Having developed such a large fan base at such a young age, do you ever feel pressured to be the perfect role model? A lot of people look up to you, even people who are much older than you.
Not necessarily, because I feel like it’s not hard to be a good person, you know? It’s not hard to do what you should do. The characters in the movies that I’ve done – Akeelah and the Bee and so on – have let me tell people to believe in themselves because that is something that you should be doing. You should believe in yourself, be proud of what you do and never be afraid because of where you come from. These are lessons that my parents instilled in me to share with other people, so it makes me happy. It’s something that I like to do. Being called a role model is just an extra thing. For me to go out there and tell people what I already feel in my heart and what my parents have told me, it’s easy for me to do that. If people call me a role model, then I’m very grateful. I’m very happy and appreciative.
Living in the spotlight can be a bit difficult at times. What was the hardest part, in terms of your adjusting your private life?
Oh man, some people can be judgmental. It’s something that you just have to take in stride. You got to realize that you’re doing the best that you can. Everybody will say something. As long as you’re comfortable and the people around you that you care about are comfortable, then you just got to go with that.
Have you received any advice from a fellow artist that you’ve held on to and used throughout your career?
I remember one time, when I met Brandy, she wrote in my journal. She said, “You are who you are because I am who I am; I am who I am because you are who you are. Because of the things that I’ve been through and because of who I am today, you can be who you are today. And because you are who you are, the next person can be who they want to be.” I was just really inspired by that. I love, love that quote she put in there.
Before I became a journalist, I was an elementary school teacher. And over the years, I always showed Akeelah and the Bee to my students.
Oh, man. That makes me happy!