Still of Sinqua Walls as Don Cornelius from BET's "American Soul" episode 204. (Photo: Annette Brown/BET)
Photo: Annette Brown
Photo: Annette Brown

BET’s ‘American Soul’ season 2 brings more drama, more stars

Season one of BET’s “American Soul” focused on Don Cornelius’ efforts to establish his show “Soul Train” as a nationwide hit. 

The set looks snazzier. The musical guests are bigger. 

For season two, starting in 1975, now that his show is a success, how does he grapple with the pressures that success naturally brings? 

“American Soul” returns at 10 p.m. BET has eight episodes in the can. 

Sinqua Walls, who channeled the real Cornelius so well the first season, said in an interview on Atlanta-based set last year that he had to work hard to be the man, that it took real effort to focus on his essence and not lose it, even on weekends and away from the set. 

This season, he said “I feel he’s with me all the time. I can take him off, be Sinqua and put him back on.”

That doesn’t mean being Cornelius is any easier, he said.

“The weight is on him always,” Walls said. “He’s a precedent setter. It’s like a game of Jenga. If he takes the wrong piece out, the whole thing will fall to the ground, not even intentionally.”

He is aware that his control of “Soul Train” could slip away as others try to get their hands on the money and power he worked so hard to attain. “For him, it’s not only a business, but it’s a passion project.” 

“American Soul” illustrates how that intense focus on his work caused him to sacrifice his marriage and his friendships, Walls said.

The BET show, like “Solid Gold,” feels pressure to be bigger and better than its first season, Walls said.

“This season you get bigger guests while Don deteriorates mentally and physically,” Walls said. “Some of it is hereditary.”

Many people behind the scenes hid his growing range of afflictions from the public, Walls said. 

As an actor, Walls said the favorite song for him to get into character is the propulsive theme from “Shaft.” 

“He’s a bad man,” Walls said. “That’s his internal monologue.”

And since “Soul Train” was where the biggest R&B artists, several will be portrayed this year by current-day musicians and actors. Here’s a sampling:

Big Boi as George Clinton

Ledisi as Patti LaBelle

Melanie Fiona as Chaka Khan

Demetria McKinney as June Pointer of the Pointer Sisters

Darius McCrary as James Brown

D.C. Young Fly as Sly Stallone

Yung Joc as Gary Shider

Hudson Thames as Elton John

Still of Darius McCrary as James Brown from BET's "American Soul" episode 205. (Photo: Nathan Bolster/BET)
Still of Big Boi as George Clinton from BET's "American Soul" episode 205. (Photo: Annette Brown/BET)
Photo: Annette Brown
Still of Yung Joc as Garry Shider from BET's "American Soul" episode 205. (Photo: Annette Brown/BET)
Photo: Annette Brown
Photo: Still of Hudson Thames as Elton John from BET's "American Soul" episode 204. (Photo: Annette Brown/BET)
Photo: Still of DC Young Fly as Sly Stone from BET's "American Soul" episode 204. (Photo: Annette Brown/BET)

The show also focuses on Cornelius’ right-hand man, Gerald Aims, played by Jason Dirden, who has connections with the Mob.

Gerald is a fictional character but an amalgamation of multiple real people.

“Gerald’s in hot water from episode one,” Dirden said on set. “He wants to go clean and establish a ‘Soul Train’ nightclub. You can’t outrun the Mob.”
But Cornelius trusts him as much as he can trust somebody, someone who can keep the supposed evil forces away.

“I give him the best business advice, gangster advice I can give,” Dirden said. 

Still of Sinqua Walls as Don Cornelius from BET's "American Soul" episode 204. (Photo: Annette Brown/BET)
Photo: Annette Brown
Still of Sinqua Walls as Don Cornelius from BET's "American Soul" episode 205. (Photo: Nathan Bolster/BET)

ON TV

“American Soul,” season 2 debuts 10 p.m. Wednesday, May 27, 2020 on BET

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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