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Gospel Queen Yolanda Adams on falling out with a stripper on ‘Kingdom Business’

If you grew up in a black Christian household — or simply one that played gospel records — during the ’90s and 2000s, you know that Yolanda Adams is one of the most prolific and influential voices in the genre.

Widely regarded as the queen of contemporary gospel, the 61-year-old Houston native has maintained her silky soprano register throughout her illustrious career, beginning as a member of the Southeast Inspirational Choir at the age of just 13, and releasing 13 combined studio and live albums . and remained a popular performer for televised tributes and other major events, including Super Bowl LIV, where she sang “America the Beautiful.” Her pen is still just as sharp, as she recently received a Tony Award nomination for – of all things –SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical.

Though the Grammy-winner hasn’t released an album in 11 years, she’s been a mainstay on gospel and R&B radio (and most Black Gatherings) Terry Lewis produced the tracks “Open My Heart” and “Be Blessed”, among others. Adams tells The Daily Beast she’s been working with the legendary R&B duo on music she plans to release soon.

Until then, Adams fans can catch her starring in the new drama on BET+ kingdom business. In the series, which is executive produced by gospel legends Kirk Franklin and Holly Carter, Adams stars as Denita Jordan, a competitive gospel diva obsessed with awards and producing hits at any cost. Her status as a high-grossing artist is threatened when a stripper named Rebl auditions Rich Actress (and notable “Bad Blood” music video appearance) Serayah explodes on the gospel scene after a video of her singing at her best friend’s funeral goes viral. The multi-generational drama reveals a dark underbelly of the gospel music industry, fraught with sex scandals, crime and cutthroat competition that Adams says she hasn’t personally experienced but has heard from younger artists.

Adams spoke to The Daily Beast via Zoom about what it was like impersonating Denita, her upcoming album, and how she balances the industrial side of gospel with her ministry.

How did this role come to you?

well dr Holly Carter and I have known each other for years. And she knows my background. And she’s like, “We gotta get you on TV.” I’m like, “I know, I know.” And there were times she’d be like, “Well, I’ve got this reality show.” And I’m like, ” I don’t want everyone in my business. But if we get a good show or something, give me a call.” And so it took us about three and a half years to finally find the thing that really, really suited what I wanted to do. I wanted a character that wasn’t so much like me because I wanted to stretch and sort of expand my acting possibilities.

How fun was it to step into the role of Denita? Because I wouldn’t necessarily reduce her to a villain. But she definitely has some antagonistic qualities.

It was definitely fun to dive into because people watch me on TV and I’m always the nice girl or the preacher or this or that. I wanted to be that diva [laughs] that I’m not personal at all. Because I think what happened when you keep playing yourself or playing a character like you, you get into a comfort zone. I wanted to feel so uncomfortable in this role that I had to be diligent and focused to make sure everything I said and every gesture I made would flow with the character. So yes. I loved it.

Speaking of being out of your comfort zone, were you at all nervous about starring in a project on a secular network aimed at an adult audience?

Here’s the thing, you know? We can’t let that cookie cutter thing happen because life is life. And you have to deal with people who don’t act like you, don’t sound like you, do what you do. And you know, Denita has a real problem with that. Yes. But you know, as you get older, you realize that times change. And things change. And if God can use you, we can use anyone. I think people are going to be really, really surprised, but I think they’ll breathe a sigh of relief that this is a show that actually shows how real relationships and real involvements and things like that work.

“I think people are going to be really, really surprised, but I think they’ll breathe a sigh of relief that this is a show that actually shows how real relationships and real involvements and things like that work.”

The show also reveals a dark, competitive side of the gospel music industry that is obviously dramatized to some degree. But I was wondering if that kind of competitiveness and sass is something you’ve experienced in your career?

Well, let me say that first. As you so eloquently put it, this is scripted drama. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my career because growing up, Shirley Caesar, Albertina Walker, Lynette Hawkins, Tramaine Hawkins all hugged me. So I didn’t have that kind of, “Oh my god, they don’t like me.” I was loved by them and I still am loved by them. And we all express that to the outside world.

But I know some people who have had an experience that was completely the opposite of the experience I had. First, I started in the gospel business when I was 13 years old. And when I’m 16, I’ll have a hit. And then when I’m 18, I’ll have a Billboard hit. So you know me. And then younger artists coming in and not being able to hug, I just thought that was so crazy because I hadn’t experienced that.

Like Denita, you are also someone who has been showered with awards and honors – most recently at the Soul Train Awards. Where do you think these awards are mentally? Because as a gospel singer, I assume that for you, music is primarily a religious practice and ministry.

That’s a good question. The first thing is you never do gospel music for the money or the awards because if you wanted money and awards you would go into R&B, which is where the awards are. And there’s the Stellar Awards. And the Dove Awards are specifically for gospel artists to recognize what they’ve accomplished over the past year and a half. You know, I think that should be applauded because we didn’t have a presence at some of these other awards. I won the first American Music Award for gospel music. And so if I was the first, it certainly means Tramaine and people like Caesar weren’t even thought of in those rooms. You know, I know we don’t do it for the awards. But it’s nice to get them. And they are hidden. They’re not in front of my house or anything. They’re hidden so I know they’re there. And you know, people ask when they come over. I have to go to my office, get it out. But even the Word says that even a laborer is worthy of his wages. So it’s not contrary to what we do.

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Yolanda Adams and Serayah in kingdom business

Trey Mangum/BET+

I loved seeing that Kirk Franklin was an executive producer on the show because you two are considered these titans of gospel music. And you’ve had some amazing collaborations. How much of your decision to do the show has to do with him being involved?

Well, like I said, Holly Davis Carter is really the reason I’m doing this; But of course you add Kirk and that’s a bonus. He’s like my little brother, you know? And I love working with him musically because he’s always thinking. And to work with him as an actor, I had to move away from the doting sister to actually, you know, argue with him. So I really had to achieve something. But yeah he’s cool.

Has this role given you the acting bug now? Do you see this role as a new era for your career?

No, that’s just a part of me. You know we’ve been in the studio for a while working on a new project. And of course COVID happened. And we try to make sure we deliver the best product. And that just fell into our laps. And so I’m like, “Well, hey, let’s do all this.” Yes. But I think it’s just an added bonus to what I’m already doing.

I wanted to ask when we can ask for another album from you. I didn’t know it was a decade.

Well all I can tell you is that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and I have been in the studio for a few months.

Yay! I was hoping you would work with them again.

Yes I know. We have some amazing work. There’s the song we call “The Hope Song” that we hope will make the world a better place. And that’s all I can say about it. But yeah, we’re really excited.

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