Before Keri Hilson was recording chart-topping hits and racking up Grammy nominations, she was making a name for herself as a star athlete.
Yep, the statuesque beauty was dribbling a basketball up and down the court of Tucker High School in DeKalb County. And she was good, too. She was the captain and best offensive player for two years and took home the most valuable player award her senior year.
So the multi-talented Georgia Peach knows all about the McDonald’s All American Games, an annual tournament that spotlights high school basketball players across America and Canada.
It’s been happening for more than four decades, and for the last two years, it’s taken place in Atlanta.
When Hilson, 36, was asked to perform at last Saturday’s All-American Games Fan Fest ahead of the big game, which took place Mar. 27 at State Farm Arena, she said “yes” immediately.
“I agreed to do it for three reasons,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Number one, this would have been the opportunity to have as a high school basketball player. Number two, McDonald’s was actually the very first show that I had to put together a show for when my single ‘The Way I Are’ came out around ‘06. And the third was the philanthropic effort that McDonald’s has.”
About an hour before Hilson hopped on the stage at Centennial Olympic Park, she chatted with the AJC about her partnership with the fast food chain, her break from the entertainment industry and her music comeback.
What does it take to put on a Keri Hilson show? What are some must-haves when you’re preparing for a performance?
I have to have my deejay, DJ Mars, because he can do all the yelling I can’t do. I have to perform “Pretty Girl Rock.” I have to perform “Knock You Down.” ... And I have to have these baby hairs laid. That’s about it.
Talk about maintaining longevity. You haven’t put out new music in a while, but you’ve remained relevant in other ways.
Yes, that’s crazy. I don’t even really try to. I’ve been blessed with many gifts, so I can always fall back on songwriting. I was a theater major in college, so acting is something I always enjoy. I’ve been really blessed. I don’t know why blogs still write about me. I don’t know why interviewers still come, but I am super grateful that you do.
It’s been almost a decade since you’ve released an album. Where are you in the process of making new music?
Well, this summer I’m releasing an album. You got that first. I’m about to post it in a couple of minutes.
[A few hours after our interview, Hilson took to Instagram to announce the news.]
That’s exciting! Are you sharing the title of the project, too?
Nope, one thing at a time. Just know my return to music is this summer.
You’ve been open about your struggles with the music industry and your mental health issues. How have your troubles transformed you?
Man, I always say I’ve turned my pain into purpose. That’s the biggest takeaway. It birthed my foundation. It birthed my heart for the many causes I believe in, like McDonald’s. It’s a huge part of the Keri Hilson brand. It’s about giving back and reaching back. I’d say the biggest takeaway from my time a part was just that it absolutely has been a transformation and a soul-finding time.
What do you know about yourself that you didn’t know before you took your music hiatus?
I am really resilient. I am really strong. I am a warrior. No matter what happens or has happened, my faith in God has really grown. That’s something I don’t think that I had then, or I didn’t realize how strong my faith was. I’ll always know I’ll end up OK. I’ll be fine.
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