“I don’t dream, I plan,” Amanda Seales once told an interviewer who asked about her long-term goals. Her proclamation speaks volumes about the strategic approach that lies behind this young woman’s success.
While millions of viewers in the US might know Amanda (formerly known as Amanda Diva) as a DJ, TV personality and pop culture critic, it’s a slightly lesser known fact that her roots are Grenadian.
Born in Los Angeles in 1981 to a Grenadian mother and an American father, Amanda is a proud ambassador for her Caribbean heritage – from the iconography and references dotted through her work to the Grenadian characters she weaves into her comedic performances.
Amanda’s creative outlets span across the arts. As a child, growing up in Orlando, she attended a performing arts school and was making television appearances from an early age. She moved to New York to attend university and fell into the city’s burgeoning spoken-word scene and soon began performing in showcases, open mics, and slam competitions as Amanda Diva.
Her success as a spoken-word artist brought her to the attention of key movers and shakers in the entertainment business and it was not long before her career took flight. As a musician Amanda has performed with legendary hip-hop band The Roots, she’s appeared on the Grammy-nominated Q-Tip album, toured with Lupe Fiasco, worked with producers including influential producer, James Poyser, and Grammy-award winning musician, Robert Glasper.
Despite her front-row seat on celebrity culture, Amanda keeps a critical eye on the industry, perhaps not surprising given her MA from Columbia in African American studies. It seems she’s not afraid to use her position to leverage change on issues that matter, whether it be addressing the intersecting challenges faced by black women or tackling climate change.
In the past Amanda has spoken of wanting to be the next Oprah; to use her influence to build opportunities for people who don’t even know they exist. If her performance to date is anything to go by this certainly won’t be a pipe dream.
In the past you have talked of the need to build opportunities for people who don’t even know they exist. Why do you feel this is important and how would you like to go about making this happen?
This is important because I feel our world is run by a small number of people whose objective is to keep success reserved for a small number of people. I believe in fairness and justice and that is simply unfair and unjustified. Especially amongst the black and Latino communities of America you see incredibly high incarceration rates, drop-out rates, violence, and poverty. In many of these communities these issues are cyclical because of a lack of a means to ascend and a lack of true belief in self-excellence.
Last month you appeared as part of the Hip Hop Caucus event aimed at building support in the US among young, black audiences for climate change action. What prompted you to get involved with this cause?
It was really random. I received a call from the caucus to get involved and use my visibility to further the cause. It is a noble effort so I was happy to be a part of it. But once involved I became even more aware of just how real the issues are and want to continue to be a voice and educator in the area of climate change.
You have so many creative outlets, how do you define the common theme that inspires/drives what you do?
I think for any true creative it’s always difficult to define the common theme of their work because in general we work outside the lines. But if I had to, I would say humor and the black experience are the threads that weave through my work regardless of the medium. What I love about my web series Things I Learned This Week is I get to involve all of my talents: comedy, cultural criticism, music, art, and more in once place for the purpose of entertaining AND educating.
I stumbled across an old poem you wrote “Oreo” while trying to figure out how to phrase a question about the processes/experiences that drive a Grenadian-American to study African-American culture to postgraduate level… What are some of the positives you have gained from your ‘bi-cultural’ experience?
Well there is an identity crisis amongst African Americans due to living in a country that was built on our backs but still fails to fully recognize us as equal. It is, in my opinion, a constant inner conflict to love your home but hate how it came to be. I feel very fortunate to have my Grenadian roots to also call home. Because, though it may have taken [Grenada] centuries to gain independence, I do not feel we have the same crisis of identity that the descendants of slaves in America do. Also, it has allowed me to have a varied perspective on life in the diaspora.
What’s the worst piece of advice you have ever been given?
When I started hosting on MTV2 a friend in the industry, whom I really respected, said that I should wear my hair straight and start wearing high heels because that’s how I should look now that I’m on TV. What I have learned though, is that yes, in this field your appearance is important, but what’s most important is being yourself and that simply was not me.
Is it true you got your nutmeg tattoo after Kirani won gold at the London Olympics? If so, what did his win mean to you?
Hahaha yes! His win was further testament to the immense talent from our lickle island!
If you could commit to changing one issue in Grenada, what would it be?
I feel there is a large disconnect between the young and elder minds in leadership. There is a gap that, if bridged to utilize the strengths of both groups in a synergistic way, could be substantial in improving the growth of the island across multiple platforms.
Where’s your favorite place to relax when you’re on the island?
La Sagesse beach! It is my heaven!