With Latasha Scott, Faith Evans and Nicci Gilbert bowing out after two seasons of TV One's "R&B Divas Atlanta," producers found two younger R&B singers who had their heyday in the late 1990s to fill the void: former Destiny's Child singer LaTavia Roberson and former 702 lead singer Meelah Williams.
They join a vast crew of metro Atlanta-based R&B singers who have or had a reality show. That list now includes Keyshia Cole, Monica, Kandi Burruss, Tomeka "Tiny" Cottle and both surviving members of TLC Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas and Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins.
"R&B Divas," which returns Wednesday, doesn't get physical the way "Love and Hip Hop Atlanta" does and isn't nearly as popular as "Real Housewives of Atlanta." (Then again, it's on TV One, which draws upon a much smaller pool of potential viewers.)
Still, exposure is exposure and TV is certainly a way to jump-start a music career (just ask K Michelle or Tamar Braxton).
"I was a little reluctant at first," Meelah said during lunch at the Optimist last week. "It's reality TV. But I soon realized if I'm going to do reality TV, at least do one that's musical and based around R&B singers such as myself. I figured it was about that time. These days, it's the new record deal."
Meelah Williams had success in the late 1990s with her Vegas-based girl group 702, which generated four major R&B hits, most notably "Where My Girls At" in 1999. But she left the band after its second album and tried the solo route. That didn't stick. She also did some back-up singing for Macy Gray. Over time, she faded out of the scene.
In 2009, she moved to Atlanta with her son Zac and lives with his dad, R&B star Musiq Soulchild. She is now in Suwanee and on the comeback trail. Her son is four and has autism so she'll be talking about that on the show.
LaTavia, who had a contentious split with Destiny's Child in 2000-01 over management and control, said she was approached for season two while she was pregnant. She now has an eight-month old son named Lyric and lives in the city of Atlanta. (The daddy is a music producer.) She decided it was time to get back in the game for season three, however reluctantly.
"I'm trying to figure out if I even want to sing or get back into the music scene," LaTavia said. "The music business left a bad taste in my mouth. I'm not going to be bullied into doing anything. It has to be right."
She is more interested in producing than performing, she said. "I don't think you need a microphone to be an R&B diva," LaTavia said over a chopped salad. "I'm a diva all damn day, a female version of a hustler."
LaTavia is working on her memoir. "I get really really raw," she said, "for people wondering where I've been the past 10 years. I get down and dirty." That includes her problems with drugs. She has done some plays and is interested in doing more acting and public speaking. She is also thinking of doing a clothing line for preemies.
Both are grateful to still hear their songs on the radio. "I'm humble to say I have two Grammys," LaTavia said. "It's great. I'm so grateful for that experience, to travel the world and do it with my friends. My beef was always with management, not Beyonce. I support all her projects."
"I'm a witness," Meelah added. "She plays Beyonce and Destiny's Child albums all day every day! And I sing along! I respect her for that."
At the same time, "R&B Divas," she said, "shows African-American women can get together without throwing wine glasses," LaTavia said. "We can definitely hash out our differences like grown women."
Gilbert, who remains an executive producer, said last fall that she didn't come across well on the show and felt it was damaging her image. "I don't get the impression anyone missed Nicci," Meelah said.
They both acknowledge Angie Stone's "mother hen" tendencies. They admire Monifah's passion for music and Syleena's tendency to just speak her mind and acts like a "big sister," Meelah said. KeKe Wyatt, she said, is "my sister from another Pisces. Our birthdays are two days apart. I respect her. She's very unapologetic about how she feels. She'll curse you out, then feel bad about it two seconds later. And she can sing her toenails off!"
LaTavia and Meelah met around 2000 when Meelah was visiting New Birth Baptist Church. "I was crying at the altar. I was in a place where I didn't know where I was going with 702," she said. LaTavia, who was living here at the time, saw her. They didn't know each other but LaTavia put her arm around Meelah and comforted her.
"It really warmed my heart," Meelah said. And they've been friends ever since.
LaTavia has lived in and out of Atlanta. Her most recent return was in 2012. She said she is now a single mom.
"R&B Divas Atlanta," Wednesdays, 10 p.m., TV One (returning April 23)
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