“There’s something really awesome about being in a city where everyone is chasing such lofty dreams.”
Ashley Blaine Featherson is prepping for her afternoon photo shoot where she’ll channel the glam and sass of disco icon Donna Summer – she brought her own sex appeal to the party. The Visibility Project is doing a 3-part profile on the stars of the Twenties pilot presentation – almost as a celebration of the milestone marker, news that a cable network will be shooting the full pilot.
Hovering somewhere around six feet in what appear to be, at least, 5-inch black platform heels, Featherson is wearing a multi-colored metallic blouse tucked into high-waisted black sheer pants, both pieces snatched by a gold waist chain. The ensemble fits every curve just as it should and when she first walks out of the room and into the living room of friend and colleague Nia Jervier’s lavish apartment, the striking image alters your heartbeat, just momentarily before returning to you all the life you need. When she steps onto the set of her solo scene and in front of the camera, Ashley Blaine Featherson is serving 70s realness with no visible effort.
It’s been said that 2013 was the year of the Black actress. That’s debatable. One thing 2013 did make known is the shift in the atmosphere of Hollywood and mainstream media, revealing an untapped network of artists of color that refuse to wait for their turn any longer. Ashley Blaine Featherson has thrived within this renaissance, creating and curating original work with as much impact as staying power.
At 26, her career goals are clear – a feat in itself. Even more impressively she has already stamped her ABF brand in several areas of media and entertainment as an actress, producer, writer, creator, dancer and singer. She’s the exception to the rule that a “Jack (or Jill) of all trades” is a master of none.
That branding, the careful presentation of herself, speaks volumes. It’s one of the very first things our own Editor-In-Chief took note of and mentioned when our research began. It’s not crafted or inauthentic, rather a testament to her drive and determination, her willingness to go the extra mile, add the finishing touch to an already amazing, organically assembled package of talent, wit, intelligent humor and beauty.
I stayed up for hours one night gabbing with our EIC, both of us bingeing on the first season of Black & Sexy TV’s Hello Cupid, a hit web-series with a cult-like following that Featherson is the co-star of. Featherson also holds the credit of co-creator. She and writer, producer Lena Waithe, created a witty, refreshing and honest gem, that ended up being a large contributing factor to Featherson’s own notoriety.
Between Waithe’s comedic genius and Featherson’s comedic timing and improv skills, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that fans are constantly waiting for and wanting more. About two episodes in that included our own team as well. And yes, over the last several weeks, at least part of our staff meetings have ventured into discussing Hello Cupid. The upcoming return of season two on Sunday, July 6 will likely bring more derailed staff meetings and quiet as it’s kept – I’m here for it.
The truth is I’m here for it because I’m always proud to see a Black actress that commands the universe as if it belongs to her like Featherson does. Like any writer who wants the best for their words and their subjects, I became nervous about the idea of bringing this profile to life. After the first few scenes of the photo shoot and the group interview we break off into solo interviews.
I sip the last of a cold can of Coke and shuffle my mental deck of cards lined with questions for the Hello Cupid star. She glances out of the window, then back to the kitchen, where we discuss everything from her years at Howard University, Washington D.C. theatre, to her entertainment icons and favorite brunch spots.
A native of the DMV area, Washington D.C. would become a catalyst for the early stages of Featherson’s career. After studying at the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts and landing her first professional role in high school, she was accepted into the Musical Theater program at Howard University. It was a springboard for the careers of phenomenal women. Home to Phyllicia Rashad, Debbie Allen and Zora Neale Hurston, these legends that came before her confirmed a sense of knowing that she was in the right place.
Featherson smiles when speaking of her years at Howard, waving a hand in the air and praising the no-nonsense attitude of her mentors. “I was so challenged at Howard. Our teachers did not take B.S. from us. We had to deliver all the time. They made it clear that it wasn’t easy for us; that we can’t expect to go out there and just be smart and pretty and get a role. There has to be a lot more that goes into it.”
Featherson loves her alma mater. That much is clear. We here at The ViP know exactly what that feels like, though none of us spent any real time at the real HU. What we do have in common is our affinity for Hillman College, which Featherson says during the group interview, “is basically Howard.” With so many parallels between the fictional university and Featherson’s alma mater, it’s a given that she would draw inspiration from what the school represents to dedicated fans of A Different World. After earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Howard in 2009, Featherson says she earned her Master’s in Education from Hillman. When invited back, she gives a guest lecture on finding your destiny. Fitting.
During our conversation with the Twenties trio, Featherson pointed out that most people don’t know their calling from an early age, taking years to discover what makes them truly tick. Many of us move forward with plans of law school or starting our own businesses, shaking off the wanderlust and trading it for an on-the-clock gig. Unlike most, Featherson knew her calling in elementary school, begging her parents to let her pursue the arts full time and later find a manager and an agent to begin auditioning at age 14. “It gave me another layer of purpose. It showed me again why God put me on this Earth and why I have a dream in my heart.”
Within a year of graduating from Howard University, Featherson would make a power play that would define the next stage of her career.
Following her childhood ambitions of big screen stardom, Featherson left her east coast stomping grounds for Los Angeles at age 22. For those wondering why not New York City? Don’t worry, I asked myself the same question. Anyone who saw her stellar resume would guess with total confidence that she had a first class ticket to Broadway waiting for her after graduation. But Featherson’s dreams weren’t limited to just the big screen or the Big Apple. Her career idol Vanessa Williams set the bar high for her pursuits.
“What I love about Vanessa Williams is that she’s so versatile. She does a TV show, then she does a Broadway show in New York for a couple months, then she goes to the studio to record a Vanessa at Christmas album, and then she does a movie on location in New Zealand. That’s what I want to do!”
If it isn’t obvious by now, Featherson embodies the definition of versatility and has become a chameleon in her work. With the ability to sing everything from The Isley Brothers to Stevie Nicks and Jill Scott with ease, she’s preparing for a lifetime of work that will carry her from the camera to the microphone to the stage and back again in her idol’s fashion.
While she says she dodged culture shock – a credit to her culturally rich hometown of Gaithersburg, Maryland – she had valleys and peaks that would shape her outlook on the city and her work.
“At 22 I missed home and I was dealing with a break up. I was ‘that’ girl. But I was also very driven and trying to determine how to get closer to my goals, and I’m still that girl, which is good. You have to be that person out here.”
When she wasn’t brunching at Sonoma Wine Garden or hiking the trails of the California mountains, Featherson would continue to audition for roles, landing guest spots on Bounce TV’s My Crazy Roommate, FOX’s Glee and an ensemble role in the Justin Simien directed Dear White People. As her knowledge of the industry grew, she decided it was time to be the change she sought.
Cupids, Color[ism] and Connections
Every woman who has tried online dating knows this story – you log into your account, you see new messages, you read those messages, you sigh and close the browser tab sending @IceBAEBAEFish and @DaR3alChrisBr33zy into oblivion, then find something on Netflix to pair with your evening glass of wine.
In a media circuit where The Bachelorette still plays in the homes of millions across the country, women of color are often glazed over or ignored completely in the narratives about finding love in the age of Millenials. Written from the perspective of the loyal friend and hopeless romantic, “Whitney,” Featherson and Waithe’s brainchild Hello Cupid brings a fresh take on dating in your twenties and explores relationships between people of color. In addition to producing the show, Featherson stars as Whitney in the series.
“I knew that I wanted it to be a web series. I knew that I wanted to bring it to Black & Sexy TV to see what they thought of it, and I knew that I wanted Lena to write it,” Featherson says. “I went to Lena with some ideas, a lot of which she said were terrible,” she laughs. “So I said, ‘well, wait I have this idea.’ So we tweaked some things, she added her spin on it, I added my spin on it and then that same night – because Lena’s a genius – she went home and wrote a spec script. I said, ‘I love it!’ Then we went to Black & Sexy and they said, ‘We love it!’”
When asked if Featherson bore any similarities to Whitney, she said, “There’s similarities for sure. Whitney is a more reserved version of me. She’s in her head about everything. Whitney loves love, and so do I. I think that’s what we have in common most. What I love about Whitney is that she wants the right kind of love. That’s why she’s going through so much craziness on Hello Cupid – it’s because she doesn’t just want to be with any guy. She doesn’t just want sex. She wants ‘The Guy’.”
Hello Cupid was derived from Featherson’s childhood experiences of growing up with her best friend. The inseparable duo were often seen as “the light-skinned friend” and “the dark-skinned friend,” leaving her wondering what that meant for them and their interactions with people. As fate would have it Featherson used her medium to explore these issues, prompting her and Waithe to make sure they addressed themes that affect the Black community. From colorism to hair texture, lifestyle habits and more, the series will ignite light bulbs in the minds of viewers using wit and humor, giving them the subtle push needed to start conversations.
A current student of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater of Los Angeles, Featherson uses her improv and comedy background to bring banter and present-day topics to the show. The cast also explores the definition of Blackness, eliminating tropes traditionally assigned to Black women on television.
“The fun thing about Hello Cupid is that we get to play. The first couple episodes were scripted, and then it’s more so improving. [Norman’s character,] Robyn is a Vegan because Hayley is a Vegan. As actors we tend to mention things about what we know in improv, and that made Robyn a Vegan. So we said sure! Let’s go with it.”
Naturally we wanted to hear all about the budding relationships in the show and the status of Whitney, Robyn and @ProudDad. Loyal to her fans, Featherson said, “You can expect some intense moments, you can expect more honest conversations and a real love story. I love that we’re talking about a love story from the beginning – what it’s like when you meet somebody, going through the honeymoon phase, what happens after the honeymoon phase when shit gets real and what that’s about. You can expect a real love story.”
Featherson is forever on the go it seems. Still, between auditions, table reads, filming and red carpet and other industry events, Featherson finds just enough time to share her adventures and connect with fans via Instagram. Proclaimed the Queen of Selfies by her friends, her feed is filled with gems from the latest fashion trends to beauty products and must-try restaurants in L.A.
The growing audience sparked an influx of questions – from hairstyles and discounts on the latest products, Featherson found herself sharing the hidden gems with her dedicated fans on her feed. It wasn’t until a few friends pushed her to put the content in one place that she decided to try blogging.
ThatsSoAsh.com launched in June, giving fans and glamour girls everywhere the tips they needed to be their best selves. You’ll find deals and steals, fresh fashion, foodie favorites and more directly from Ashley Blaine Featherson herself. A testament to her ever-changing aesthetic, Featherson showcases her ability to use products that allow her to transition to different looks.
Naturally, the site has taken off with a bang. Written with a conversational tone between friends, readers adore the discounts and deals that they can find with the ABF stamp of approval. Her goal was simply to say, “Girl, this is what I like, and you should go get it for 50% off.”
An Ode to Versatility
After 45 minutes of chatting, Featherson glides with ease onto the set – the part of Jervier’s living room we’ve designated for her solo shoot. The sounds of Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” pump the air with excitement, giving life to the staff. With every click of the camera Featherson finds a new pose, showcasing her style and grace along with her admiration for the Queen of Disco, which is seen in the way she’s channeling her to perfection.
As if perhaps another testament to her branding, she never fully loses ABF, letting her own personality shine through as she pays homage. Singing along to the radio between shots, the multi-faceted artist shows what it means to be a chameleon in the industry. You don’t even have to take our word for it. A quick look through the photo gallery of her official site may cause you to question if it’s the same person in every photo.
Down for the Cause, Here for the People
Ashley Blaine Featherson impressed us from the beginning of this project: she’s professional, mature, wise beyond her years, intelligent, aware, conscious, down for the cause and here for the people. It’s what happened at the end of our time with her in Los Angeles that impressed us most.
Shortly after the photo shoot we posted a picture of the Twenties trio showing love to our social media manager after the final group scene. Quickly a friend and follower commented asking if she could get her an autograph from Featherson, who responded graciously and enthusiastically, “Awww you’re so sweet!!!! You sure can,” almost as if she was shocked by the request.
We selected a couple of shots from the shoot, had them printed then contacted Featherson to make arrangements. She met our team at Panera Bread in Studio City 20 minutes later. Before signing she asked about the friend, “What does she do? What is she into? How do you spell her name? No accents or apostrophes?” When met with the proper spelling and stylization of JaNae’s name she responded with, “See! That matters!”
The three ladies of Twenties, despite having so much in common, are very different. Featherson met Jervier just four months before she auditioned for the role of Marie in the pilot presentation of Waithe’s Twenties. Both met actress Courtney Sauls, who plays the role of Hattie, during the audition process. All three became fast friends. Despite being friends with the writer and director, Featherson still had to work for the role. She earned the role of Marie after auditioning and then doing a callback read and chemistry test of sorts with Sauls.
The one thing they all have in common is the way they build each other up and go hard for everyone in their collective known as The Resurgence. During the audition process, Jervier, the only one of the three who was already cast as Nia (character name match is coincidental), went out into the hall each time after she read with Sauls and Featherson to encourage them and serve a dose of reassurance.
Featherson and her tribe don’t talk about themselves without talking about other members of The Resurgence. We should know. Because instead of dashing off right after signing the autograph she pulled up a chair and chatted, spilled tea and got to know us as she delayed her impending hike for nearly two hours.
She asked us about ourselves and our own stories. Not just surface questions, there were detours and follow-up questions and movie recommendations based on the answers. She gabbed about hair and talked products with our senior editor, Bri. She discovered two of our favorite actresses and made phone calls on the spot, both of whom were in meetings or otherwise busy, much to KAMMs’ relief (who only after this two-hour experience finally stopped referring to Featherson using her full name).
Ashley Blaine Featherson
She’s silly and girly. She’s hilarious and a master shade thrower. She laughs a lot and talks even more – not too much – she listens even better than she speaks, intently as though she wants every bit of knowledge you have to offer. She knows who she is and who she wants to be, where she wants to go and what she wants to do.
Featherson has lofty dreams, huge hopes and major goals. Chief among them is serving as an inspiration to others. Especially other brown girls, giving them something none of us had enough of growing up: motivation and encouragement, representation, visibility – the opportunity to see themselves in someone they can admire and look up to.
We’re not exactly sure why this is a future goal because as we noted during the group interview – she’s already doing that. That much is evident in the token of appreciation she provided for a fan, the time she spent to get to know us as much as we had come to know her and the way she actively and passionately loves her friends, family and fellow members of The Resurgence.
As far as we can tell Ashley Blaine Featherson is someone everyone can admire. Mostly, because she reflects your own awesomeness back onto you. She loves herself, owns her flaws, knows her strengths and is one hell of an actress. That last part is not something you have to take our word for.
She holds down a role in Justin Simien’s Dear White People, as a side-eye throwing, straight-shooting member of Sam’s (Tessa Thompson) crew. She slays. She nails the role. Enough to make you want her character to be your friend, or at least wish she was your friend during your time in college. If the October 17th premiere of Dear White People is too far away, check out her guest appearance in the season five episode of Glee, where she plays an old friend and backup singer of Amber Riley’s Mercedes Jones.
The Year of The Resurgence
CW: “What is The Resurgence?”
ABF: “Reviving or tending to rise again, a growth or increase that occurs after a period without growth or increase.” The resurgence is a tight knit & like-minded group of creatives who are rising up together while breathing new life into all areas of entertainment and making a positive social impact. We are actors, writers, directors, producers, musicians, dancers, content creators, executives, etc. We are bringing excitement, honesty and innovation back to the industry we love so much. We aren’t predicable. We are blazing a new trail and are fully committed to welcoming and inspiring those who want to make and be affiliated with quality content. Whatever you felt you were missing, we’re bringing it back!
Ashley Blaine Featherson, Lena Waithe, Courtney Sauls, Nia Jervier, Justin Simien are all part of the resurgence. They’re all friends. They all stan for each other, love each other, and go to bat for one another. But the expected nepotism is missing. Everyone has to audition or earn their place in the others’ productions and sometimes they don’t get them. That’s the beauty of The Resurgence – the honesty and integrity.
When their paths do cross in projects it’s a treat for the audience. That much talent in one place is dangerous and needed. So we’re here for it. And The Visibility Project is here for everything Ashley Blaine Featherson has in store. We’re ready for the resurgence.
Written by Carlyn Worthy & KAMMs Moore-Mitchell