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Mary J. Blige Strikes Perfect Balance as Host of The Wine Down

Grammy-winning singer Mary J. Blige is famous for baring her soul in her music. And now, she’s baring her soul as the host of the emotionally raw and uplifting talk show “The Wine Down with Mary J. Blige”—with some help from celebrity guests and generous servings of wine. Part therapy session, part friendly get-together, “The Wine Down with Mary J. Blige” (which has a set design that looks like a sleek and comfortable living room) is about as real as celebrities can get about themselves in front of a camera and on a couch when revealing their vulnerabilities, heartbreaks, and insecurities. But this isn’t a pity party, because Blige leaves a lot of room for joy and self-affirmation for herself and her guests, such as actress Taraji P. Henson and rapper Caresha “Yung Miami” Brownlee, who appear in the show’s first episode.

“The Wine Down with Mary J. Blige” is debuting as a two-episode special on March 1st and 8th on BET, with Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as Blige’s guest in the show’s second episode. Blige is an executive producer of “The Wine Down with Mary J. Blige,” her first unscripted project as part of her first-look deal with BET. Blige has what it takes to stand out from other talk show hosts. Her show is definitely meant for adults—curse words and sex talk are uncensored—but it would look fake if Blige presented a program that played it too safe.

Forget about the usual rehearsed promotions of a celebrity’s latest projects, which have become the predictable interview formats for most talk shows that have entertainers as their frequent guests. Blige wants her guests to show people who they really are when they aren’t surrounded by adoring fans, when they’re overwhelmed by self-doubt, or when they ask themselves, “Why am I not happier?”

Henson starts off bubbly and wisecracking during the interview while making a point of saying multiple times that she’s happy. But then, toward the end of the interview, Henson admits, with tears in her eyes: “I haven’t been happy in a long time,” after Blige gets her to open up about some of her good and bad experiences with love relationships. 

Blige asks questions in the first episode, such as “Who was your first love?” “What’s your best sex?” and “What do you love about yourself?” The answers are revealing. She doesn’t let herself off the hook, as she answers those questions too. And in the first episode, she gets a little teary-eyed and emotional when remembering going through some of her toughest times. “I’m not going to cry. No pun intended,” Blige says half-jokingly when referencing her 1995 hit “Not Gon’ Cry.”

Most TV talk show hosts don’t want to dig this deep with celebrity guests. Blige is not only bringing a proverbial shovel, but she’s also weeding out all the phony stardom fluff and dumping it before the interview even starts. She wants to know what problems keep her guests up at night, how they survived toxic relationships, and how they really feel about themselves. Blige isn’t afraid to open up about the messy parts of her life either.

When Blige asks, “How do we know when love is real?” she answers her own question by saying, “I never had real love from a man. The real love I’m having is this self-experience, because there’s no judgment. There’s no one forcing me to do things. There’s no making me feel bad about every little thing I do. I have boundaries for myself as well.” She later adds, “Pain is a vehicle for healing. That’s what shows like this [are] for.”

This openness might be why Blige’s guests feel so comfortable in having “real talk” with her, compared to other talk show hosts who might be perfectly pleasant but would never be able to get their guests to talk to them in the soul-baring way that Blige can. These are the talk show hosts who want to keep their shows upbeat and perky, no matter how artificial it might end up looking to viewers who want more honesty and less public-relations posturing in celebrity interviews.

When talking about their worst breakups, Brownlee says she was in an abusive relationship that she found difficult to leave. Henson says that verbal abuse is often worse than physical abuse because physical wounds are easier to heal than emotional wounds. Henson shares a story about how she felt threatened during an argument with an ex-boyfriend. According to Henson, the argument could have gotten violent, but she says he decided to leave when he saw Henson looking at a Nefertiti bust that was in the room as a possible weapon of self-defense if he physically attacked her.

Blige, Henson, and Brownlee all say that women get too much pressure from society to be in a relationship and should feel comfortable with who they are, regardless of their relationship status. Henson later adds when the conversation turns to female camaraderie: “What I wish we could have more of as Black women is unity. When I say ‘unity,’ meaning: ‘I got your back when you ain’t even looking.’”

Blige has a knack for making herself and her guests look special and relatable at the same time. She says that her “ability to listen” is what she loves most about herself. What Blige has to offer on her impressively candid talk show is not only worth listening to but also worth watching and remembering.

One episode was screened for review. "The Wine Down with Mary J. Blige" debuted on BET and BET Her on March 1, with a second episode airing on March 8. 

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