News

LeToya Luckett On ‘Raising Kanan,’ Balancing Vulnerability And Fame

The book of LeToya Luckett reads, “Things might not work out the way you want them to, but they’ll work out the way they’re supposed to.” She’s reading a note from her iPad in her home in Houston. The message sat on her spirit the morning of our interview, she said.

It’s not a new message for Luckett. She’s familiar with rolling with the punches that life throws and leaning on her faith to take her where she needs to be. That’s with her career, her family situations and her recent divorce, all of which she’s been very open about in her journey.

“I feel like people are looking for something real, something genuine, something authentic,” she said. “They’re looking for transparency. And I felt that with my platform and with people who may admire me, I’m letting them know I’m a real person. I deal with real shit just like you.”

The singer turned actor recently opened up a new chapter in her book with a role on “Power Book II: Raising Kanan.” In the show’s second season, Luckett plays Kenya, Jukebox’s estranged mom who left her daughter at a young age to pursue a singing career across the country. They unite when Juke, after being physically abused by her father, goes looking for her and finds Kenya in a Harlem church. They try to forge a relationship, though Juke must hide her sexuality from her devout Christian mother.

Luckett, who was a fan of the show in its first season, said she was excited and a little nervous to take on Kenya, especially because it was hard not to judge the character as a mom herself. But Luckett, who also acted in “Greenleaf” andRosewood,” said landing a role on “Raising Kanan” was “a dream come true.”

On her Kin-produced YouTube show, “Leave It to LeToya,” she said she was able to “trust the process” after facing the painful rejection of another role in the midst of a divorce. She was able to get the courage to send an audition tape and got the role on “Raising Kanan.”

The former Destiny’s Child member recently wrapped the first season of “Leave It to LeToya,” where she has deep and vulnerable conversations about life, loss and transitions, sometimes with guests. She also has two Christmas specials on the horizon with OWN.

Luckett discusses her role in “Raising Kanan,” balancing vulnerability and fame, and how her faith journey keeps her grounded.

LeToya Luckett as Kenya and Hailey Kilgore as Jukebox on "Power Book II: Raising Kanan."
LeToya Luckett as Kenya and Hailey Kilgore as Jukebox on “Power Book II: Raising Kanan.”
Cara Howe/Starz

“Raising Kanan” is a very strong arm in the “Power” universe. Tell me about why you wanted to be included in this franchise and why you took on this role?

This is a phenomenal show, and, the way you so beautifully put it, is a very strong arm in the “Power” universe for a few reasons. One, it has a strong Black lead, a woman, a mom, a sister. And not only is she powering through the duties of a mother and just as a Black woman in general, but she’s also having to be a provider, but also on a street level earning her respect. Going out there in the field, barring none, not afraid, fearless.

And to just be a part of that, in any way, what? Without a doubt. So I would have to say, even when I was watching it just from a fan standpoint, I kind of got intimidated a little bit. And I just kicked into gear and said I want to bring to the show everything that I have emotionally, everything that I am as a woman, everything that I am as an actress, everything that I am as a mom, with the character that I’m playing, everything that I am, just all of my experiences, my good, my bad. I’m pulling from everything on this.

It is such a special role. And I’ve said this several times before Kenya, my character, was, especially with being a mom, very hard to not judge in her decision-making. But the grace that she ends up being shown is, I mean it tugs on the heartstrings. To see her develop or try and develop this relationship with her daughter after making a very, what some would say is a very selfish decision that changed the whole trajectory of her life and her daughter’s life, and her father’s life because he had to step up, that’s a lot.

And you are such a loving and caring mother yourself. I’m wondering how you used your maternal experiences to come in and play Kenya and also to be able to extend that grace?

I’m a new mom. My kids are 2 and 3. I could never personally imagine. I have mom guilt off of just going to the store, let alone going into a whole different state, because I feel that’s what I need to do for my life. The decisions that I make as a mom and even in my career choices, I always have to juggle in my head, how much time am I going to miss that I can’t get back with my kids? And so in playing this role and watching Kenya go, “I want to go and pursue my career and I don’t feel I’m a fit mom. And I think she’s better off being with her dad until I get back. And when I get back, I get back, I’ll fix it then.” Chile.

Just reading that I was like, “Uh-huh. No no no, sis. Figure it out.” But there are so many women who have to make that very, very hard choice because they feel they aren’t fit. They feel someone else is a better fit. And that takes a lot of soul-searching and a lot of self-questioning and a few other things to even come to that decision. And as a mom, no, I can’t imagine. But I know that there are some moments that you have as a mother where you do doubt yourself and doubt the decisions that you are in the process of making or you have made.

And with me, I always want them to be in the best interest of my children, for them. But it doesn’t mean it’s not tough. For this role, I ended up kind of pulling from my divorce and moving to a different city. Yes, I have my children with me, but in divorce you realize you’re not going to be with your kids every day for your mental stability and trying to make a good decision for yourself. And I think that that’s what I tapped into the most with this part and the picking up and moving.

What are your thoughts of Juke and Kenya’s relationship now, especially with us seeing them reconnected?

I love that they’re even trying, I love that Juke is even open. I know her life right now is crazy. She’s looking for light in the midst of all of her pain, her darkness, struggles that she has with her father, struggles that she has with what she sees going on in the streets, struggles with losing her girlfriend. Kenya is giving her some positivity, taking her to church, which, especially in the Black community, that’s what we see as good.

And I feel like, although she’s had Raq, she has her dad, she has the support of her other family, she still is looking for that mom. I’ve actually talked to a few of my friends who were either adopted or didn’t know their blood parents, but even though they might get adopted by these wonderful people and grow up in this family, something is still tugging on them to find their blood mother or their father and connect with them to see why they think the way they think or why they move the way they think. Like with Kenya having an interest in music. So I’m very proud of Juke’s character for being open even in the midst of her pain.

In "Raising Kanan," Jukebox reunites with her mother after she left her at a young age to pursue a music career.
In “Raising Kanan,” Jukebox reunites with her mother after she left her at a young age to pursue a music career.
Cara Howe/Starz

You’re very vulnerable and open about your story, especially on your show “Leave It to LeToya.” What led you to create that show?

I feel like people are looking for something real, something genuine, something authentic. They’re looking for transparency. And I felt that with my platform and with people who may admire me, I’m letting them know, “Hey, I’m a real person. I deal with real shit just like you. So thank you for your love and support, but also thank you for your encouraging words.” People are giving encouraging words to me when they don’t even realize that I could be having one of those days.

And so I wanted people to be able to plug into something or be able to have a place to go when they needed that encouraging word or when they needed to feel like “Leave It to LeToya” could be that place, that safe space, of watching a woman go through being a single mom, juggle career and mom, and come out of the divorce and still feel alive and still keep going. And I just felt it was important, and I felt, let’s do it in a beautiful way. And we did. We’re still doing it. So we’re prepping for Season 2, and I am excited about it.

Congrats on that. You’ve had some amazing episodes on there. It’s so hard finding that balance of being vulnerable and knowing what to be protective of, especially when you’re famous, I imagine. What is that balance for you?

Sometimes it’s hard to find balance. Of course, with social media, it’s getting tougher and tougher every day. But I think that that is high on my priority list to make sure that they are protected first and that those who are close to my heart are protected first. And after that, I feel like it’s also my responsibility and a part of my purpose to serve and to help.

So sometimes taking little bits and pieces of what I have been protecting or what I’m just so protective of — my heart, of course my children — I think that sharing my story can help someone else. While still being protective of it, I still feel even in those moments, I’m covered. And it is a hard thing to balance because I’m like, “Ooh, don’t say too much.” But if someone is getting the help that they need or if they’re getting the little bit of life that they need, then go for it.

I want to talk about the episode featuring your conversation with your father on forgiveness and talking about the divorce between him and your mother. You’ve been open about your own divorce that you’ve been through recently. I think about the two in conversation with each other, and I’m wondering how that conversation with your dad informs some of the healing that you’re doing from your divorce currently.

Ooh, that conversation answered a lot of questions. Some of the questions that we’re scared to ask our parents or even to dare to ask ourselves, look in the mirror and ask ourselves. And I felt it was a necessary conversation. I feel like so many people are dealing with, and struggling with, unforgiveness. And it is not only killing us, but it’s stopping us from greatness, from God’s best. It is probably one of the toughest things to do, but what we don’t realize is what’s so beautiful on the other side of that is more, it’s overwhelming.

So I think there was some things that I didn’t understand about my father, some of the decisions that he made. But at the same time, I finally put a number to his decision-making, if that makes sense. My parents had me at 24. So I’m 41. I think about what I did at 24, 25. And would I have made the same decisions? Yes, my life experiences were a little different because I started my career early, so I was exposed to more.

But talk about a young Black man in a big city trying to go to school, trying to be a newlywed when he probably don’t even know, he didn’t know what marriage was because he didn’t know his father. He ain’t never seen a great example of a husband. And then you gon’ to turn him into a dad? Good luck. The maturity wasn’t there. There was so many things that went into his decision-making that come with his age. And so in that moment I was able to give him grace. And also his accountability in that conversation allowed the door of healing to be open. Because if he was still stuck in, “Nah, that’s, well I did it because that’s what I am. Deal with it,” it would’ve been hard for me to get to that place of understanding. It took both of us bringing his accountability and my understanding to the table, and some grace from both of our parts, to make that conversation happen.

It’s so interesting how so many things could be solved with communication. And a lot of times those skills of being able to communicate to other people but to ourselves, too, I think that a lot of people are just now really understanding what all goes into that and what that means.

Facts. I wish a lot more of these conversations can happen in the way ours did. But it’s going to take therapy, some accountability, some self-searching. And I think that a lot of my father’s generation, a lot of my mom’s generation brush it off as, “I am who I am. Deal with it. And I don’t need no help. Don’t nobody tell me what to do. I’m right.”

So thankfully I feel like our generation knows it’s OK to get the help we need. So our exposure to healing and our access to therapists I think have helped us understand our parents a lot better, so that those conversations can go left. We as kids somehow steer it back and get it back on course. Because we are held… I’m trying to find the right way to say, we are a bit more healed and grounded than our mamas and daddies.

And then we end up parenting somehow.

Early. And it doesn’t make us better. It just means we have more access. We have more access and there’s so many more resources than they had. They did what they could with what they had. That’s the reality.

Leaning into that truth I think will let go of a lot of resentment for a lot of people. That definitely did for me. What’s been one of the most key learnings about yourself in this season of your life?

Chile, what you talking about? Today? This week? What?

Right. What’s coming up? What’s most prominent?

I woke up with the thought, “Things might not work out the way you want them to, but they’ll work out the way they’re supposed to.”

And I think when we, as people of faith, who claim they got faith… if we really like, for real, give it over to God, he does a better job of taking care of the thing than we do. And although our wants and needs might not align with his will, most of the time it ends up working out a little better. Or even if it’s a thing of devastation, you realize how strong you are in that moment when you’ve probably been telling yourself your whole life, “I could never, I could never. I would never.” And then you do.

So, yeah. I literally woke up with that this morning. I’m like, “Toya, at the end of the day, rest.” My friend who is a therapist said something to me today, too, in being a single mom or just watching a single mother, we have this instinct to kick into gear. We don’t know how to rest because we always have to be on point. And we have this, I can’t remember what word she used, because she’s a therapist and she has a whole list of vocabulary words that I don’t understand, but she says basically what we watch our mothers do in moments of distress is kick into this turbo gear of independence.

We overcompensate and we overwork ourselves. And instead of resting in the power of faith, in the power of giving it over to God and allowing things to work out the way they’re supposed to, instead of trying to make them what we want them to be, we’re almost killing ourselves with stress. And I’m learning I got to do a better job of that.

LeToya Luckett, shown here at the 2022 BET Awards in Los Angeles on June 26, said that sometimes, "taking little bits and pieces of what I have been protecting or what I’m just so protective of — my heart, of course my children — I think that sharing my story can help someone else."
LeToya Luckett, shown here at the 2022 BET Awards in Los Angeles on June 26, said that sometimes, “taking little bits and pieces of what I have been protecting or what I’m just so protective of — my heart, of course my children — I think that sharing my story can help someone else.”
Paras Griffin via Getty Images for BET

LeToya, that’s good. I needed to hear that. I went to a dinner last night and they made us go around the table, introduce ourselves, what we do and what we need help with. And that was so difficult for me. And I’m, like, why is this so hard to ask for help? Why do I feel exposed in this moment asking for help?

Yeah. But I feel like as we were raised by Black women, and I don’t know your story, but they weren’t allowed to ask for help. You weren’t supposed to ask for help. You supposed to be able to handle all of it. The help means you’re weak. You don’t need nobody. And that’s turbo gear of “I got it” kicking in when sometimes we don’t got it. And we don’t know how to not have it. We honestly don’t know sometimes, as Black women, how not to have it because we supposed to have it. Because that’s who we are.

We’re strong. We got everybody. We the rock of the family. We do it. We can do all things through, but if you’re not giving it to Christ… We got to learn to relax. You talk about the soft life.

And you’ve built a home in Texas that is catered specifically to your needs and the peace that you’re seeking. How has peace and rest been in your new home?

Oh, it’s been good, baby. I went through this whole thing from dirt, and I, as soon as they started putting up the framing and everything, I went through with my Bible verses, I went through with my, I mean everything got my permanent marker and wrote on everything I could write on. There is something in these walls. I knew where my bed was going to go. I knew where my headboard was going to be, and I wanted to just be able to lean and relax into all of these affirmations. So I can feel the peace. I can feel the prayers that I walked through this house and on these grounds and said, I feel that. Matter of fact, my ex-husband just asked me, “If there’s anything else you could add to your house or if there was something you could add, what would it be?”

And I was like, “Nothing.” I went through and literally figured out everything that I desired or what I would feel my kids would desire. A comfortable, safe space for them. I overthought that. So there’s nothing that I could think of that I would need more. But I just want to, I’m so glad that God for real allowed me to do this because I’ve bought homes on my own before, but this one was different.

I wanted my room where I could do this, have interviews, do my meetings and have my quiet because the kids are way over there. Yeah. I’m very happy with the way everything turned out.

Professionally, is there something else that you are dreaming of or need? What have you not done that you would like to?

I’ve had movies in theaters, but I want to do a movie with Angela Bassett, and I would love to do just a big box-office hit where I’m doing something totally out of the box from what people assume me to be. I want to look different. I want to do all the things. I want to be an action fighter. It’s a lot.

I would also love to have a talk show of my own one day, somehow. I’d probably cry every episode, especially if I’m listening to people’s stories. I’m weak for that. And to get on a network show, I want to be a series regular on a show that runs for well over five seasons.

You’ve done so much in your career. At the end of the day, when people look back on everything you’ve done, what do you want your legacy to be?

She never gave up. She powered through. She never gave up. I think that that would be it.