Michelle Williams was searching for CNN on the TV Friday afternoon in her suite at the Hard Rock Hotel, more than 20 floors up from where she hosted her album release party the previous night. The 34-year-old singer and Rockford native wanted to check in on a news story that had just broken before leaving the room. It turns out Williams is a self-proclaimed “newsie.” She talks of news in the same manner some might talk about gossip, relaying the juicy details and her theories on what transpired.
“It’s probably not healthy,” said Williams of her obsession.
This may explain, in part, why she’s drawn to real-life-crime and courtroom programming. She calls the syndicated “Judge Judy” a guilty pleasure and raves about A&E’s “The First 48.” The latter is a docu-series that features homicide investigators attempting to solve a murder, generally in the first 48 hours that follow.
“My major in college was criminal justice,” said Williams, who left Illinois State after her sophomore year to pursue music, as she put on her high-top sneakers. “Before I got in Destiny’s Child, a couple days before we were supposed to shoot the ‘Say My Name’ video, or the day before, I had an appointment to go to the coroner’s office to see an autopsy. I still have it on my bucket list even though I’m scared of death and will probably sleep with the lights on after I see the autopsy.
“So, we ready to go to this spot?”
The spot, in this case, was Glazed and Infused. Williams had heard good things about the doughnut shop and wanted to check it out. She was dressed in jeans and a “Yassss Jesus Yassss” T-shirt that showed off her figure.
During our half-mile walk, I told Williams that she didn’t look like the doughnut-eating type — unsure how she would take the comment. “Please. I eat everything,” Williams said. “I think it’s because my dad used to bring doughnuts home all the time. And on Sunday mornings, my mother would get us up for church by going and getting these amazing doughnuts and orange juice. It worked.”
Williams took a seat with the box of doughnuts we had ordered at the outside window. She opened the box but resisted the urge to dig in right away. First she wanted to snap photos with her smart phone.
“Take that, iCloud. Hack my phone and you’ll see doughnuts,” Williams said, a reference to the recent scandal over celebrity nude-photo hacking.
Williams, who said she plans on selling her Illinois home because she spends most of the year in Los Angeles, was raised Pentecostal and remains active in the church. Of the four solo albums she’s released, three fall in the gospel category — including “Journey to Freedom,” scheduled to hit stores Tuesday. It’s her first album since releasing 2008’s “Unexpected,” her lone secular album to date.
“Journey to Freedom” features the single “Say Yes,” which reunited her with Destiny’s Child bandmates Beyonce Knowles and Kelly Rowland. The song has succeeded on the gospel charts, but the mainstream charts have been harder to crack, despite the dance track’s catchy chorus and star power. The reason? Maybe the religious message (the chorus is “When Jesus say yes, nobody can say no”) turned off some listeners and radio stations.
Williams hasn’t let that deter her from releasing faith-inspired music. She knows this is exactly where she’s supposed to be.
“I know for me, my calling is to inspire through my music,” said Williams, a maple bacon long john in hand and a chocolate milk in front of her. “I know what my message content is supposed to be. Nobody wants to see me twirling from a pole. Nobody wants me to do the booty dance. I’m supposed to inspire and encourage and have fun while I do it.”
During an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” in June, Williams was momentarily overcome with emotion while discussing her collaboration with Knowles and Rowland on “Say Yes.” Destiny’s Child announced in 2005 that it was disbanding and hasn’t released a studio album since 2004’s “Destiny Fulfilled.” Williams and Rowland did, however, briefly join Knowles on stage in February for her Super Bowl halftime performance.
“I got emotional because we’re still there for each other,” Williams said on the “GMA” appearance. “I can call them. They can call me. ‘I’ll hop on a plane to go wherever you are.’ That’s still the relationship we have, no matter where our career paths have gone. That’s rare. That’s very rare.”
Knowles’s father, Mathew Knowles, dropped not-so-subtle hints during a recent interview with Houston radio’s “The Roula and Ryan Show” that the trio might have another album and tour on the way. When asked about Mathew’s comments, Williams laughed: “He got very excited. He got very excited. And that’s all I’ll say.”
Besides her solo album (and maybe a return to Destiny’s Child), Williams is co-starring in Oxygen’s “Fix My Choir,” which is scheduled to premiere this fall. She and gospel singer Deitrick Haddon will mentor struggling choirs each episode.
Williams was previously in talks to star in her own reality show along with her two sisters but got cold feet at the last minute. She was concerned with how it would affect her acting career. Williams has appeared in various Broadway musicals, including “Chicago” and “The Color Purple.” But more than anything, she said she was uncomfortable with putting herself and her family out there for all to see.
“I don’t want to do a reality TV show where the cameras follow me around and watch my family argue,” Williams said. “I wasn’t ready for that type of thing. I felt that would be way too heavy. I don’t want to be known for that.”
By this point, Williams had sampled the various doughnuts. The verdict: “The vanilla bean is my favorite. I think I should Instagram it right now.” She said the maple bacon doughnut I recommended was “OMG Amazing,” but maybe she was just being nice.
Speaking of nice, Williams offered to buy doughnuts for the stranger behind us in line. How often she does that sort of thing is unclear. But Williams said there is another side to her. She admitted she has little tolerance for stupidity.
You know who else has little tolerance for stupidity? Judge Judy.
“There are similarities,” Williams said. “Because some stuff is stupid to me: ‘Why would you do that?’ I like that she’s no-nonsense. I remember reading an interview where she was asked, ‘What would you do if your children got in trouble?’ She said, ‘They know not to call me because I’m not going to help them.’
“After I read that, I remember thinking ‘That’s my girl.’”
Source: Chicago Tribune email@example.com | Twitter @TribLuis | Facebook @TribLuis | Instagram @TribLuis