Exclusive Interview

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Raven-Symoné Speaks Exclusively to The San Diego Monitor’s Jonathan Harris (Photo: Disney Channel/Kelsey McNeal)

By Jonathan Harris Three decades into her career and three decades into her life, Raven-Symone is down to earth, grateful, and happy to create family entertainment with Disney Channel.

RAVEN’S HOME – Disney Channel’s “Raven’s Home” stars Sky Katz as Tess, Navia Robinson as Nia Baxter-Carter, Issac Ryan Brown as Booker Baxter-Carter, Raven-SymonŽ as Raven Baxter, Jason Maybaum as Levi Grayson and Anneliese van der Pol as Chelsea Grayson. (Disney Channel/Kelsey McNeal)

Whether you think of her as little Olivia Kendall from The Cosby Show or as psychic Raven Baxter on Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven and now Raven’s Home, you know Raven-Symone. She has been in entertainment almost her entire life, which at 33, puts the young actress at three decades in the industry.

It took over two years for my schedule to sync up with Raven-Symone’s for this interview. What is her schedule like? She is now in the third season of her hit series Raven’s Home on Disney Channel. Promotions for Raven’s Home have taken her around the world and at the time of our interview she was in the middle of weeks of rehearsals for a first of its kind, live special which will air in the first week of October on Disney Channel.

One of the things I find fascinating about Raven (she said I could call her that), is that for a young woman who has accomplished so much, she rarely boasts or even talks much about her success. I asked her about that later in our interview but to start off, I asked her about her reaction to her most recent success – the No.1 debut of Raven’s Home on Disney Channel.

(Family Matters actor Jaleel White makes a guest appearance on a recent episode of Raven’s Home)

JH: That’s So Raven was No.1 on Disney Channel. When Raven’s Home premiered in 2017, it opened at No. 1 as well. It was actually the No. 1 premiere for Disney Channel in their targeted age group in two years. How did it feel to come back to Disney Channel, the character of Raven Baxter and to another show with your name on it, and have it be such a success?

RS: It felt great. It feels good that I’m able to bring happiness back to people and joy and entertainment. It makes me happy.

JH: You’ve had a relationship with Disney Channel for a long time. I could go back to Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century (1999).  What do you think it is about you and Disney Channel that syncs up so well? RS: I don’t know, I feel like it’s… I feel like I’m a kid at heart even though I’m 33.

JH: We’re the same age. We’re kids. RS: We’re kids right?!

JH: We’re kids.

RS: I feel like being that I want to, myself, watch content that I can learn something from, I can feel at home with, where I don’t feel like, “should I being watching this”, I feel like my brand and Disney’s coincide because I want to make family entertainment and so does Disney. So when you have like-minds come together to create something, I think that’s a plus and kind of lighting in a bottle type magic. I’m not fighting the flow of what Disney wants to create and they’re not fighting me because we’re all of the same mindset, I think that’s why it works.

JH: You’ve been an incredible role model. I know you’ve heard that a lot, especially toward the end of That’s So Raven and going into College Road Trip (with Martin Lawrence, 2008) and the album that came out at that time. You’ve talked a lot about the influence of your parents in your life, particularly your mom. We all know some of the pitfalls child stars can fall into. Do you think you were able to avoid those things because of the influence of your parents or was it something you intentionally did, being aware of your role as a role model?

RS: It’s both, my parents and myself. My parents definitely warned me and showed me all of the pitfalls that could come with a person in my position and people that have come before me and during my stint in the industry. I’m not exactly sure who told me this or if it was just me coming to terms but – everything is written down, especially now. I want to make sure that when I look back at my own biography when others look back, I’m proud of what I’ve done. And I know that the people that have watched me can’t say, “I did this because Raven did it” and then their parents are like, “What? That’s not somebody you should look up to!” I don’t want to be that person.

RAVEN’S HOME – Raven-SymonŽ as Raven Baxter, Jason Maybaum as Levi Grayson and Anneliese van der Pol as Chelsea Grayson. (Disney Channel/Kelsey McNeal)

JH: You’ve been part of quite a bit of firsts on Disney Channel. That’s So Raven was their first original sitcom, it was the first show to break the 65-episode rule and get a fourth season because it was so successful. It was the first show to have a spin-off with Cory in the House and a second spin-off now with Raven’s Home. Now you’re about to be a part of another first with them.

RS: I have been a part of some amazing firsts with Disney Channel. I was very humbled and honored and just tickled pink when they said they were about to do a first-ever live filming of a show and they wanted me to be a part of it, that’s Just Roll With It: You Decide LIVE. I was like ‘Oh yeah for sure!’ I wanted to be a part of the show before it was live and with the character I have – I play Betsy Hagg, a very eccentric character that puts a curse on the entire family. Being able to sit in that medium which is half-scripted, half improv and work with some amazingly talented people and have it be an extravaganza kind of event has been very satisfying. I’ve been on the set with them for the last week, we have one more week of rehearsal and knowing all the inner workings, knowing all the information from The View, from Broadway and doing all of my comedies –

JH: All of those live experiences.

RS: Those live experiences, I’m able to put everything into a bucket and be like, this is what I’ve learned. And having the kids be able to open the Disney NOW app and be able to choose what happens instantaneously… it’s going to be amazing.

JH: You’re still having even more firsts at this point, with such a huge brand. How does that feel?

RS: This is amazing. I was the first sitcom, the first black female to have their name in the title of a comedy series – I don’t take it lightly, I definitely understand the ramifications of it and I try my best to do it justice wherever I can. I continuously thank Disney all the time for giving me this opportunity and trusting me with these titles because I won’t let them down and they haven’t let me down.

JH: It’s been an incredible relationship to watch and to watch grow and continue to be successful.

RS: Thank you. I’m glad somebody – I’m glad you see it because I feel it sometimes. I feel it. It’s like… it’s my home.

JH: Yes, it’s… I’ve always thought the name of the new show, Raven’s Home, was kind of like a metaphor for the fact that Raven is home at Disney Channel.

NEXT WEEK: In part two of my interview with Raven, I ask her about Whoopi Goldberg being a mentor to her, how Raven mentors the kids on her set, what has been the hardest work for her in her career (between movies, music, TV and Broadway), and the challenges of social media.

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