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” and“Rosewood,” 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.
“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.
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.