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Story By: A.R. Shaw

Photos By: Mark Sacro for Steed Media

Raven-Symoné emerged from her dressing room at Los Angeles’ AZ Studios in awe-inspiring fashion. Dressed in a black Wacoal tank top, shimmering gold shorts by bebe and black Ruthie Davis high heels, the 25-year-old actress flaunted her new figure with the confidence of a seasoned super model.

As Mark Sacro photographed her in four wardrobe looks that captured her natural beauty and summertime elegance, it became evident that the girl who starred in our favorite childhood sitcoms has grown into a certified sex symbol.

But despite the seductive eyes that often remained focused on the camera’s lens, Raven-Symoné never took herself too seriously.
During the three-hour photo shoot, she cracked jokes with our production crew, dished about a hilarious first date and revealed that one of her favorite rap albums is Smell My Finger by the quirky California rapper, Sugar Free. Her unabashed sense of humor makes her a fun person to hang out with, which translates well to her television and film audiences.

After memorable stints with the “The Cosby Show” and “Hanging With Mr. Cooper,” Raven-Symoné built a $40 million brand as a teenager in the wildly successful Disney productions, “That’s So Raven” and “The Cheetah Girls.”

She took a brief hiatus after the conclusion of “That’s So Raven” and is now returning to television with the ABC Family comedy series, “The Great State of Georgia.”

Shortly after having lunch at AZ studios, Raven-Symoné sat down to discuss her new TV venture, relationships, how she achieved her new sexy figure and the day she realized her brand power.

“The Great State of Georgia” appears to be your first mature role as a television actress. What can viewers expect from the show?
The show focuses on the problems you can go through when auditioning and being rejected and, sometimes, accepted. It’s a good journey that my character, Georgia, goes through with a friend and her aunt, which is played by Loretta Devine. I find it interesting that I’m doing a role that mirrored my younger life when I moved from Georgia to New York. This is more of a sophisticated comedy, but we don’t take away from the fun aspect of it.

What did you learn while working on “That’s So Raven?”
“That’s So Raven” was a blessing beyond belief. It was a set that was very nurturing. The main thing I learned was to pace yourself and have fun. When you get a job in the industry, you have a lot of obligations. Sometimes, you get tired, you get cranky, and, then, you’re labeled a diva. I’m not a diva. I’m tired, and my head hurts. So, I had to pace myself. Work starts at 8 a.m., and it ends at 8 p.m. During the show, some people would say, “You’re young. Keep going,” and I did. But eventually, I had to take a break because I was tired.

What was the most stressful thing about being the star of your own show as a teenager?
I was 15 when I started filming and dealing with adults in an adult way. I also had the burden of 200 people’s paychecks in my hands. So, there was no sickness, lateness, no messing up or laziness. There is a sacrifice you have to make. The friends that are still with me, they know what I deal with. Learning from Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy and Mark Curry, the cast never put it all on me. I learned to be honest and know that there are so many people that make it happen. Being labeled a “boss” at 15 is a lot of stress. That’s why I walked away.

When did you realize that you were not just an actress, but that “Raven-Symoné” had become a brand?
I knew that there was a business of Raven-Symoné when my father told me to “make sure that the public knows your real name and not just your character’s name.” The Disney Channel also helped to package what I wanted to do. But I know that there is more out there. Hopefully, the business aspect will be set up where I can back away and give opportunities to young men and women [to] showcase their talent when others may overlook them.

People are excited about your new figure. How did you achieve it?
During “That’s So Raven,” I dealt with stress that an average 15-year-old might not go through, and my body showed those stresses on the outside. Doctors say that stress kills and that stress manifests itself in different ways. For me, and the way my genes are, I happened to get a little thicker. After “That’s So Raven” ended, the weight of the world was off of my shoulders. I was able to look at what was going on with me, instead of finding comfort in things that might not be the healthiest. By releasing those issues, my stress went away internally as well as externally.

Did exercise play a role?
I’ve been exercising since I was 9 years old. I was on tour with ‘N Sync, and I did my own tour. Anyone who has been on tour knows that it’s excessive training all day. I have had the same exercise routine my entire life.

Are guys intimidated by your success?
I guess guys do find me intimidating because they don’t come up to talk to me. I have to go to them. If I do talk to a guy, they understand who I am. I work from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. After that, I don’t talk about work. It’s all about the person the camera never sees.

What do you find attractive in a man, and what is your ideal first date?
The things I find attractive are ambition, talent, teeth and a car. I don’t like to drive. It doesn’t have to be a Bentley. You can drive a Pinto, and I’ll pay for gas. But I won’t pay your insurance [laughs]. My ideal first date is no weave, no eyebrows, no makeup. I need to be in sweats, and I need him to be in sweats. We can drive around and see different houses. That’s my favorite date ever. I don’t want to go anywhere special. I just want to go for a ride.

Is there a way to balance a relationship with your schedule?
I was raised to be about my business. I love the people who are around, but if I get a [business] call, I have to get up and go. I’m on a path for myself. When I’m done, I’ll start that other side of life. I can’t have distractions. If you’re a distraction, you gotta go.

What advice do you give to young black actresses who are trying to establish a career in Hollywood?
The first thing, when trying to get into Hollywood when you’re not the cookie-cutter type, is to not put a label on yourself. I’m African American, but, when it comes to TV, don’t label yourself. I don’t want to be labeled because, I then put restrictions on myself. When other people label me, that’s different. I go into auditions knowing I’m not going to get the role, but at least that person has seen me and remembers me. But if you label yourself from the beginning, you won’t go out for the role that was written for other cultures. Make your own way. With the technology today, you can become a brand.

What will be Raven-Symoné’s legacy?
I want people to say, “She made me laugh and brightened my day. As a brand, she kept in mind the different flavors in the world.” And I want people to know that I was always honest and told the truth.

Wardrobe:

Look 1:
Striped tube top – Lucca Couture
Leggings – American Apparel
Earrings – Belle Noel

Look 2:
Hooded red dress – Gomez-Gracia
Earrings – Belle Noel
Ring – Luv AJ

Look 3:
Shorts – bebe
Top – Wacoal
Shoes – Ruthie Davis
Earring and ear cuff – Luv AJ
Dagger necklace – Belle Noel
Arrow necklace – House of Harlow 1960
Rings and bracelets – Luv AJ and Belle Noel

Look 4:
Striped dress – A.L.C.
Earrings – Luv AJ

A.R. Shaw

Documenting a culture one story at a time...

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