Coco Jones talks earning Grammy nods, overcoming obstacles after Disney fame, Hollywood’s pay equity

Associated Press | 1/11/2024, 6 p.m.
Coco Jones was so obsessed with fine tuning her skills as a singer that she tried to mimic Beyoncé’s Olympic-style ...
Ms. Jones

LOS ANGELES - Coco Jones was so obsessed with fine tuning her skills as a singer that she tried to mimic Beyoncé’s Olympic-style training of singing while running on a treadmill.

Ms. Jones didn’t own a treadmill, but her father and former NFL player, Mike Jones, had an elliptical machine she often used as an alternative. Since her Disney child-star days, the singer-actor has been determined to apply the same work ethic as the best in hopes of breaking through on her terms.

For Ms. Jones, that time is now following several pivotal moments: After she starred on the 2012 Disney Channel musical “Let it Shine,” she struggled to maintain stardom and fell out the spotlight until she created a new buzz through viral TikTok videos before unveiling her re- shaped image as Hilary Bankson Peacock’s “Bel-Air.”

Ms. Jones went on to earn five Grammy nominations through her well-received EP “What I Didn’t Tell You.” It was anchored by her hit ballad “ICU,” which garnered a remix from Justin Timberlake.

She’s up for best new artist, R&B album, traditional R&B performance, R&B song and R&B performance.

In a recent interview, Ms. Jones spoke with The Associated Press about pushing through her rough patches, EGOT status possibly being on her vision board and her thoughts after Taraji P. Henson’s passionate words on Hollywood’s pay disparity.

AP: When you recorded your EP, did you foresee Grammy nominations?

Ms. Jones: I definitely didn’t think “How far could this go?” I was only focused on what was in front of me, who I wanted to present myself to as in front of the world. I hadn’t released music with a label since I was 16 years old, so my expectations were all over the place. I don’t even think I really understood how it works as an adult to release a project and what it means to have a rollout. I was a kid when all of those conversations were being had way above me. My expectation was within myself and my leaving everything in this booth every time. I’m giving the world the most fearless version of myself.… My expectations have been blown out of the water.

AP: How much did your fame through “Bel-Air” play a role in reestablishing yourself?

Ms. Jones: It really opened a lot of doors, because before my music came out, “Bel Air”

came out. It’s always so helpful for people to see a rebranded version of you — especially if you’re trying to change, if you’re trying to give something new. A very powerful way to be projected to the world is through TV and film as well as music. It all helped with shifting the narrative that I’m not that little kid from the Disney Channel anymore. I can be this upper echelon Bel-Air girl, and I can be an artist, and you’re going to respect both of them because they’re both going to hit hard in different way.

AP: You went through a phase after “Let It Shine” when you put out music with little fanfare. How did you maintain your confidence?

Ms. Jones: Finding confidence in the in-between stage was only through God. I had placed my value in this industry. If I had a great show, great movie, great song, anything worth talking about, then yeah, you should be confident. Look at what you’ve done. Look at what you’re presenting to the world. When I didn’t have those things, I didn’t really know what to say or what to sing about. I didn’t really fit into the roles that were being sent to me. I didn’t know when my next perfect match would be an opportunity that I didn’t feel like was forced or I could do better. I didn’t have much to brag about. I had to find a different version of value that really comes from my passion and my tenacity.

AP: Who helped you through those tough times?

Ms. Jones: I leaned on my mama the most during the rough patches of my career. My mom was my first everything. She was my first vocal coach, first stylist, hair and makeup, glam manager, tour manager, first co-writer, first co-producer. She was everything. When there was nobody to believe in me, she helped me prove myself and continue to push through those hurdles.

AP: Which is your biggest passion: Singing or acting?

Ms. Jones: If we’re talking in general, singing or acting. Yes, singing for sure. It’s not about playing a role. It’s genuinely therapeutic to just peel back all the layers and say the rawest, realest version of your truth. I think that’s the most comfortable second nature. But acting. There are films and shows that just eat the content and the quality. ... You get to relive a movie that just holds you tight.

AP: You’ve dealt with colorism in your career. What were your thoughts after hearing about Taraji P. Henson shedding tears regarding the gender and racial pay gap in Hollywood for Black women?

Ms. Jones: Everything can and will get better. But it doesn’t get better if we don’t do anything, if we don’t say anything, if we aren’t transparent and honest. I think hiding and pretending that everything’s OK will perpetuate stagnant energy.

But being honest and being vocal about things that you want to change, can always make change and always inspire. It just makes your platform worth any meaning. That’s why I try to speak up so much on colorism and on being patient with your journey because we’re Black women, and it does take a different path with us to get where we rightfully deserve to be.

I’m so grateful for women like Viola (Davis) and Kerry (Washington) and Angela Bassett and Taraji. They all have paved a way for me, and it’ll just get better with time because they’ll continue to kill it at every opportunity and speak up and not be afraid to push back and be honest and demand more.