene. Whatever the reason, mixtapes aren’t gonna cut it, Mya! I’m so ready for her to embrace her grown woman and bless us once again with those one-of-a-kind vocals. Some of my personal faves: Best of Me Remix, Movin’ On, It’s All About Me.
So who'd I miss? Let me know in the comments!