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Open Like A Pro: For Venus Williams, It's All About Fitness, Nutrition And Fashion

The tennis titan talks training, the lessons her sport has taught her about life, and overcoming the stigma of being a professional athlete running a fashion business.

With her 18th career U.S. Open appearance steadily approaching (August 29), Venus Williams is ready to add another Grand Slam title to her belt. To make this tennis tournament more memorable, American Express partnered up with the racket-swinging titan for a series of short digital video vignettes, giving fans and attendees a glimpse of what is means to be "Open Like A Pro" via the onsite U.S. Open American Express Fan Experience.

In the clips (below), the Compton-native subtly touches on various topics that go through many athletes' minds, from what to eat and fuel the body with, to what to wear for a championship match, to having a strong mindset on those repetitive training days. Aside from showcasing a personality not often seen on the court, the entrepreneur is seen wearing pieces from the Prism Collection in her very own clothing line, EleVen by Venus Williams.

VIBE had the chance to chat with the Olympic medal winning athlete (before the clips' premiere) to talk about how she prepares for a major competition, what sports have taught her about life, as well as how she overcomes the stigma of being a tennis player running a business in the fashion realm.

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VIBE: You've done a bit with American Express for nearly a decade now.
Venus Williams: Yeah, I think my first time working with American Express was in 1997. I was 17 years old or was I 18? It was during that time when I was very young. I think that was the first year that I got to do a commercial, so a lot of great memories.

Definitely a very exciting time. Tell us about the newest campaign you're working with them on, "Open Like A Pro?"
Yes, it's all about preparing like a pro. As a professional athlete, there's so much that goes into your preparation. There's so much that goes on behind the scenes that people don't see. So we had a fun take on kind of what I do. We played with fashion. We played with, actually, oranges and orange juice to play on nutrition and all of that stuff. We had a lot of fun with bringing people into that full U.S. Open experience.

Let us find out you can dance! What's your favorite dance move?
(Laughs) I can actually do the wave. I feel like I didn't do it in the commercial. I'm not sure. I should've done it in the commercial.

You mentioned that this campaign also deals with fashion. Does this mean your athletic apparel line, EleVen by Venus Williams, is featured in the campaign?
Yes, and we featured what I'm wearing at this year's U.S. Open in one of the clips where I'm trying to decide what I should wear. We had some fun with that.

Dope. Now this will be your 18th U.S. Open. Are you ready? How do you even feel about that?
(Laughs) Is it 18? You're kidding? It's surreal actually. It's surreal. I'm so blessed to be able to play that many. I'm looking forward to it. I hope I can make it my best one.

Let's talk about working out. What is a typical training day like for you?
Well, I wake up in the morning, and I hit snooze (laughs), but I wake up in the morning and go immediately to the court. Depending on how far away from an event I am, I spend a couple hours on the court and then I spend a couple hours in the gym, so I spend as much time on the court as in the gym to prevent injury and to remain strong. I do cardio workouts, which could be a long distance run. It could be bikes. It could be plyometrics. It could be a swim. All of that, and, of course, focusing on [strengthening] every single part of the body, even parts that I don't know are there (laughs).

What is your favorite fitness activity outside of obviously tennis?
Does dance count?

Of course.
Definitely dancing, which can be very cardiovascular. Actually, we did dancing in the AMEX commercial. They asked what songs do you want to dance to, and we had a lot of fun. But I do adore dancing. It makes me happy. It's just one of those things that you do that's my favorite workout outside of the court.

What about nutrition? What does a pro or tennis beast like you eat? If someone wants to be a pro or a beast like you, what should he or she be eating?
I think every person is a little bit different in terms of what works for them so I never tell people eat exactly this. I would definitely say fuel your body with lots of natural foods, so not a lot of packaged things. Anything that you can buy that is naturally made. Lots of vegetables. Lots of fruits. That sort of thing. Lots of grains. Lots of fiber. All the stuff that people don't like to eat as much.

I'm always trying new things and trying to see how I can get at my maximum capacity. Most athletes do that, but I think probably even more so in my case [with overcoming Sjögren's Syndrome], definitely lots of green things to keep my body in a state where it's very calm. It [vegetables] calms your body down a lot.

In a recent interview with American Express OPEN, you talked about how you've learned a lot from sports as an athlete. What would you say is the most important lesson you've learned about life through tennis?
I've learned you can always achieve more than you thought you could. There are moments when I've walked off the court, and I'm like, 'I don't know how I won that match.' It was actually impossible, but it happened, and then you realize that you can push yourself much further than you ever thought, and you can make the impossible happen. I've also learned discipline. Definitely timing things, pushing yourself, accepting failure as a means of success. There have been multiple lessons in terms of transferring tennis to life.

As a professional tennis player, what's the most challenging thing that you have faced while building your retail business? And how did you overcome it?
The most challenging thing is people do see me as a tennis player, but I've had a lot of opportunities because I am a tennis player. And I don't mind that. You have to prove that you know what you're doing. You have to have longevity. You have to stay around. You have to do things right to stay in business, and that's not easy, and that's a choice on a daily basis, the choices you make in how to run your business and how to have a point of differentiation and how to be true to your brand, how to offer something that people want and to offer something that you love. It's all of that, and like I said, I don't mind a challenge. I love a challenge. People said I couldn't, and that motivates me more.

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Aaliyah during TNT Presents - A Gift of Song - New York - January 1, 1997 in New York City, New York, United States.
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Fans Rally For Aaliyah's Discography To Be Released On Streaming Platforms

As another day passes without Aaliyah's music on streaming platforms, fans are looking for answers.

Over the weekend, the hashtag #FreeAaliyahMusic appeared on Twitter in light of song battles between Swizz Beats vs. Timbaland and Ne-Yo vs. Johnta Austin. The latter opponents played their collaborations with the late singer, proving Baby Girl's dynamic relevancy in the age of modern R&B. As songs like "I Don't Wanna" and "Come Over" picked up plays on YouTube, the hashtag pointed out the tragedy of her songs not existing on platforms like Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music.

Aaliyah's only album on multiple platforms is her 1994 debut, Age Ain't Nothing But A Number. Other albums like the platinum-selling One in A Million and Aaliyah are being held in a vault of sorts along with other unmixed vocals by her uncle and founder of Blackground Records, Barry Hankerson.

Hankerson has built up a mysterious yet haunting aura over the years due to his refusal to release Aaliyah's music on streaming platforms. Reasons are unknown but Stephen Witt's 2016 investigation revealed business deals like the shift in distribution from  Jive Records to Atlantic helped Hankerson take ownership of the singer's masters. The deal was made in 1996 when Blackground featured artists like Aaliyah, Toni Braxton, R. Kelly, then-production duo Timbaland and Magoo as well as Missy Elliott.

Sadly, Aaliyah's music isn't the only recordings lost in the shuffle. Recordings from Timbaland and Toni Braxton have been hidden from the world with both taking legal action against the label over the years. There's also JoJo, who had to break from the label after they refused to release her third album. The singer recently re-recorded her first two albums.

With Aaliyah's music getting the attention it deserves, Johnta Austin discussed the singer's impact on R&B today. "It was amazing, she was incredible from top to bottom," he told OkayPlayer of working with the singer on "Come Over" and "I Don't Wanna." "I don't think Aaliyah gets the vocal credit that she deserves. When she was on it, she had the riffs, she had everything."

Earlier this year, an account impersonating Hankerson claimed her music would arrive on streaming platforms January 16, on what would've been her 41st birthday. A docuseries called the Aaliyah Diaries was also promoted for a release on Netflix.

Of course, it was far from the truth. Fans can enjoy selected videos and songs on YouTube, but it's clear they want more.

 

Aaliyah’s music is the landmark for a lot of your favs not only was she ahead of her time with her futuristic sounds she also was a fashion Icon dancer and phenomenal actress . The future generations need be exposed to her artistry and pay homage .#FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/LxZfxcqRgF

— Black Clover (@la_alchemist) March 29, 2020

Her first #1 solely based on AirPlay! She was the first ! #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/BHlANZjCGZ

— (@hodeciii) March 29, 2020

Makes no sense for someone still so influential to be hidden. Many try to emulate her. On Spotifys This is Aaliyah playlist, theres some great tracks not on her main Spotify #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/vLqLTVxqO9

— Blackity Black⁷ (@ClaudBuzzzz) March 29, 2020

Aaliyah is trending once again. She deserves endless flowers. This is true impact y’all. Her voice, her sound, her music...She’s been gone for 2 decades and y’all see the love for her is even stronger! We miss you baby girl! #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/ALDcT0ZQxR

— A A L I Y A H (@forbbygrlaali) March 30, 2020

Aaliyah said she wanted to be remembered for her music and yet most of it is not on streaming services #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/zwk0AWMCoE

— RJR (@MyNewEssence96) March 29, 2020

aaliyah’s gems like more than a woman deserve to be in streaming sites #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/mM2GWEg1pe

— k (@grandexrocky) March 30, 2020

I saw #FreeAaliyahMusic and IMMEDIATELY jumped into action! I can’t express how betrayed I felt when we were supposed to have all her music on Spotify by her birthday. Her discography is deeply underestimated and we need to make it right for our babygirl!pic.twitter.com/GfxBeJxUY1

— jerrica✨ (@jerricaofficial) March 29, 2020

Before Megan The Stallion drove the boat...

Aaliyah rocked the boat...

#FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/iXNwssD3sY

— Al’Bei (@_albei) March 29, 2020

i think we should have that conversation #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/cGl269tuTr

— AALIYAH LEGION (@AaliyahLegion) April 1, 2020

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Singers Adrienne Bailon (L) and Kiely Williams of the 'Cheetah Girls' pose for photos around Mercedes Benz Fashion Week held at Smashbox Studios on October 18, 2007 in Culver City, California.
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Kiely Williams Explains Fallout With Adrienne Bailon Houghton And Alleged Fight With Raven-Symonè

Our current isolated way of life has given some plenty of time for reflection like Kiely Williams of the former girl group 3LW and The Cheetah Girls (ask your kids). The tales of both successful groups have been told time after time by fans in YouTube documentaries and members of each collective but Williams has decided to share her side of the story.

Williams hopped on Live Monday (March 30) where she discussed her former friendship with The Real co-host Adrienne Bailon Houghton and the infamous chicken throwing fight with actress/singer Naturi Naughton. The mother of one didn't pinpoint exactly why she fell out with Houghton but did point out how she wouldn't be interested in appearing on her talk show.

"I don't think Adrienne wants to have live TV with me," Williams said. "'Cause she's gon' have to say, 'Yes Kiely, I did pretend to be your best friend. Now, I am not.' You were either lying then or you're lying now. You either were my best friend and now you're just not claiming me or you were pretending [to be my best friend."

The two remained friends after Naughton was kicked out of 3LW, the platinum-selling group known for 2000s pop hits like "No More (Baby I'ma Do Right)" and "Playas Gon' Play." Williams and Houghton were eventually picked to be apart of The Cheetah Girls with then-Disney darling Raven-Symonè and dancer Sabrina Bryan.

Williams went on to discuss her fight with Naughton, which she denies had anything to do with her skin color. With her mother near, Williams claimed Naughton called her a b***h, leading to the fight. While she didn't clear up the chicken throwing, she stated how she was "going for her neck" and was holding food and her baby sister in the process.

Apologies aren't on the horizon either. “I don’t feel like I have anything to make amends for, especially as it relates to Adrienne,” Kiely said. “As far as Naturi goes, if there was ever a reason to apologize, all of that has kind of been overshadowed by the literal lies and really ugly stuff that she said about my mom and my sister. So, no. Not interested in that. I’m sorry.”

Moving onto The Cheetah Girls, Williams also denied claims she got into fights with Raven-Symonè on the set of The Cheetah Girls films and never outed her as a teen. The rumor about Symonè and Williams was reportedly started by Symonè's former co-star Orlando Brown.

Symonè has often shared positive memories about The Cheetah Girls and their reign but did imply during an episode of The View how co-star Lynn Whitfield kept her from losing her cool on set.

On a lighter note, Symonè, Houghton and Naughton have kept in contact with Naughton and Houghton putting their differences aside during an appearance on The Real. 

Symonè and Houghton also reunited at the Women's March in Los Angeles in January. During Bailon's performance at the event, the two briefly performed the Cheetah Girls' classic, "Together We Can."

Willaims also shared some stories about the making of the group's hits. Check out her Live below.

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Kelis Announces ‘Cooked With Cannabis’ Show Will Premiere On Netflix

Kelis is taking her chef talents to Netflix. The musician will host a food competition show titled Cooked With Cannabis that’ll premiere on the very-fitting April 20 (4/20). According to NME, the show will span six episodes and be co-hosted by chef Leather Storrs.

Describing the opportunity as a “dream come true” since she’s a major supporter of the streaming service, Kelis took to Instagram to share how cannabis and cooking is one of her many creative passions. “As a chef, I was intrigued by the food and as an everyday person, I was interested in how powerful this topic is in today’s society,” the mother-of-two writes. “In this country, many things have been used systemically to oppress groups of people, but this is so culturally important for us to learn and grow together.”

Each episode will place three chefs against each other as they craft three-course meals with cannabis as the central ingredient. Each episode’s winner takes home $10,000. Guests will play an integral role in who takes home the cash prize. Too $hort, and El-P are just a few of this season's guests.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

I'm really excited to announce my new show, Cooked with Cannabis on @Netflix!! Anyone that knows me, knows how much I love my Netflix, so this is a dream come true. Interestingly, this was one of those things that I didn't go looking for, it kind of came to me. As a chef, I was intrigued by the food and as an everyday person, I was interested in how powerful this topic is in today's society. In this country, many things have been used systematically to oppress groups of people, but this is so culturally important for us to learn and grow together. I hope you all will tune in, it's definitely going to be a good time! We launch on 4/20! XO, Kelis

A post shared by Kelis (@kelis) on Mar 18, 2020 at 7:57am PDT

In a previous Lenny Letter profile, Kelis shared she comes from a line of culinary influences beginning with her mother who owned a catering service. In 2008, the “Milkshake” singer sought to refine her cooking skills by enrolling in the Le Cordon Bleu school. Receiving a certificate as a trained saucier, the New York native put her expertise to the test during pop-up restaurants in her native city, created a hot sauce line, and co-owns a sustainable farm in Quindio, Colombia.

“Food is revolutionary because it is the one and only international language. It’s the most human thing you can partake in,” she said in an interview with Bon Appetit. “We are the only species that cooks.”

This isn’t Kelis’ first foray into the reality-cooking television world. In 2014, she partnered with the Cooking Channel for Saucy and Sweet and published the "My Life on a Plate" cookbook a year later.

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