Jelani Winston discusses his role in BET’s newest show, ‘American Soul’

Jelani Winston discusses his role in BET's newest show, 'American Soul'
Still of Jelani Winston as Kendall Clarke, Christopher Jefferson as Jeffrey “JT” Tucker, and Katlyn Nichol as Simone Clarke from BET’s “American Soul” episode 101. (Photo courtesy of BET / Annette Brown)

BET is making us break out our vinyl player to discover the true essence of these three iconic words; peace, love and soul with their new series “American Soul.” Inspired by the 35-year legacy of music and dance show “Soul Train,” “American Soul” is a scripted drama blending fictional and real-life stories that surrounded the show; and it chronicles the struggle to make the dream of “Soul Train” come true.

Don Cornelius was the visionary behind one of the longest-running syndicated shows in American TV’s history. Executive producer Jesse Collins and showrunners Devon Greggory and Jonathan Prince have uniquely dug deep into the legacy and vision of “Soul Train” by mirroring the dance, music, fashion and immense talent of the ’70s. 

Rolling out visited the set during the shooting of the season finale of “American Soul” and had the opportunity to speak with series regular Jelani Winston, who plays Kendall Clarke. He shared his experience of being on the show, and what viewers can expect from his character.

What does it mean to have American soul?

I think having American soul means having a dream, having to something you are willing to fight for and not let anyone get in the way of. When you look at Don Cornelius, he knew what his American soul was, which was “Soul Train.” “Soul Train” was something that he didn’t allow anyone to take away from him. He fought hard for it. I conclude that having “American soul” is having something that no one can take from you.

What plot twist did your character have to endure?

Kendall is not the character you’re going to see coming. The expectation that people have of him and what you’ll see played out on the show will be completely different. Viewers will be pleasantly surprised [about] who he is, what he’s becoming, and his journey. Can’t give away too much, but I can say who Kendall is on paper versus what’s going to be shown will be a sight to see.

Did you have any challenges with your character being a single father and chasing his dreams?

Absolutely. You’ll see in the beginning Kendall has a great bond with his son but you’ll also see that Kendall doesn’t have his thing together. He’s caught between wanting to be a good father and making his dreams a reality. It becomes a constant battle for him, so when we meet him in the series, you’ll see that struggle. In addition, he’s battling some other things that further complicate his situation. 

“American Soul” premieres Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 9 p.m. EST on BET. Check out a video trailer for the new season below.

All aboard! Who’s ready to take a musical ride on the Soul Train?

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