Don’t even get me started on how much I love Wilson Phillips. Seriously, don’t. I remember – as I’m sure we all do – singing ‘Hold On’ at the top of my lungs every time it came on the radio as a kid. I also tried to blend in a fourth set of harmonies on ‘You’re In Love’, thinking what a shame it was that they hadn’t heard my beautiful voice because if they had, surely they would have invited me to join the group.
Now, 22 years since the release of their debut self-titled album, Wilson Phillips – more particularly, the lovely Carnie and Wendy Wilson and Chynna Phillips – are back with a new album, a new tour and a new reality TV series, Wilson Phillips: Still Holding On, for the TV Guide Network. I was lucky enough to meet these fantastic women and chat with them about everything from our love of cheap jewellery to mine and Carnie’s tendency to curse like a sailor – and oh yeah, about their careers.
Carnie, you recently underwent a second weight loss surgery. What led you to that, and why has it been so important to you to be vocal about your struggles with weight?
“Of course the biggest driving force is for health reasons. You know, for someone like me, who’s been so open about my struggle with weight and what I’ve been through, it would be uncharacteristic of me to not talk about it in the public eye. I don’t want to hide anything – there is nothing to hide. I look at this as taking control of my health and taking control back that I wasn’t feeling for a few years. I’m really proud that I did it, I’m grateful that I did it. It’s hard work every day. I’m changing all of my daily habits and mostly what I’m eating, but the fact that I get the sensation of being full again – I needed help in that area and I got it. It’s working and I’m thrilled.”
You are premiering your first reality series, The Wilson Phillips Project, on Sunday (April 8). What made you want to document your lives at this point in your career?
Chynna: “First of all, it was not our idea to do a reality show, and when it was presented to us, we had a little bit of reservation at first because everything is very exposed in your life. We think it’s a great kind of tool for us to put ourselves out there again, to let people get a sneak peek into who we are as people and not just hear our voices as singers, but the way we speak and the relationship between us as partners. We like to call it a docu-drama, not a reality series. It softens it a little bit.”
Chynna: “We’ve grown up a lot since our debut record 20 years ago. We’re completely different women and the three of us interact with each other in a way that is so much more healthy and productive. We immediately look for a solution now instead of just fighting over something where we’re shaking our tail and nothing’s getting accomplished or resolved. Now we always ask, what is the solution? How can we make this better and have all of us feel respected and honoured? It’s not always easy – it’s easier said than done – but we really aspire to try our hardest to respect one another and find a solution.”
Carnie: “It is kind of like a marriage. It reminds me of when I went to counseling with my husband Rob. We were 7 years married and we went to couples counseling and realised that we wanted to get to the solution instead of arguing about stupid things. I’ve realised that when we really argue or get on each other’s nerves, it’s when we’re really feeling tired or we don’t feel well or we’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed. In a marriage, you can take it out on each other. It’s the person that’s there, you know them so well. But there’s always love so deep for one another that we’ve learned to respect our differences – not honour the difference, but just know that we are who we are. The respect, now that we’re women, is so much more than it ever was. The core of our personalities hasn’t changed. We’ve grown now – we’re wives and we’re mothers and women – but we’re still the same.”
Wendy: “The communication is a lot clearer now. We try not to let things fester too long. If there’s something we disagree on, we communicate much better with each other and that always resolves our problem, so that’s good.”
Earlier this month, a group of drag queens parodied ‘Hold On’ in protest of Chick-Fil-A’s anti-gay controversy. Did you see that? What did you think of it?
Chynna: “Imitation is always flattery! We love that they took the time to express themselves. Obviously they felt very passisonately about the fact that they were feeling demoralised and wanted to make sure that they got the word out there that anybody can eat at Chick-Fil-A. They didn’t want to feel ostracised in any way and they went out and did something about it. You have to give them a lot of respect for that.”
Carnie: “It was intense! I was kinda trippin’ out. I love drag queens, are you kidding me? For that part, I’m in heaven!”
Wendy: “If you look back at 1990, first of all, our eyebrows? They were very dark and really pointed. And you know, the big hair. Some of the jackets we wore were a little frumpy, but overall I think we had good style and were put together.”
Chynna: “I’m never going back to the short hair! I know never say never, but I love my long hair. I’m never going back again!”
Carnie: “I was looking at a picture of us – I had the bangs with the bob and the blazer. I was one of the first people to wear a Richard Tyler suit – Janet Jackson and I were the first to get fitted. I remember walking down the boardwalk and thinking, you know, fashion! And I was plump, so that was fun. I’ve always liked our fashion. The only thing I didn’t like was when I was in that lingerie for that ‘You Won’t See Me Cry’ video. That didn’t seem natural to me. I wasn’t comfortable with any of us or the way we were dressed for that. I can be a lady – surprise!”
Have any of your kids expressed an interest in showbiz? Would you let them become performers if that’s what they wanted?
Chynna: “[Carnie's daughter]Lola and [my daughter] Brooke want to be on a Disney channel show, like, today. They’re both good dancers and singers so I know they would love that. But my mom didn’t let me into a professional career until I was 18 and I feel that is a very important thing to instill, at least for me in my child. I feel like she’s too young to make her own decisions so I don’t want to make decisions for her that are going to impact her for a lifetime. I’d rather her be 18 and make her own decisions, and then she can’t blame me!”
Carnie: “If my 7-year-old said to me, Mommy, I want to start acting or I want to sing, I would let her do whatever she wants. I feel a litle bit differently. She goes to a school that really focuses on academics, which I think is great, but it also gives creative freedom. She’s expressive – and she’s got the gift to do harmonies. She’s been doing that since she was 3 years old… I have recordings of us harmonizing on my iPhone and she’s not Mozart, but it’s impressive.”
Being 22 years removed from the debut album, are there songs you’ve grown apart from? Are there ones that resonate more with you now that you’re older?
Wendy: “It feels exactly the same when we sing these songs on tour. It almost feels like it was yesterday, but it was 22 years ago. I think it means so much to us, we’re just more grateful now to be up there. We’re kind of in awe of what we’ve accomplished. It’s a nice feeling.”
Carnie: “Also, we were never a touring band – we did tour for 6 weeks with Richard Marx, but we did more promotional visits. Now we go on stage and actually do these shows. To see the audience mouth the words and sing along with us and to get to show off the vocals – ‘cos it’s one big harmony fest – is something we didn’t experience before. It was always so rushed – perform your song, go to the next radio station and kiss someone else’s ass. I’m not kidding. It seems like now, because there’s so little opportunity, you can grab what’s there. The business is so different that I really think the perspective has changed on both ends. The people who are behind the scenes and the people who are the artists, I don’t know… I feel like there’s more appreciation. “
Chynna: “Music in general holds a deep and profound place in our hearts. We feel like so many of our parents’ emotions were put to music and then in turn, we put our own emotions and feelings to music and then we were able to share that with people and they were able to apply that to their own struggles and things that they were going through in their lives. Music is universal – it’s a universal language. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, you can still be moved by a melody, an instrument. We’re so grateful to be in a business where you can touch so many different people on so many different levels. To have the opportunity to sing our parents’ music and to give that music to a whole new generation is an honour.”
You were in Bridesmaids, which really brought ‘Hold On’ back to popularity. Does that nostalgia ever feel limiting or obnoxious?
Chynna: “That song is an anthem and has helped so many people, and for that, we’ve been so humbled just knowing how many people it’s touched. We don’t get tired of people saying, oh, you’ve helped us get through such a difficult time – whether it’s a divorce, the loss of a child or they were suicidal. You have no idea of the stories we hear. The list is endless. So it’s really cool to know that your music has been so impactful on someone else’s life. Everyone can hold on for just one more day. If the song was ‘hold on for one more week’, people would say, I don’t know if I can do a whole week, but I can do 24 hours! [Laughs]“
Carnie: “We remember the message of ‘Hold On’ – and other songs that we’ve written, too – that have that feeling of young love and that strong sentiment. We remember people saying that to us 20, 21 years ago, but no so many years later, it’s happening again. That just goes to show you the power of a strong melody and words that people can relate to. It’s so great to see it the second time around.”
Wendy: “It’s the gift that keeps on giving, because as long as someone’s still getting something from it, it gives back to us and it’s great.”
How do you stay healthy on the road?
Chynna: “It’s not easy. Definitely it’s been a real thorn on my side having to take care of myself physically while on the road. I have really strong feelings about what I’ll eat and what I won’t eat. I’m not a primadonna at all, I just take a lot of pride in making sure I’m eating organic foods and am combining food properly. To some people it’s a little obnoxious, but I take it really seriously and it’s something that unfortunately affects other people’s lives and causes some trouble sometimes. I bring a steamer on the road. I steam my baked potatoes and my vegetables and my chicken.”
Carnie: “It’s a pain in the ass! No, I’m kidding.”
You guys have obviously known one another for ages and seem so close. How strong of a friendship is there between you?
Chynna: “We have a deep and profound love and respect for one another. Even though we don’t get along perfectly, no bands do. We do our best to undersatnd one another. I have a lot of respect for Carnie – she has such an incredible ear for music and she comes up with great hooks. I trust her whole-heartedly with our arrangements – and also Rob, her husband. And I really respect Wendy and the way she approaches each song. She does it with such integrity. She takes her vocals so seriously and wants to do it just right. She’s an amazing songwriter.”
Carnie: “I respect that Chynna has a lot of innovative ideas and is a spontaneous person. She brings the spontaneous, you-never-know-what’s-going-to-happen fun feeling. She teaches me not to take it so seriously. They call me a control freak and I am but I’m trying to figure out what I’m so afraid of. We appreciate each other for our similarities, our differences and what each of us bring to the table.”
What would be your final message for those thinking of watching the new show?
Chynna: “Try to have a sense of humour when you watch it! It’s not as intensive as it looks. It’s a little more wholesome than most reality shows. You don’t really feel like you need to take a shower after it. You don’t feel dirty and disgusting. But there’s definitely drama. There are definitely moments where you might be on pins and needles, wondering what’s going to happen next. We’re enjoying it much more than we expected to, that’s for sure.”