Terrell Grice is quickly becoming one of the biggest personalities in today’s generation and the go-to person artists come to when it's time to promote their new projects. From stellar performances from indie and mainstream musicians to delivering the questions that fans eagerly want to know, The Terrell Show leads many to believe that he is indeed today’s Arsenio Hall, and there’s nothing but the truth in that statement.
In this exclusive interview with BET.com, Terrell took a pause from asking the questions and answered ours as he chatted about his powerful message ahead of the start of The Terrell Show Season Five premiere, the evolution of his show, his top five R&B artists of all-time, and how covering the 93rd Oscars reassured him he was meant to be a host.
BET.com: Your journey into the spotlight began in 2017 and since then nothing but doors have opened up for you. As one of today’s most recognizable faces in the game today, how important was taking a leap of faith in empowering you to bet on yourself?
Terrell Grice: No one is going to take that leap of faith for you. I realized that doing something as crazy as embarking on a career in entertainment is daunting to most, right? I’m from the South and North Carolina and in those places, when you grow up, they don’t really instill in you that this is attainable. Living down south is very much like going to school, getting good grades, maybe playing some sports, and becoming a lawyer or something like that. So, to grow up in that world and end up in L.A. doing what I do, talking to some of the most famous legends we have today is absolutely crazy. People don't even know how to take a leap of faith for themselves, so how can they expect others to do it for them? [I said] you know what, I'm gonna risk it all for this. That's how much [this show] means to me. Whatever that passion is — if you're not able to say [that] you'd risk it all to obtain it, you might as well do something else.
BET.com: You’ve shared with your audience how your family wasn’t as understanding when you opened up about your orientation. With us celebrating Pride Month, what advice would you others who are readying to have that conversation with people who may give the same response you received?
Terrell Grice: It's funny and a little ironic that the thing that kept me centered during that time was God. That's just the truth. I didn't verbally say that I am gay to my mom until I was 25.
She never asked me [about my orientation] in 25 years. We never had a discussion about it. I’d go home and change my mannerisms, my voice, and talk about different things in an attempt to throw her off and make sure she still felt comfortable with me. In that process, I was trying to protect my mom and my family, but I was not protecting myself. Going home for Christmas was more of a task than a celebration because I had to become something else.
I really leaned on God [at that moment.] I was tired of doing things that weren’t working for me anymore. I’m 25 [and] I gotta live life for me. The advice I would give to others is to ask yourself, ‘Who are you hiding for? Are you happy?’ And if the answer is no, where is your happiness? What is it? What does it look like for you? Once you can really answer those questions and understand the answers, you can make your own decisions on how to tell others. Please check in with yourself.
BET.com: Season 5 of ‘The Terrell Show’ found you embracing your powerful, beautiful, and transparent self while showcasing a new layer of Terrell. You said, God placed me in the darkest corners for me to see the sun,” during one of your recent episodes. What was the significance of that passage that pulled you out of that dark place? And how do you embrace being able to soar high and bright like you are doing today?
Terrell Grice: That ties into my coming out story because I did it during the Christmas of 2017. I would lose my father in a motorcycle accident three months later. At that time of my coming out, my mom and I weren’t speaking. And when my father passed away, I had to return home to attend the funeral with my family. It was interesting because it forced my mom and me to have that conversation.
I didn’t say the words to her verbatim, but [before I came out] I had a longtime girlfriend in high school, and she came with me to the house for the holidays. She asked me, ‘When are y’all gonna get back together?’ You know how moms are, right [laughs]? And I said to her that I’m going to have a husband and not a wife, and well, with that delivery, it did not go well between me and her.
BET.com: It stunned her a little bit.
Terrell Grice: I tried to deliver what I thought would be uncomfortable news with comedy. It did not work out. Since my father had passed away, we had to sit in the same room and have a heart-to-heart conversation. After doing that, we’ve been good. It was through mourning and having a realization that our connection with him on this side of heaven is over, and that God had placed us in that dark place for us to come together.
And it was a very dark time for me because I didn’t grow up with my father. I always thought there was an opportunity to connect, learn from him, and understand who he was. That was ripped away from me. I didn’t know how to take that. [But] I will say that to this day, if he hadn’t passed away, we might not be speaking today.
BET.com: It’s so beautiful, yet bittersweet as well because certain things have to kind of happen to have those conversations.
Terrell Grice: Absolutely, absolutely. I told my mother that I know you didn’t like what I said, but the man up there at the front of this church can be either one of us, and this can’t be the way that we leave each other. This can’t be the end of our legacy. It’s funny how death works like that. You live for 80-something years, and it’s like the last couple of them seem to be your legacy, right? I don’t want something like that to define or monopolize our legacy, so, I was happy that my mom and I were able to come back together.
BET.com: The evolution of ’The Terrell Show’ has been amazing for fans — both new and longtime — to witness. You gave R&B a home when opinion about the genre was in a gray area. For a person who grew up not allowed to listen to “secular music,” when and how did you first fall in love with the genre?
Terrell Grice: [Laughs] How did we get here? I couldn’t listen to anything that did not say ‘Hosanna Forever,’ until I was about 11 or 12-years-old. Mary Mary and Kirk Franklin were too close to the world, as people would call it [laughs]. It was a little too jumpy for them. It had to be foot-stomping, traditional gospel music with the hooting and hollering. But at the time I had a friend who told me about this artist, Brandy, and I didn’t know who she was and filled me in. This was around 2005 at the time.
He put that CD in and one of the first songs I ever heard was, “Have You Ever,” and it just went from there. It went from her to Joe, Beyoncé, which meant I listened to her before I knew about Destiny’s Child. That’s how late I was to the party. I had to dive back into their classics like “Jumpin’ Jumpin’,” and “Bug-a-Boo.” This is probably why I love vocals because I came from gospel, a genre that has some of the best vocalists of any genre, and went into the world of R&B which had heavyweight singer-songwriters like Brandy, Beyoncé, and Joe.
BET.com: I'm sure that you've listened to a plethora of R&B artists, but who is in your top 5 R&B artists list. Who would you choose?
Terrell Grice: Okay, here's my top five R&B vocalists. In no particular order, just basing it off of sheer voice. Brandy, Jazmine Sullivan, Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston.
BET.com: A huge leap forward in your professional journey was in hosting on the red carpet of the 96th Grammy Awards and being the host of the virtual watch party for the 93rd Oscars. First, is there more on-air hosting with these types of places for you in the future? Secondly, was there any advice that you learned from the award show veteran hosts that you look to apply to ’The Terrell Show’...?
Terrell Grice: Absolutely, I live my best life during those two jobs. Working on the Grammy was significant for me because that was my first red carpet. It was a test [for me] because 10 minutes before the first artist came down the way, my producer whispered to me that Kobe Bryant had just passed away. I was standing there with my mic in my hand, wondering what I’m supposed to do next because he’s Kobe Bryant. One of the most influential Black talents in the world has now been taken away from us and I could see the information spread along the red carpet in then-real time.
All you heard was people gasping [and] when this artist comes to me, we’re supposed to just now talk about music. It was my biggest test in terms of how to do this job under pressure. I had already felt pressure with it being the Grammys, but when I went through that and got home, I told myself that this is for me. This is what God had planned for me and there wasn’t any way that I was able to come out of that event unscathed.
BET.com: That’s a hard pill to swallow especially this being your first big one.
Terrell Grice: I loved it! I interviewed H.E.R. after she just won Best Original Song, and got to talk with so many of my favorite aritsts. There must be more opportunities ahead because I loved it so much. In terms of advice, I have huge aspirations. I love Arsenio Hall. I love what he was able to do in his time and with his legacy. There are so many iconic moments that happened on his show — and it was all for the culture. Seeing him interview Prince made me realize how much I wanted to do this. I look at Don Cornelius when he was hosting Soul Train and wondered how can I fuse these two personalities together.
I worked on Showtime at the Apollo, and looking at Steve Harvey, I saw how he engaged with the audience before the show started. He already had the audience wrapped around his finger before the cameras started rolling, and I loved it. They trusted him and after that, they were tuned in for every word. I took what I saw on a micro-level and implemented it into my show. Before the cameras start rolling, the artist sitting next to me already feels like they’re at home and that’s on purpose.
Those five minutes before we start rolling are important for them and me. To [the audience] it’s like we’ve known each other for years, but for me, [building that trust] is pivotal to the vibe of the show.
BET.com: BET.com did an interview with Durand Bernarr and said that you’re the Arsenio Hall of our generation.” Do statements like that add extra pressure to you and your goals? Is turning The Terrell Show’ into a television talk show a goal for you?
Terrell Grice: [Saying that I should be on TV] is actually the most complimentary thing you can tell me. This whole thing started in my kitchen. Those artists from the first two seasons — I asked them [to be on.] They could reach over while with me and touch my toaster [laughs], [the set] was that small. Every episode I’d finish, I would tell myself that ain’t nobody else going to come up in here. And now, look at us, 100 episodes and more!
For [Durand] to say that, and for others to say what I know they’re saying, it’s a blessing because it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. I’m Black, I’m gay, I drink, and I love the Lord — I’m not supposed to be here. The key for me has always been authenticity. I don’t have any secrets or hide anything. I let it be known who I am and what I stand for. I love music to its core and it is my favorite thing. To be a part of this industry, and a member of this culture, in this way — it’s overwhelming and I’m honored.
In turning The Terrell Show into a TV show, I always think, yes, if it’s right. Once on television, some things are changed for who TV appeals to, and TV and digital are two different worlds. In order for my show to go that route, it would need to change and that’s something I think the fans would have a problem with. Sometimes I talk to these artists for an hour and then trim it down to 30 minutes because I want everything to be in there, but I edit it down to how I want it to look.
To answer your question, I don’t think The Terrell Show, how it is in this form, should go in that direction because I think we’re all happy where it is. Now, I wouldn’t be mad at having another show on TV that’s made for TV. But the heart of [The Terrell Show] is great where it is at. And if there’s a Terrell Show 2.0 in mind, then ABC, NBC, call me up [laughs].
BET.com: A venerable who’s who in music has sat next to you in front of that blue screen. Is there anyone who you have yet to invite that you’d like to have on as a guest?
Terrell Grice: Inviting talent is never the problem. If anyone is wondering why this person or that person hasn’t been on the show, it’s not from a lack of invitations. I would love to have Brandy and Jazmine Sullivan on the show. They are such pioneers as vocalists and as musical influences, that they are obvious choices. I’ll give you someone that fans wouldn’t expect — Kacey Musgraves. She’s one of my top five favorite songwriters of all time, and I love her. I own all of her vinyl [records] and she’s amazing.
I’ll give you one more — Janet Jackson. She’s the blueprint and the queen [laughs]. If you look at her career, I think the title of “Queen of Pop” belongs to her. She developed a sound that was copied and influenced heavily by a lot of these other girls. I feel like if she wasn’t Black, they’d give [her] the title. But we live in America and we [all] know how it goes.
BET.com: Are you ever nervous to push the envelope when it comes to guests or having controversial conversations with them?
Terrell Grice: Not at all. We had Chrisette Michele on the last season. I had asked her a year prior for the previous season but due to her hectic scheduling, it was hard to get her then. I love how God works things out on his timing — His timing is truly perfect. I asked her when she came in the door, Is there anything I can’t ask you? I never asked that question because we don’t do pre screens. My assistant on my team, they do not give the questions ahead of time. They don’t give the words ahead of time. I’m strictly against that. I do not play that game. If you can’t come here and answer these questions that are honestly coming up out of my mouth — It’s just it’s not authentic, and I can’t run with it. Respect to you. I just can’t do it. But I did ask her because of the situation. And you know what she said to me? She said, Because this you, there is nothing you can’t ask me. I trust you. That was a pivotal moment and it happened off camera. The only reason she could say that was because of what I have done for every episode before that moment. She took the four seasons that existed, developed an understanding about who I am without knowing me, and knew that she could trust me within that interview to ask her anything.
That was powerful. Was I nervous to do it? Not for me, because I know who I am. Ain’t nobody out there in the world gonna tell me who I am. I’m gonna ask the questions you can watch it and you can either love it or you can hate it. At end of the day, whatever you say does not does not change who I know I am —I was only nervous for the audience in terms of how they were going to perceive her answers because sometimes we do that. We want people to answer the question, but then they get mad at the answer. It’s like, do you want them to be honest with you and lie to you? I asked her the question and this is her answer. That was the only thing that I was nervous about — are the audience going to be mature enough to handle the answers that she gives? They absolutely were as my audience is the dopest audience online. They really are — I can interview almost anybody and as long as I come correct, people are gonna be like, yeah, that’s what’s up. So yeah, bring on the tough interviews. Call me Mr. Oprah.
BET.com: We need a follow-up to ’An Invitation to the Cookout,’ so is this something that’s currently in the works? Which artists would you love to see as a part of the project?
Terrell Grice: It’s actually happening as we speak. Oops, I don’t know if I should say that [laughs]. I’ve been dabbling a bit here and there but it’s very hard — people don’t realize how hard it is to produce [The Terrell Show]. It’s a lot especially with the performances. The amount of days it takes to get one out is crazy. I haven’t been able to do that and the album at the same time — but of course I have to do a follow-up to the album. Out of everything I’ve done, the reception from the album was the most surprising, because although I talk about music, I have not been known for doing music — it’s completely different. It was my first time and I thought it was going to give — okay, this was a cool thing. People have been sending me videos of people singing songs that I wrote at their weddings, at church, and it has just spread beyond. Now I walk into a Target and somebody was like, Hey, you’re Terrell, from the invitation cookout?— I’m like, oh, not from my show. You had no idea that I have a show [laughs]. So it’s like a whole different thing that’s been building and I love it. I love making music man — I fell in love with it during that album. I shot a documentary for it — detailing the process and kind of like how I did it. I look back at some of that footage today and I’m like, Man, that was a time to be alive. I loved collaborating with all those artists. It was amazing.
BET.com: Which artists would you love to see on the new album?
Terrell Grice: Oh my goodness — there’s so many artists who have been added to the family. Once you sit in front of the blue wall, you’re considered family. I would love to have Ledisi, Josh Levy, Eric Bellinger — he’s one of the kindest and jovial people I’ve ever met. He’s like a brother to me. We need to have Ambré on it this time around and Durand Bernarr — he missed the first album because he was busy but we got to do it this time. I would love for Chloé to be on it, too. Also, I would love my girl Coco Jones on it.
BET.com: We need another season of T. and Coco.
Terrell Grice: You know I’m working on that, too. I stay with the content.
BET.com: In addition to Pride Month, we’re also celebrating Black Music Month, so here’s a two-part final question to ask, Terrell: Which artists are on repeat in your playlists right now and what’s the Blackest thing you’ve done today?
Terrell Grice: Not many people know this about me besides my close friend but I don’t stream music. 80% of the music I listen to is physical music. I have a very large vinyl collection. Usually when I hear music, it’s one of the vinyl records. I keep it mixed up as I don’t like to keep one record spinning for too long. I used to be a heavy repeater when I was streaming because that’s what streaming makes you do, right? If I want to hear a song on vinyl, I have to pick up the needle and put it back. It’s bad to do that so that’s what has opened my mind up. I will go to a record store and pick up an album from an artist I never heard of because I want to experience what they made. The last vinyl I spun was ’Invinsible’ by Michael Jackson. I had discovered a song called ’Speechless’ and he wrote the song when was playing with water balloons with kids in Germany about loving life. I love discovering new music. I have had Lucky Daye and his album a few times, Jazmine Sullivan’s album with Heaux Tales as well. You know how I need an album from? Beyoncé.
BET.com: The streets need it.
Terrell Grice: Now, the blackest thing I did … I had fried chicken for Breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ve been in Atlanta for a bit and I’ve been eating their chicken — their chicken hits different Ty.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Ty Cole is a New York-based entertainment reporter and writer for BET.com who covers pop culture, music, and lifestyle. Follow his latest musings on Twitter @IamTyCole.