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Artist of the Month: “I Am My Brand”: The Refocusing of a Diva Featuring Amanda Seales

About five years ago, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a spoken-word artist, who also happened to be a painter, a singer, a rapper, and an all-around badass. This Renaissance woman went by the name of Amanda Diva, and after getting into a lot of her material, I reached out to have her perform at my university’s spoken word show.

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“You can’t make it from the outside looking in. You just have to get in there.” says Amanda. “I’m not spacey enough though – and by spacey I mean I am not on a spaceship.

Amanda has been a performer for most of her life, beginning as a child actor in Orlando at the age of eight. Her role as Deonne in the 90’s Nickelodeon show “My Brother and Me” was the jumping point for her career in the entertainment industry. Since then, Seales has been involved in all facets of performing and creating art, as well as a social activist and commentator. Her Master’s Degree in African-American studies from Columbia University has only furthered her ability to draw references to black culture in both her work and her activism.

Fast-forward to 2015, and Amanda Diva has rebranded herself as, well, herself. Amanda Seales is still very much the same quick-witted performer I met in 2010 – with a more focused career and a brand new team behind her that is ready to take her to heights unreached. Between her appearances on VH1’s Best Week Ever, her web-series “Things I Learned This Week”, and her one-woman shows including the very funny “It’s Complicated” and “Mo’ Betta Wu”, Amanda is becoming a comic and social force to be reckoned with.

As we waited for Amanda in an overly-crowded coffee shop, we chatted a bit about the F train and how it was up to its usual treacherous ways. Just as we had begun to commiserate the recent failures of public transportation, in walks Amanda, with a look of “F@!k the MTA” written all over her face. I knew right then this was going to be a fun conversation.

Amanda still looks as young as she did when we first met, just with shorter, blonder hair. After taking off the several necassary layers of New York winter clothing, she reveals an amazingly relevant sweatshirt with the quote “Not Your Respectable Negro,” a direct jab at the argument about respectability politics in the black community. Her overall presence is one of a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it: in essence, a down-to-earth diva.  Once we finally sat down and had the obligatory small talk, I began with the obvious. “Why the name change?”

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“I think it’s hard in general  for anyone to be okay with being themselves,” says Amanda. “I know this because I’m on tumblr.”

“People would have a preconceived notion of me before I even came into the room because the word ‘diva’ had become so associated with a negative perception of somebody,” says Seales,  after explaining that the change had been something that longtime friend, DJ Lantern, had been pressing her about for years. “He called me at midnight on my [thirtieth] birthday and was like, ‘So you changing your name?’” Up until a few years ago, the “Diva” moniker had not been much of an issue for Seales. However when those preconceived ideas mentioned started to feel limiting, she decided it was time for the change. To her name, that is. “The reality is, I am a diva,” she says, emphasizing that the name change was never changing about who she is.

Between constantly being told she is too harsh, to being pushed into being “easier,” Seales knows all too well the pressure of people trying to put her into a box. However, the headstrong comic is adamant on not allowing everyone else to lower her standards. “You know there’s a saying that the way you treat other people is reflective of how you treat yourself? I’m hard on myself. I expect for me to be on point at all times. I expect for me to be thoughtful and caring. And I expect for me to…not f*ck up just off of carelessness, so I expect that of other people.”

Those high standards have definitely paid off. A quick glance at the funny girl’s event calendar will tell you that Amanda is in quite the demand these days, with multiple stand up gigs and her current solo show “It’s Complicated” playing at the New York City’s The Stand. “The older you get the better you get at being like ‘I’m not going to explain it to you, you’re just gonna have to go away’,” she explains, later adding: “I’m on a track to ascend and I just can’t worry about that type of sh*t!” Since then, Seales has been putting all of her energy into building her comedy career. “[This is] the first time in my life that everything is directed toward one thing. I’m the Renaissance Woman but it’s all under the umbrella of comedy,” Seales explains.

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Amanda on CNN. Nov. 2014

Though the funny gal is seemingly all about the comedy business these days, Seales takes no pause on various social issues, frequently voicing her opinion on many media outlets – most notably with her now internet famous televised debate on CNN. “I was supposed to go to the beach with Wayne Brady and he cancelled on me on my way there,”, says Seales as she hilariously recounted the day. “I’m glad he did that because I was pissed, so that helped the interview. I was like ‘This some bullsh*t! I was supposed to go to the beach!’” Her reaction to the panelist’s comments even went viral, thus leading Amanda to be the butt of several social media jokes around the web. “A lot of my responses were genuine shock,” the comedian laughs. “I make faces…I can never hide my face. I can’t hide it when somebody’s doing some dumb sh*t.”

Though many would praise (and even identify) Amanda as a modern day feminist, she finds herself having trouble with what feminism actually means. “I’ve always understood [feminist] to simply mean you want equal rights for women. That’s really what it is. Under the auspice of that, I’m a feminist,” she says. “I want women to have equal rights. Now, that doesn’t mean that I think that women should just do whatever the fuck they want and that’s a good thing for all women. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean you should. So yes, I do have the right to be butt ass naked…that doesn’t mean it’s the right decision.” Being so openly opinionated has had some backlash on social media for Seales, with some followers going so far as to call her “whoreophobic” and being against the feminist movement and women’s rights altogether. Amanda, however, believes that we need people who are vocal on social media and other platforms that are fearless enough to state what some people may deem the unpopular opinion.

“Don’t expect anything from anyone. People expect people to be good to one another and you honestly can’t expect that in this industry. You can’t make it from the outside looking in. You just have to get in there.”

Now that she has the right people in place, what’s next for Amanda? “I would like to be respected on multiple platforms for my specific unique perspective and contributions,” she says. “This year is about raising my profile…Now it’s about quality over quantity.” And with a numerous amount of growing opportunities, an impending stand up tour in the works and her web-series “Things I Learned This Week” taking off, there’s no telling how far her star will take her. Though she has grown to be quite confident in herself over the years, Amanda still finds that it can be hard to find the right footing in this industry. “I think it’s hard in general for anyone to be ok with being themselves…” she tells us we begin to rap up.”But, all of us really should be aspiring to have the level of confidence that Prince has. That’s how you make it.”

Amanda’s one woman show “It’s Complicated” returns THIS Valentine’s Day in New York City! For more information and even more Amanda tidbits, click on over to her website! And be sure to check out the latest installment of the very funny “Things I Learned This Week” below!

 

 

*All images via Amanda Seales

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