*Amazingly beautiful, ridiculously talented and surprisingly warm. These are but a few of the many descriptive terms that came to mind when I sat down to write this piece on “Braxton Family Values” and its cast. From watching the first episode I can already say it’s “realer” than any reality television program that I have seen to date.
Drama is to be expected, but this up close and personal look at the inner-workings of the family of a Grammy Awarding-winning superstar is unprecedented. Last week EURweb had the opportunity to be on hand for the New York City media launch party at an upscale downtown establishment.
(Watch “Braxton Family Values” tonight, Tuesday, at 9pm Est.)
Top media personalities and bloggers were on hand to get a taste of what the world could expect from the new show from the Braxton ladies themselves. When word first got out that Toni Braxton had agreed to have her life plastered all over the television screen eyebrows were raised and mouths were gaped open in awe.
What convinced her?
“It was very difficult (to convince Toni),” said sister Tamar with smile. “What happened was we were playing a game of Monopoly,” Toni interjected. “I owed Tamar 2,800 and she said she would give me Park Place if I would do the show.”
Though all reality television shows are not created equal, a commonality seems to be questionable behavior.
“I never really thought about that when I thought of the show,” said Tamar. “When I thought of it I thought about the family and somebody learning from it. Honestly!”
“What happened was a few years ago my parents were newly divorced after 35 years,” remembered Toni. “30 days later my Dad remarried. Now, my Mom and Dad don’t get along and they’re cordial because of us. (We were) at Tamar’s wedding dinner and it was stressful for everyone. My sister said ‘We should do a reality show because we can’t be the only family in America that’s going through this and we should tell our story.”
And what of the aforementioned unbecoming behavior that is popular on other reality shows? Was she afraid of what people would think?
“I definitely had my reservations but I said ‘You know? I can’t look foolish if I tell the truth.’ And I ain’t gonna remember the lies anyway. I didn’t want people to see me as Toni Braxton the singer but as a sister and as a Mom of a special needs son. I wanted to portray that side. I’m sitting there with sweatpants and jeans and a wife-beater, and stuff on my face because I wanted to be candid. I wanted it to be personal for people”
In addition to Momma Braxton’s unfortunate marital circumstances, younger sister Towanda has been battling to keep some semblance of normalcy in her household as well. She and her husband are married in name alone. Husband and wife reside in the same household, but that’s pretty much where it all ends. She told reporters that she is doing it for what she feels are noble reasons.
“It was almost like the government’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ type of thing, because I knew it wasn’t working,” said Towanda of her “open” marriage. “But it was important to me for both parents to be in the home. It was just like ‘You sleep in that room, I’ll sleep in this one’. He was sleeping in one room, and I was sleeping in another.”
Hearing the moans and groans of some in attendance, namely Tamar, Toni spoke up in defense of her younger sister.
“She said she wanted both parents in the home, especially after our parents divorced,” said Toni.
“Absolutely, I have small kids. I have a 4 year old and a 5 year old,” said Towanda. “I’m going to let it go this way until it’s time to say ‘Hey, that’s it!’ Of course, Tamar hates it. Tamar doesn’t have kids so she really doesn’t understand.”
But, despite her sisters’ assertions to Towanda’s situation being ‘the right thing to do’, Tamar wasn’t having it.
“My Mom had kids and after 35 years she bounced,” said Tamar. “My thing is how long you’re going to try to make something work that doesn’t work?”
“And it still affected me in a certain way and we’re grown,” Towanda responded. “I don’t want it to affect my kids in the same way. Not having my father there, that affected us as women. I don’t want that to happen to my daughter. They’re small, they’re 4 and 5 so they really don’t get it right now.”
Drama was unfolding right before our eyes, or so it seemed. Those that purvey in the distribution of reality television are experts at staged drama, but this seemed pretty real to me. Eventually the line of questioning veered toward the Braxtons’ musical beginnings.
“I don’t know if people know this, but there are 4 years between me and my next sister, and 12 years between me and Tamar,” said Toni. “So, it was a big marketing thing when we signed to Arista Records with Clive Davis. We put a single out and they didn’t know what to do with us. He made LA Reid and Kenny (Babyface) check us out and they were just starting. They just signed TLC. What happened is they signed me, but later on they signed my sisters too. They were signed and the A&R took them to Atlantic Records.
After Toni was signed the Braxtons’ broke up in 1996, but reunited not long afterwards with only three of the four sisters participating in the group’s new form. Traci was not allowed to join because of her pregnancy. Their album was called “So Many Ways” and featured a cover of the Diana Ross hit “The Boss,” which was the #1 single on the U.S. Dance Chart. Despite that bit of success, the Braxtons’ disbanded yet again after Tamar went solo. To date she hasn’t released any studio offerings. During the show’s first episode it appeared as though Tamar, who was performing background vocals for Toni, was disgruntled about her career and being in her talented sister’s shadow. The outspoken songstress told reporters that she has nothing against Toni, she just wants to get on with her own career.
“Actually, Toni has always been my best friend as well as a superstar. So, actually I don’t look at her as a superstar. I look at her as my older sister. So, this whole background singer (thing) has nothing to do with ‘OK, Toni now it’s my time.’ No, it has nothing to do with that. It’s just about me growing up. I’m married now and I’m ready to start my own career.”
Though the sisters appear to have become adept at dealing with their interpersonal concerns in the public eye, Trina was dealing with something that was potentially life threatening.
“I would say that just because you’re down doesn’t mean that you’re out,” said the suddenly somber Trina. “I’ve gone through such a tremendous experience throughout the filming of this show that I honestly and truthfully don’t know where I would be without these women here today.”
“We all had to intervene,” said Toni. “She got caught drinking and driving and she was arrested during filming. We saw our sister going down and that was not going to happen. Some of it we did on TV, but most of it we did off camera. It’s just too real. The camera was there for 15 minutes then we said ‘Now, we have to do it off camera’.”
The cohesiveness of the Braxton family unit was apparent on camera, and in person. Though everyone would like to think that familial love for siblings is something that happens automatically, it’s not as simple as that. Love has to be taught. In the case of the Braxtons the teacher was their mother, Evelyn Braxton. Here, she tells reporters why she agreed to be on “Braxton Family Values.”
“It’s a good thing because I think people can learn from this,” said the elder Braxton. “No matter who you are or where you’re from every family has problems. No one is exempt. We all have drama and so the good thing about it is that they’re willing, I’m willing, to come out and let people know that just because you’re a superstar you’re not exempt from anything: an autistic child, sometimes your family is half crazy. And sometimes a Mom has to come in and intervene and just say, as grown as they are, shut up! I don’t want to hear anything else today!”
“We don’t have any regrets,” said Tamar. “We’re not embarrassed by anything. We’re actually proud of the work we’ve done because we feel like the audience can really get something out of it. It’s a lot of crying, laughter, a lot of healing and experiences that you can take home and share with your families.”
You can catch “Braxton Family Values” tonight, Tuesday (and every Tuesday) at 9pm Eastern on WeTV. We will be bringing you more from our conversation with the Braxtons as Toni talks about her alleged Playboy offer, the real story behind her financial issues and being the mother of a child with austism, and her own fragile health.