Something in the smoothly stripped acapella of Kelly Rowland’s protégé’s “Hotline Bling” cover connects on first listen. It’s the wistfulness of the quintet’s angelic harmonies and the flavorsome sprinkle of soul that leaves you enamored with their nostalgic groove. It’s the kind of jam that snaps with freshness while cruising down the highway, but will also keep you and your girls moving, even when traffic grinds to a halt.
The same way TLC made us want to be crazy, sexy and cool and The Spice Girls gave young women the self-esteem to embrace their uniqueness, the energy this collective of young ladies brings is that of the wondrous bygone era of the no-boys-allowed music format we all treasured in our youth. So, could our ears be telling us that the decades-long wait for the next “it” girl group to grace our presence is over?
If you ask multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning solo artist Kelly Rowland, she’d wholeheartedly agree. For the past several weeks, Rowland and famed choreographer/creative director Frank Gatson have journeyed on a quest (three major cities and 600-plus hopefuls) to assemble the next superstar girl group on BET’s docu-series Chasing Destiny.
Girl groups have had a storied history, dating back to TLC, En Vogue, LaBelle, The Supremes and beyond. Nevertheless, in present times, there’s a definite void of pop culture’s once-prized possession of girl groups (sans the multi-culti, solo dolo Fifth Harmony and Little Mix). This is not groundbreaking, critical or even controversial; it’s just fact. And now, Rowland has chosen five to carry out the dutiful task: Shyann Roberts, Kristal Lyndriette, Brienna DeVlugt, Ashly Williams, and Gabrielle Carreiro. “I’m very proud,” Rowland recently told Chicago’s You & Me This Morning, gushing with excitement. “These ladies are very talented and they’re very, very ambitious, and excited, and I’m ready for the world to hear them.”
On a mission to restore the empowerment and sisterly bond music once elicited, the ladies have quite the road ahead with Rowland and her Rolodex of industry insiders in their corner. But with the ink dried on an Epic Records deal, vocal chops that ain’t nothin’ to mess with and a reserved slot on our TV screens every Tuesday night for the past three months, it’s certain that we’ve only seen a mere glimpse into what these ladies are about to do. If Destiny’s Child was the last girl group to serve R&B realness and #BlackGirlMagic at the same damn time, this group aims to carry the torch and rejuvenate a phenomenon.
After revealing themselves as a group with a fly makeover and photoshoot, we caught up with the ladies to chat about the Chasing Destiny experience, coming together as a group, personal deets about themselves and what’s next for them.
Repping: Glendale, CA
“It” Factor: We’re an R&B group but my favorite musical genres are outside of that. I love jazz and so many other styles, so my different music tastes brings a different ear to the group.
Bet You Didn’t Know: This entire journey has been overwhelming to say the least, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s so funny because I was running away from singing for so long because I deemed it impractical and wanted to go to school. My father signed me up for choir in the seventh grade and I grew a love and appreciation for music that I didn’t expect. I was put in an environment where I could create with other people and explore various styles of music, which sparked my interest. I really fell in love with creating melodies, too. But every 12-year-old grows up wanting to be a singer; I didn’t think it would really happen though. So, it’s just so funny how all the pieces fell together when I went in to audition, and when I made it. It was like this is a sign that I’ve got to go for it and do something with my talent. This truly feels like the beautiful beginning to an awesome journey.
Biggest Fear While Chasing Destiny: I think most artists are sensitive about their singing [at some point]. For me, it was more so self-doubt. It’s inevitable in a competition, so my fears ranged from people thinking I wasn’t good enough to getting eliminated.
Will Shamelessly Rock Out To: The Talking Heads, The Beatles, Sarah Vaughn, Michael Bublé, Frank Sinatra and the B52s. I could go on forever, honestly [laughs].
Trusting the Process: They wanted to cut my hair off, which when I first heard it, I was really mad because the length that I had took me a year to grow. I had fried my hair a year prior and had to cut it off. So, it was like having short hair and growing it back out again just to cut it again. But I was like. ‘A makeover is a makeover so why not go for it.’ When I got to the salon, I immediately saw blue hair color and was like, ’We’re going to dye my hair blue.’ We got our makeup done for a photoshoot, too, and that was actually the first time I had ever gotten my makeup done. It was really cool. But all in all, I think everyone likes to get dolled up, even someone like me who prefers a more natural look. But once you see the end product, you can’t not be happy. So, it was exciting.
Growth Is From Within: I just feel like my confidence has gone up. It’s still something I’m working on, but, even singing in front of people still makes me a little nervous; it was never something I really loved to do. So when I got on the show I had to put that past me and get over myself because I knew that was what I was there for. Being with the girls, too, has helped. Being pumped up my four other very talented ladies who know what they are doing has made my confidence grow. And I feel like confidence is everything. You’ve got to be comfortable to create, and although I’m still learning, I know I’ve certainly grown more comfortable due to encouragement from my group members, validation from Kelly and Frank, and most importantly making the group.
Repping: St. Petersburg, FL
“It” Factor: Not only am I the youngest, but I’m the fun one [laughs]. I’m also the one that’s really on top of what’s out and what’s popping right now when it comes to the music.
Earliest Music Memory: I’ve always done music. I started singing when I was two years old and I’ve been performing since I was four. I’ve never really done anything else. I’ve opened for Boyz II Men and sang the National Anthem for a 76ers game.
Primped For Girl Group Status Or Nah: I never thought about being in a group because I always sang solo. But since becoming a part of the group, I love it. Being with those girls is like everything to me. You know it’s four other women, five total, and we’re just figuring out each other. You know how girls can get, but we get through it and that’s all that matters. I’m just happy to be a part of it because we can all sing and I love that. And having Kelly as our mentor is phenomenal, a dream come true.
Being The Baby: With me being the youngest of the group I take something from each girl. It’s really fun for me because as a solo artist I didn’t really get to be around other singers and learn something different. When we’re in the studio, Kristal is great at helping me with different techniques when it comes to my vocals. But overall, the ladies have given me great advice pertaining to staying true and being honest to myself and being humble.
Musical Style Influences: It’s a mixture of Whitney Houston, Yolanda Adams, and Beyoncé. I love the way Beyoncé performs, so I want that kind of confidence when I hit the stage. I want Whitney’s vocal presence; it’s strong and powerful without trying hard. And I love that soul that Yolanda has, you always feel everything that she sings.
What To Expect: We don’t have a set sound right now, but we honestly sound really good singing everything [laughs]. Right now, we’re tapping into a little bit of everything. We don’t want to just stick to one genre. It’s like you can’t knock it until you try it vibe. Plus, we want everyone to be able to relate to our music.
Repping: Charlotte, NC
“It” Factor: They say I’m the momma of the group, like the heart, the emotional person that’s nurturing but also making sure we’re aware of what we’re saying, what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. I’m all about the passion of the process. Ashly is like the soul, Brienna has the fire, Shyann brings the youthfulness, and Gabby is just Gabby and unpredictable, I love them all.
Outside Reactions To Her Win: So far it’s been really good. I was actually expecting to see more negativity because I know that’s what people feed off of and love to do. But surprisingly this has been a really great experience and I think because we did it so raw and authentic, it rubbed off on everybody that watched it.
A Second Chance At Girl Group Stardom: I had absolutely no second thoughts about giving it a shot. I was excited to be a part of the process period, especially after being in a group before because in my mind I was thinking of all the positive things that would help this go smoothly from knowing how important communication is and being a unit at all times. Those were the most important factors for me this time around, and it’s a great thing to be able to share that knowledge.
Advice To My 21-Year-Old Self: Stay ready! That’s the biggest thing for me because life can get in the way and s**t happens. However, you can’t stop, and don’t take anyone’s no’s, which I haven’t.
Kick A** Karaoke Tune: It’s so cliche but "I Love Rock 'n' Roll."
The Group’s Elevator Pitch: I know that word authentic keeps coming up and we all keep saying it, but it’s so true. We’re just real singers, and we're bringing something that the world has been missing. Everyone of us has a passion and wants it so bad, which makes it even better because you can’t stand next to someone that doesn’t want it as bad as you.
Repping: Compton, CA
“It” Factor: I think the most standout thing about me is my soul and passion, the way that I move. I’m finding that when I do sing, I bring people to tears. That’s not necessarily a goal of mine, but somebody said never be afraid of that because that means people feel you and your sound. So, I started to accept it: soul, passion, and feeling.
How I Got My Start: I’ve been singing since I was young, about 12. But I’ve gone on tour with Keyshia Cole when “Let It Go” was big with J. Holiday and Trey Songz. I was also on Big Sean’s “Finally Famous” tour with CyHi the Prynce and Shawn Chrystopher. I worked with Dr. Dre on Detox although it didn’t come out unfortunately; we did about five songs together. And just performing in different cities all over the country. I did a show in Philly once and opened for Trey Songz and Jeremih. And I’ve done plenty of open mic nights. So, I’ve just been trying to get myself out there and haven’t stopped singing since.
Girl Group Appeal: A friend approached me with the opportunity and I actually said no. He ended up convincing me and I went ahead and decided to give it a try. I remember my sister and I having a conversation and my thought process about this whole industry thing was [to] seize every opportunity because you don’t know what will happen.
Side Hustles: Other than music, I did PR and marketing, so I knew what it took to pump myself up and be out there in the world and go for my dreams. So that and substitute teaching [laughs]. I taught everything, but teaching Spanish was probably the most interesting. I had fourth graders and it was fun.
My City Taught Me: L.A. has taught me many lessons because it’s such a huge melting pot. It’s all about continuing to go after your dreams no matter what. There’s so many people out here that are dreamers and who really, really want to go for either music or acting or anything, and I’ve met some many people from various walks of life and I can’t tell you how many people that haven’t stopped.
Tea On The Group’s Debut: We have this one song that we’re talking about a girl experiencing heartache, heartbreak, and any other kind of pain. And it’s like the Destiny’s Child song “Girl” where Beyoncé and Michelle are talking to Kelly. It’s kind of like that. So we try to make sure our music is relatable in all sense simply because we’re all from different walks of life. There’s young, there’s old, some of us are experiencing being boy crazy, one of us is married, and some of us have experienced break ups, one of is in a committed relationship, so we’ve all experienced different things and we try to incorporate that into the music because you never know who you’re going to reach.
Repping: Princeton, NJ
“It” Factor: I definitely bring a lot of drive. I’m all about pushing yourself to the next level and making a way even out of adversity. Having six siblings and coming from a big family, I also know how to be a team player. So, I also bring the ability to work well with and around other people.
Best Advice Given: My dad was in the popular singing group POV so he had a lot of gems for me. He told me to just be a genuine person and work really hard. At the end of the you can only be yourself and as long as you’re honest with the people around you and with yourself about who you are and what you can bring to the table, that’s all that matters. And he also told me to just work really hard; outwork people, keep my vocals right, and be the best person that I can be.
Well-Versed In Vocals And More: I actually took a leave of absence from school for Chasing Destiny. I’m an Economics major; I only have three credits left. I mean, we’re not going to have downtime for awhile, but when I do and feel comfortable that I can dedicate the time to it, then I’ll jump back in and finish.
Major Musical Influences: Definitely Destiny’s Child. But also guys group like B2K. There was Danity Kane, Dream, too. I was definitely a part of that whole group culture. I loved it. I had all the CDs and knew all the songs. I think that there were a lot of groups that contributed to my love for it, but Destiny Child’s is definitely at the top of my list because at the age that I could listen to the music they were singing they were really popping.
Fiercely Funny: Most of the time you see me on the show I may come off reserved, but that’s just because I want to learn. I’m also just trying to listen to everything that’s being taught and absorb it all, too. But I am a really bubbly person, especially around my friends. I’m so goofy with the ladies.
The Group's Sound & Aesthetic: It’s definitely going to be a summer vibe. We wanted our fans and future fans to have fun with this album. It’s our first project so we want it to be very creative and be a true depiction of who we are. It’s a pop/R&B vibe, but we’re singers as well so we made sure we had those records you can dance to and we have those that you can really hear us singing. That was really important to us. I think that’s what sets apart from a lot of the other groups that are out there today. We’re not just going to conform to what’s popping now as far as the types of music that’s out. We really want to sing.
(Photos: Robert Ector/Den of Thieves/BET)