All my life I was a Whitney fan. And no this isn’t a “All my life” that goes back to when I was like in 3rd grade or elementary school, I legitimately remember being in my playpen & in my car seat being in awe listening to Whitney. She, Toni Braxton, & Michael Jackson I discovered before I was 5, and through the years I they went up & down in my ranking based on their music in years that followed, Janet Jackson has been my favorite artist for 15 years now, but Whitney was the 1st #1 artist for me., and that’ll always be special.
Back in 2011 I was in a very interesting position in my life, you see all my life I’ve had a passion for hair styling and anything hair related, but I had a really bad beauty school experience after I graduated High School. I only went for 6 months and had to drop out because of shadiness going on at the school. What happened with that sent me in a depression, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do for the 1st time in my life. And 1 thing that got me out of my depression was thinking about what I really wanted to do in life since it wasn’t going to be hair, what other passion did I have, it’s acting, it’s writing, and it’s voice over. Those were things I’ve always wanted to do but as a kid in Detroit whose family put Education and income on a pretty high bar, I hadn’t even considered doing that full time. So in 2011 I was still figuring it all out like what I was going to do with film & how, I remember in the summer we learned Whitney was producing the remake of the 1976 Black Film classic Sparkle, we also learned the filming would be in Detroit, and later that Whitney, Jordin Sparks, & Mike Epps were set to star in it. Notice went up in September that they wanted local extras to work on the film, and I applied right away, and I didn’t expect to hear back from them. But I did, on a Friday, I was asked what days I was available to work on the movie and BAM, I was to report to my very 1st film set the following Friday in Hamtramck (a cityaround the Detroit area).
Day 1, Friday November 11, 2011 (11-11-11) – In the beginning
My sister & I had to be on set at 7am, we were told to wear dark clothes, anything that looked like it came from the 60’s, and I had to be clean shaved & have short hair (Jarryl don’t cut no hair, so I just patted down my fro very very tight and made it look like a mini fro), I wore a warm goldish sweater and black pants. We showed up to set and it was so many people, I felt so nervous but I also fell in love, I loved seeing the trailers, seeing all the hair & makeup chairs and vanity mirrors. It felt like we were in the Extra’s holding area forever, it was KILLING ME, we didn’t know what scene we were filming and who’d all be there. Finally at around noon we head to the location, it’s a very small club (that on the outside looks like a house), the place was SO busy, so many cameras, so many assistants and people running around and setting things up and re-arranging things. My sisters job was to be one of the dancers on the floor, and I was to be 1 of the people hanging at the bar, then the director Salim Akil entered and everything calmed a little more, then Ceelo Green entered (VERY short man lol) and action was called and followed with the performance of Ceelo Green “Im A Man” and the dancers got down, and I was grooving, puffing on my fake movie cigarette (tastes disgusting, but smells lovely). We shot that scene for about 5-6hrs, 1 funny note that happened early on, a extra with us was so prepared, he got himself a classic conk hair process, he looked easily like he could’ve been signed to Motown in 1964, and Salim Akil requested 1 of the members of the band step down, and he had him take a seat at the bar with me, and the extra with the hair conk was sent on stage in his place, and did I mention that the band was real musicians…and the extra with the Conk was no musician…..ouch to the musician that got seated, ouch. But that’s a important note, there were a lot of takes that were clearly the soundtrack and Ceelo was lipping to, but the band was really playing for EVERY take. I got to meet behind the scenes people I had always Idolized like celebrity hairstylist Kim Kimble who did all the main actors wigs for the movie, and Fatima Robinson famous for choreographing most of Aaliya’s work among other stars and movies like Dreamgirls. But we had a nice hour lunch break, then we headed back on set to finish up, at this time Jordin Sparks, Carmen Ejogo, & Derek Luke were on the scene, so it was clear they were going to be involved. Jordin & Carmen both were so gorgeous. Funny note, tho I liked Jordin Sparks and rooted for her to win her respected season of American Idol, I wasn’t exactly a fan of hers, mostly because since her win with the 2 albums she released from what I heard it wasn’t really my style, and she did a ton of work for the Disney channel which I also didn’t care for. BUT when she messed up a take early on she said “Oh fuck me up the ass”….Im a sucker for a gorgeous girl with a filthy mouth, so instantly I loved her. I got to hat with her a few times too. Also in that scene we shot Carmen Ejogo’s performance Yes I do (1 of my favorite songs of the movie), but 1 thing we learned really quickly with filming a movie with musical numbers, YOU WILL hear those songs for hours and hours and hours and hours, because they will shot it in every possible position & angle, if you’re on set for this kind of movie, I pray you love the music or artists. But I had fun, the scene set up so that Carmen & Jordin would walk right past me when they walk into the room, and after a few takes I played with that, like my favorite moment is, I blew smoke in front of Carmen and Jordin right before they passed, and Carmen gave me a sharp look, that was great. So at the end of this night I decided to stay behind so I could meet the stars and I did, I just shook Ceelo’s hand and said hello, Derek Luke was great, he was VERY friendly & funny. Jordin & I had already had brief conversations earlier about Detroit & Arizona & the weather, and a lot of extras crowded with her to meet her, but I noticed Carmen Ejogo was kind of left alone, I think it’s because before this movie she was never really the star of anything (and even in this tho I think she had the best acting performance of EVERYONE, she’s still not top billing) so she’s not too recognized, but me being the movie buff I am I knew her from What’s The Worst That Can Happen (2001) & Away We Go (2006), so I introduced myself to her and said she did a great job and she said thank you, but you can tell she was tired and I could tell she wasn’t in the mood to talk, but I threw in that I loved her performance in Away We go and she lit right up, and said Thank you so happily and cheerfully, and gave me a tight hug. It was a good night that ended at 2am. I was in fact disappointed though, because I didn’t get to see Whitney.
This was another very early day, had to be on set at 7:30am, this time I was to report to Downtown Detroit we went to hair & makeup, and we were shooting at the Music Hall. Turns out we’re there for a performance, a performance of the most famous song from the original film & soundtrack, Giving Him Something He Can Feel. We got to see the performance….all day. It was a great performance though, the dresses & hair looking perfect. I noticed Jordin making eye contact with me, which was CRAZY flattering. I know what you’re thinking “Pssh, yea right, she probably was looking at a guy around you, how do you know it was you?”, I know it was me because before we left out for our lunch break, I intentionally made sure to be in the last group to leave so I could be around for some more celeb experiences, and I had a tap on my shoulder, it was Ms. Sparks herself, she said “HEY, I saw you up there, I remember you from Friday, glad to see you again.” Tika Sumpter actually came inbetween us and said excuse me so she could get pass, I had no clue who she was at the time, but I thought she was absolutely GORGEOUS. So we get back from lunch, and I have my little conversations with Kim & Fatima. But this time when we get back (we’re also seated in different areas to make the room look more full using editing behind the scenes. At this point Derek Luke & Mike Epps are in the building, Mike was great, he was doing standup for us any & EVERY chance he could. He kept us laughing and feeling good while we were working on so many hours. A few hours later when we did more relocating and the actors were on a break……there was a new lady on the stage, she was talking to someone, and her back was to the audience, and she had on a big fluffy red fur coat and wavy redish brown hair. I had a hunch who it was and my stomach instantly sprouted butterfly’s but I just needed her to turn around to confirm it was the women who was the sole reason I was there to see, it took a long time, but she did turn around to reveal she was in fact WHITNEY HOUSTON!!! She was looking amazing, I let everyone know NO picture of her since I’d say 1998 has done her justice compared to how she looked when I saw her, she could’ve easily pulled off being in her 20’s, she took off the fur and she was wearing a black tank top & jeans, her body was tight. What was shocking tho was she wasn’t there to act, she was there as a executive producer, and it was that day that I learned the executive producer doesn’t just throw money at a project and put their name on it, Whitney was WORKING, she was sitting right next to Salim at the monitor, and after he’d call cut, she’d make requests with the cameras and the shots and she was very technical, she obviously knew what she was talking about. But my favorite thing was she was very much the overdramatic sweet & funny Whitney we all knew. After seeing the girls perform Giving something, Whitney rose to her feet and shouted “YAS!!! THAT’S MA GIRLS! Mama Proud, Mama proud! DIVAS HUNNY DIVAS DIVAS” and was snapping and clapping, she truly acted like a proud mother. And Jordin, Carmen, & Tika treated her like she was their mothers. At each break they came up to her and would chat and she’d do littling things like adjust what they were wearing, & there was a time she was resting on Jordin’s sholder and Jordin put her head on hers. And she was always holding their hands, it was really sweet to see. Another funny & great moment of Mike Epps was when Whitney was there, he did his standup thing with us, and he did a whole bit about how Whitney is hood and gangsta, and Whitney would yell out “MIKE!!!!” & “YOU BETTA STOP”, it was really cool. What was great though was before she came we were all tired in the audience, tired of the song, tired of clapping, tired of moving around the theater but when she came, we were all energized and ready to keep it going. We (the audience) were dismissed from the building at 11, I was kind of disappointed, because I wanted her attention, so I took my shot as I was walking out, I shouted “HI WHITNEY” she was busy with the monitors, but she turned around, spotted me and said “HI BABY!”. Whitney Houston had acknowledged me, that was crazy though it was just 2 words, it just made me feel so good, all night I just couldn’t get over her, over how happy I was to see her, over how good she looked, over how great she was to everyone who’d encountered her. There was 1 audience member I was close to that whole day, and he & I bonded over the hopes of seeing her and being fans. And he snuck away before we dismissed while she was out of the room, and he got a hug, he came back and he was visibly shaken, and in disbelief, and he repeated like 3 times “I got to hug her, I got to feel her”, it just showed the power of what this women is in person to the folks who really cared. I knew the next day if she was there, I wanted that feeling.
Day 3 of reporting to set, luckily this was around noon, so we finally got some real sleep. It took place at the Music Hall again. This day we were filming we were with a choir in our extra’s holding area, but we had no clue as usual who we’d see or what we’d be doing. When we got to the venue, the stage was set up with chandeliers a stand for the choir, and a piano. Once we were seated Jordin came out with a Diana Ross/Cher inspired look, a red beaded sequined gown and a big curly ponytail weave, it was clear to all of us familiar with the original movie, this was “Sparkles big moment” at the end of the movie, where she’s performing solo. First thing we shoot is a introduction done by Detroit native and R&B star Kem, who I had known for years, we went to the same church. Jordin was to perform 2 songs that day One wing, her big ballad, and Love Will. Both written & composed by R.Kelly. Now what impressed me about Jordin this day is when she was performing One Wing, she had to mime to the recording for the most part, but what was great was the shot where she gets up from the piano to take the mic center stage, there was 1 shot where she sang that COMPLETELY live, and she sounded better than the recording, she SANG and sounded amazing, not to say the soundtrack version doesn’t sound great, but it’s just to say we could all tell when she sang live and she went in. Later in the day (after being moved ALL around the Opera house even up to the highest balcony, they were going to do more audience close up shots, so I was seated on the floor, I was 10th row, end isle seat on the left side, cameras were all set up for the right side for some reason though. Then behind me I hear a voice I know very well, the voice is Tamela Mann, and she is just wonderful, she chat with all of us extras and really you could feel she was excited to be there too just like the rest of us, she was great, I told her how much I loved her voice and her performances with Tyler Perry, and she sweetly smiled and said thank you, and I in a joking tone asked “So When Are We Gonna Get This New album?” And she said “it’s comin baby, it’s comin”. And then, I kid you not I here behind me “HELL TO THE NAW GIRL”, followed by a snickered laugh it was Whitney talking to her assistant, and I saw her big bright smile behind me, she came forward, and was just breathtakingly gorgeous, she was wearing a blueish green dress & jacket, we all gave her applause, and she did that big smile where her eyes were squint, and she said “thank you, thank you, please, now let’s get to work!”, and she took her seat…..which was at the end of the isle….on the right side, 5 rows ahead of me! We shared the isle, every time she got up we’d all applause, I was just so amazed & blessed she was walking past me, every time she walked past she left her scent in the air, which was a sweet perfume with the hint of cigarettes, I’ll never forget, the guy next to me said “MAN she smells good”, and I said “Ofocurse she does, you know what you’re smelling right….LEGEND”, and it’s true she just had that presence. It was very interesting being so close to her, you got a real feel for her, with every & all of us extras & co-stars she was so sweet, but with her assistant, she was boss lady, she had her serious Nippy looks and voice, there was a lot of “Girl, Hell to the naw!”. 1 thing I’ll always defend about her too is she meant business. I know first hand, there was another Whitney fan extra who was waiting for his time to meet her and let us all know, that’s his girl and it was his day. Well he got his chance, he came down me & Whitney’s isle, while she was standing talking to 1 of the main set exec’s, and he gently tapped her sholder, she turned with her eyebrows raised, and he nervously said “Hi Whitney, Im _____(I forgot his name), I’ve been a fan of yours for so long” and she had her big sweet smile, and then he said “Can I please have a autograph”…..the smile left, the squinty eyes turned round, and Whitney said “No….this is work, we are not on the street, or at a show, this is ma job, and right now this is your job, and this is not professional, now take your seat” And he walked all the way back to his seat stunned in silence, and she was right for doing/saying that. We were all warned to NOT ask any of the stars for autographs or pictures (Pictures were next to impossible, there were NO phones allowed on set from extras, all the extra handlers hand a red plastic cup of water for phones they caught, do you know every day they ended up with more than 10 phones all together in water? They weren’t playing; they weren’t risking any leaks of any kind. Anyway back to the story, before Whitney shattered that fool, I actually briefly got her attention. You see every time she got up & sat back down, everyone was trying to get her attention by saying things like “I’ll Always Love You Whitney” (the most common saying) and “You Look Beautiful” to which she’d smile & nod & say thank you. I wanted something more though, and I noticed nobody was referencing anything from her latest album and from everything I’ve read via interviews & questionnaires, most celebrities known for 1 thing likes to hear about their more recent work. My favorite song off of Whitney’s last album was Million Dollar Bill, and she was wearing a green dress, it came to me, when she was coming back to her seat at 1 point, I shouted out (I was nervous but I made sure I sounded confident) “WHITNEY, baby you look like a Trillion Dollar Bill tonight in that dress”, she turned to me, locked eyes, no smile, leaned in my way, and said “Well then Oooh Wooh oh oh” (the call out of the song) and gave me a wink and a big smile and everyone around clapped, and the fellas in the isle gave me a high 5. Mission accomplished, except I didn’t get my hug I wanted, also I wanted to talk to her. We filmed our scenes, did our parts, I lived for Whitney’s reactions in front of me, her hand gestures and her and Tamela grooving to Jordin. End of the night came, and as usual I stayed behind to try to get my chance. I got it, she walked outk she had on her big red fur, and her hood was up, and then she was right next to me, and I waited until she finished talking to this blonde lady, then I said, “Excuse me Whitney”, she turned around to me and I nervously said “I just wanted to say I think you were wonderful today”, she interrupted and said “Thank you, I think we all did a good job around here”, and I stepped back in with “I just had to let you know, I’ve been a fan of yours all my life, I’ve always been here for you, I’ve always loved you, I’ve prayed for you through the rough times, and Im so honored to meet you and to be apart of this project that means so much to you, it’s 1 of the greatest experiences of my life”, I remember saying it slow & clearly but I have a fear that I may have mumbled or spoke to fast, but she heard it, she looked at me and asked what’s my name, I told her Jarryl, she repeated it, and she said thank you so much sweetie that’s beautiful, I’m glad you’re here” then she gave me a really tight hug (I remember that soft fur on my face from her hood), and then she gave me a wet kiss on my right cheek, almost right under my eye. And she asked me “So are you an actor?” and I said “Not officially, but after this experience I think its definitely something I want to do”, she grabbed both my hands and said “Well go for it”, then she turned around and hugged the blonde lady, at this point she & I had walked down the grand steps together and we were at the front doors of the music hall, and the doors were held open by body guards, and a white van was in front of the building, and Whitney ran, and DIVED into the back seat of the van, the bodyguards got in, and the doors were closed, and the fan took off. And that was my experience with Whitney Houston. I turned around to see the blonde lady was 80’s R&B singer Cherelle, and I said hello to her and thanked her for the Affair album, she was nice, but I don’t quite remember all of what she said because frankly, I just had a little conversation with Whitney Houston, as I type this and remember it, it almost feels surreal or something I’d dream up or something that’d happen out of a movie, but no, this happened. And that was a wrap of my experience of Sparkle
I know it’s a long read, but I hope my experience was entertaining & inspiring for even 1 person. I don’t often tell this entire story in full detail like this these days, because reliving things like the way Whitney smelled, the looks she gave, hell even just the intense feeling of her back to the audience on the stage the 1st time I saw her, it can really make me sad reliving those, because it was really special and I think I had a issue where I wanted to keep those details close to me, but also I felt a bit unworthy of the experience because she wasn’t my favorite artist at the time, and I know so many good Whitney fans who would’ve just lived for the “Hi baby” she gave me, or simply the experience of being in the same room as her who never will. But Im at a place now where I have to acknowledge and be proud of my experience and use it, use it to inspire, and use it to keep myself motivated. Also The more I tell this, maybe the easier on my emotions it’ll be. This is where my career as a actor began, this is where I got to meet the 1 of my very 1st favorite artists in the world, and damnit Im proud of it, and I have every reason to be. Thanks for reading