In This Episode
Phill was always bound to interview Michelle Williams. You could call it fate, but we prefer DESTINY, child. The Gospel Girl talks to Phill about the connections between mental health and faith, how god lives in the high notes, and what to do with your life after you check ‘global superstar’ off the checklist.
Phillip Picardi: From Crooked Media, this is Unholier Than Thou, and I’m your host: Phillip Picardi. OK, you all. I am so excited today. I think the 13-year old version of me would literally smile his braces off and need to get them re tightened or reapplied because I am welcoming the incredible and legendary Michelle Williams to the pod. For those of you who don’t know because you have terrible taste in music perhaps, Michelle Williams is a member of one of the most important girl groups of all time: Destiny’s Child. Michelle also has had an illustrious and lovely solo career. And she recently came out with a book called “Checking In” about what she calls overcoming her struggles with mental health. And I love Michelle, and have always loved Michelle. When she was in Destiny’s Child, she was the quote unquote, “gospel girl” because she learned how to sing and developed her voice in the church and then became, you know, the one of the badass women singing survivor on the mic and doing her thing up on the stage. Michelle and her journey have been so inspiring to me because, as you know, this season, we’re thinking a lot about resurrection and redefinition and this sort of re-awakenings that people are going through in the wake of, and of course, in the pseudo aftermath of this pandemic. And for me, Michelle embodies that in such a brilliant way. When Michelle decided to become more of a public advocate for mental health, she revealed some really brave things and about her journey, and she really goes into the dark and the light of it all. So I do want to just caution some listeners in case you feel uncomfortable or triggered hearing about things like suicide or suicidal ideation. There is a little bit of that in this episode as Michelle talks about it. And so if that doesn’t feel right for you at this moment, maybe you skip this episode or maybe you come back to this episode. Whatever works for you is totally fine with me. I do think that there’s so much to learn from her story, and I love how, as she has chosen to redefine herself, going from being one of the biggest pop stars in the world to becoming this advocate for mental health, and she also reveals in this episode that she is going back to school to get her degree in psychology to potentially pursue counseling more meaningfully. I think that there is so much to take as inspiration and nourishment from this conversation. I love how she talks about spirituality and her evolving relationship with spirituality and how it all unfolded on such a very public stage. You’re going to recognize the song she talks about, the song that she sings a little bit, even, and of course, you’re going to hear all sorts of incredible things about her own realizations and mental health and how she’s really held mental health and spirituality in one hand and has managed to really grow from her experience. So thank you for listening. I am so excited and honored to present my conversation with the lovely Michelle Williams.
Phillip Picardi: The lovely legendary Michelle Williams! Thank you for being here with me today. What an honor.
Michelle Williams: Phillip, thank you so much for having me on.
Phillip Picardi: Oh, it’s absolutely my pleasure. I have been a fan, obviously for so long. “Destiny Fulfilled” is one of my favorite albums of all time to this day, and I remember getting to hear your vocals on that album in their glory, in their entirety. And I was, I remember the song Through With Love when you hit all those high notes.[laughs] I got goosebumps. I got goosebumps.
Michelle Williams: Oh, and you know, when you said that title Destiny Fulfilled, my heart kind of stung a little bit because I’m like, I think we got at least one more in us. But that’s not my thing to call. But I’m like, yo, we were in our bag at the time. But you know, I wrote in my book about how I felt like I understand, because, you know, Beyoncé and Kelly have been working together I think, since they were nine or 10. So they were probably like, all right, it’s time to go. And here I am like, I just met y’all six years ago, what you talking about? We still got 10 more to go. You know? So I totally, I totally understand why it was time to hang up the heels.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah. And you know, everything, obviously, it’s like, maybe we have multiple destinies, and that was just one part of the fulfillment. You know?
Michelle Williams: Phillip, you preaching already. Listen.
Phillip Picardi: I got, I got so defensive on when I saw on Twitter that people were trying to cancel “Cater to You” because I was like, you know, the thing about the song is that it’s one song on this multi-track album of course, and the whole album is about love. So like, you start off with Soldier and Lose my Breath, right, so it’s like you’re in the courtship moment. Then you move into like T-shirt and you kind of get like the what it feels like to be in a relationship and like sexy time. And Cater to You as kind of like that, like, OK, this is new and this is exciting and so, yeah, like, I want to like treat you right and put on my best performance for you. And then you get to the breakup.
Michelle Williams: Where were you at to write that review? What you just said right now, that should have been in Rolling Stone or Billboard.
Phillip Picardi: I was like 10, singing along to you in my bedroom, trying to match your riffs and I remember—
Michelle Williams: It’s not late.
Phillip Picardi: It’s not too late. I remember—I don’t know if you remember this—when Beyoncé is on the song Free, which is one of my all-time favorite songs, she says in the song in her ad libs at the end: I catered to my man and now someone cater to me, take me out sometime, give me my lifetime— time to think about my needs. You remember?
Michelle Williams: You better say every lyric, you hear me? She sure did say that. She said [singing]: take me out sometime, give me my quality time, it’s time you think about all my need, you’ve been doing me—no, she said [singing]: you’ve been doing you; I’m going do me, I’m free. She sure did say that.
Phillip Picardi: I’m free! She said all of it.
Michelle Williams: Oooh, yes honey.
Phillip Picardi: She already addressed it. She already addressed the Cater to You controversy before the song even came out, OK?
Michelle Williams: Why were we in our twenties singing like we 45-five year old problems?
Phillip Picardi: Why was I like 12 with braces on singing the same song?
Michelle Williams: Talking about you understand.
Phillip Picardi: [laughs] You know what I mean? I mean, it was, that whole album, is just, it’s timeless.
Michelle Williams: I love it. By the way y’all, I was not singing the song in the proper key. I was a few octaves lower.
Phillip Picardi: [laughs] Yeah, that’s exactly right. We know what you can do. We will not make you do it on the podcast, of course. But I love the idea of music being your gateway to God, because sometimes when I get to watch people perform, especially very talented vocalists, it is like being in the presence of God, isn’t it? It’s like, how else do you explain that kind of a gift?
Michelle Williams: Well. The amazing thing is that God created everything. He created and he created music. I mean, one of the most, the popular angels of the time obviously got kicked out of heaven because he thought he was greater than God. But that was something God created, and he was like, You know what, maybe let me, let me get rid of you, but I’m going to save music, you know? Music didn’t, music didn’t descend with Lucifer. It stayed, you know, where it is. And that the powerful thing is sounds, that’s why I think sounds are rulers of the air. So that’s why I know I try my best to put out, when I do put out, is to put out good, good music. Positive, positive music, because it is spiritual.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah. And your whole training of being a vocalist happened in the church. Isn’t that right? Weren’t you still singing in the church when you auditioned for Monica?
Michelle Williams: Yes! Yes, that was what, in 1999 I got the opportunity to sing background for Monica. A friend of mine happened to see if my number was the same. He found my number in the bottom of a moving box and said, hey, yeah, he said, I just wanted to see if this number was still the same. I say yes, so we just kind of caught up and he was like telling me what he was up to. I was still in school and he was like, well, I’m about to go on the road with Monica and we’re about to go on tour with 98 Degrees. OK? Like 98—what? You were probably born in 98, Phillip.
Phillip Picardi: ’91. ’91.
Michelle Williams: See, you were seven, you were about seven, eight years old. Um hum. And so I say, really, you’re about to go on tour with them? So I’m just talking out the side of my mouth, that’s what I, that’s what I’m feeling. I’m doing. I said, well, tell Monica I said, “Hi” and if she needs a background singer to call me. Now, Philip, what I’m going to say is we got to be careful what we talk about and what comes out of our mouth, what we say, because he calls me a couple of weeks later, I’m now, I think I’m home for the summer by this time, I think. That’s how fast the, that’s how fast the timing went. Like maybe a week or two later, he calls and says she’s having auditions tomorrow in Atlanta. Can you get to Atlanta?
Phillip Picardi: Get out of here!
Michelle Williams: I said, I can’t afford a next day plane ticket, and I said, and if I take Greyhound, I’m just now going to get there in the year 2021, so I going to have to sit this opportunity out. And he said, wait a minute, my cousin works for United Airlines, let me call her and see if she can get a buddy pass for you. I said, OK. So I’m just waiting by the phone. Her name is Gladys. I always say she’s like my gateway. God and Gladys are my gateway. Well, Freddy. Freddy, God and Gladys, because Gladys gives me a buddy pass. She was a United Airlines employee, she gets me a buddy pass. I fly from Chicago to Atlanta. I auditioned to sing background for Monica, and then they say, you’re about, you’re going to come on tour with us. I was like, oh, I got it!? This little church girl that’s got on a dress from a beauty supply store, and I got on these big old, clunky shoes from Payless? What?! By the way, no shade to Payless, OK?
Phillip Picardi: No, none.
Michelle Williams: I don’t know if you ever go into a beauty supply store in the hood, OK? You can buy clothes in the beauty supply so you can get your weave wigs and edge control, and you can also get clothes in certain beauty supply stores. So! Yes, I’m telling you like, I didn’t have money like that, so I’m wearing a dress, like this sundress and these big platform clogs from Payless called Highlights. And I do the audition and they pick me.
Phillip Picardi: Wow. Because that voice was bigger than anything.
Michelle Williams: I guess so, thank God. And we go on tour. Destiny’s Child happens to be on some of the spot dates for this tour that was sponsored by Nickelodeon. Destiny’s Child had maybe two or three songs out. They have Bills, Bills, Bills, No, No, No and Bugaboo. Those were their popular songs. And then a few months after that tour, I get a phone call from Tina Knowles, which is Beyoncé’s mom.
Phillip Picardi: Of course, Miss Tina.
Michelle Williams: And she says we’ve been looking for someone. And Janella Sigiura, who actually danced for Monaca was Destiny’s Child’s choreographer as well and Beyoncé’s cousin. So I encourage young people because you might get an opportunity, and depending on how well you do that job, somebody will call your name. I was minding my business the entire tour. If you treat people right, show up to work, and do what you’re supposed to be doing, that’s a seed in the ground for something else down the road. I really, really believe that because they could have picked anybody, but they chose this girl from Rockford, Illinois. So I, we set up a meeting. I fly down to Houston. Miss Tina, Solange, they come and pick me up from the airport. Solange is about 12. And they come pick me up from the airport. I go and have this amazing meeting with Beyoncé and Kelly. We sang together and just kind of laughed. I think they took me to Pappadeaux and as, and I said, you know what, if nothing comes of this, I can say that I met two of the sweetest girls ever.
Phillip Picardi: And then you got friends for life out of that.
Michelle Williams: Friends for life. A few weeks later, I get a phone call saying, we need you to fly out to Los Angeles to film the Say My Name video. And Phillip, because I was still in school I was like, OK, I’m supposed to be shadowing the county coroner, because my major was criminal justice.
Phillip Picardi: My God! What a change of scenery.
Michelle Williams: Listen. So I had to choose, do I shadow the county coroner? Because I wanted to see what an autopsy was like because I was going to go on to forensics. So forensics, you kind of have to be around a lot of stuff.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah.
Michelle Williams: So I’m like, do I do this, shadow the county coroner, or do I fly to L.A. to film Say My Name? So I chose—
Phillip Picardi: You literally were choosing between shadow and being in the spotlight. That’s the literal choice.
Michelle Williams: Oh, yes! Yes. Yes! So I chose the spotlight I guess. I chose L.A. and my life kind of changed after that decision.
Phillip Picardi: That’s right. And once you joined Destiny’s Child, I feel like the refrain from everyone was like, oh, the gospel girl joins the independent women. You know, this was the Survivor album. It was the camo bras, and, you know, this kind of fierce feminism that was well before, you know, it felt like feminism was in the pop mainstream. And I felt like the finger was kind of always pointing at you like, you must have been so uncomfortable, you know, with this tension in your life between being a church girl and now being this pop star. But it never really felt like that to the, to the true fans I thought. I don’t know, how did it feel for you?
Michelle Williams: It felt fine. We were protected. And I just remember my mother having so much peace and comfort knowing that, OK, well, she’s on the road, they practically have chaperons every step of the way. And so thank God, thank God. We were protected and kind of, you know, insulated from certain things, like if we had to be in the studio with people, Miss Tina, she’s like, you can’t be drinking, cussing and smoking around these girls. Or like when we would come around, they thought we were a gospel group because they oh, got put out weed, we gotta put our alcohol, or we, we can’t do this. I mean, everybody was on their best behavior because they knew Matthew and Tina Knowles did not play. So I will say we were kind of insulated from that. AND we didn’t come up in the social media era where you log on your Instagram and you’re seeing everything you’re tagged on, unless you choose the option in your profile that you don’t want to be tagged in anything, OK? Imagine growing up in that social media era—not saying we wouldn’t have thrived, but we probably would have been encouraged to take social media breaks or just not pay attention to any of that. So I’m kind of thankful that we didn’t have to come up in this era.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah, I can understand that. And also just the notion that because you were empowered in your sexuality or singing about a woman’s sexuality, or singing about independence and freedom and liberation for women—I don’t quite understand how those things are at odds with belief in God. Do you know what I mean? Because that’s not a kind of god I want to believe in. You know, if that’s true?
Michelle Williams: Absolutely! And you know, I remember praying about the decision before I even flew to Houston to have the initial sit down with Beyonce and Kelly and have so much peace. I felt a release to go. I prayed about it. One of my favorite scriptures is Proverbs 3 and 6: In all thy ways, acknowledge him and He will direct your path. That’s part of checking in with God. Praying about a decision and if you feel peace about it, do it. Now, even if you feel peace and a little nerves, it’s still OK, because you’re going to have a little apprehension about doing a new thing. But peace should always be the foundation. You’re always going to have butterflies in your stomach. Phillip, you could pray about a new job or a new opportunity. You’ll feel peace about it, but a part of you will still feel like, oh, I’m a little nervous, I don’t know these people, I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Phillip Picardi: Of course.
Michelle Williams: So that was me! I have peace about it. But at the same time, I had to take Pepto-Bismol because my stomach was, you know. I was like, I’m a little nervous, but at the same time, feeling peace. Now we know when we shouldn’t do something. We know when we shouldn’t say something. Something normally gives us gives us a way of escape. Something kind of tugs of us to say, uh, this might not be the right thing to do. And most of the time when you have that feeling always know is not rejection, it’s protection. It’s not rejection, it’s redirection, redirecting you into something possibly better.
Phillip Picardi: Here we go. Michelle, you couldn’t have teed up the point of the podcast this season any better than what you just said. And I love how much your life is a mirror of it.
Phillip Picardi: I’m so inspired by looking at people this past year who have obviously turned so much tragedy into triumph for themselves or who have had these kind of breaking points or breakthroughs or, as you call it, a redirection and when they were basically faced with the entire world closing off to them, they made their own door and then they chose to walk through it. And I have to say, for me, that is so much your story, which is why I wanted to talk to you so badly for this season because what I read about you and your ongoing journey, you know, coming to terms with counseling, therapy, mental health, depression, and you being able to bravely talk about these things in public. It just feels like you are in this completely new chapter and new league of your life that is so inspiring to witness.
Michelle Williams: Thank you. I feel like I want to go to lunch that you. You filled my little love cup up.
Phillip Picardi: I appreciate that. I really do. But I do mean it, you know, like, can you talk to me a little bit about—obviously, the book is called Checking In. It’s a fabulous book. It’s also a fabulous listen, by the way. That’s how I chose to digest it. But yeah, can you tell me a little bit about what brought you to the point where you finally said, because you said that there are three words that were kind of this turning point for you, when you finally said, I need help.
Michelle Williams: Yes, those were the three words: I need help. You know, at the time, I felt like a hypocrite. I felt what are people going to think? But desperation and shame cannot coexist. I was desperate. By that point, I was desperate for help. And a part of me was like, I don’t want to live like this. And I was, I had hope, like get the help that you need, you will come out of this Michelle [unclear]. You just hold on. And, you know, even if you are embarrassed, I’d rather be embarrassed for five minutes than to keep having difficulty after difficulty, challenge after challenge. And it seems like the challenge is—the reason why I say challenge is because certain challenges you can win, certain challenges you can overcome. And I said, I’ve got to, I’ve got to overcome this, God. You didn’t bring me this far, you didn’t have, show favor all my life for it to just come, for it to end like this. Because I was, I was, I wanted to end my life. I played, told God, I said God, you know, I’ve lived a good life, what more do you want me to do, what more is there for me to do?
Phillip Picardi: Oh honey, I am so glad that you are here with us.
Michelle Williams: And you know, someone that I know, unfortunately their son died by suicide on Friday, and I was just like, I know that place. You feel hopeless, you feel like no one will care, you feel like no one will understand, you start saying, you know what, maybe I know life will be better, gone. I won’t be a burden, I won’t be in the way. And those are just lies that are just, that are just whispered into your ear from whatever force you believe. I’ll say the enemy or Satan, someone—because of your beliefs and culture, you might call it something different. But those are whispers in your ear that are so negative. And at the end of the day, God wants us to live and have life. Everything God created is about life, or it can create life, right?
Phillip Picardi: Right.
Michelle Williams: And so I just, I know what it’s like, I know what it’s like. And so fast forward to writing this book. I wanted to give people language to either what they’ve gone through, what they’re currently feeling, or even loved ones. I have had about, couple of people in my DMs tell me, Michelle, I don’t recall dealing with depression or anxiety, but I have a loved one who does, and your book is helping me respond better to them. Because, you know, when people don’t understand what you’re going through, they mean well, but they don’t know how to respond.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah.
Michelle Williams: They or they dismiss what you’re going through, so Checking In was to give people language and Checking In was to give people three practical things to do. Check in with yourself—I do that a minimum of three times a day.
Phillip Picardi: Oh, I love that. Wow, three times a day.
Michelle Williams: Yeah. When I when I wake up in the morning, I’m affirming I’m gonna have a good day. I know life gonna throw me something, but I’m going to have a good day. I’m not going to let external people, forces, emails, text messages, throw me off. OK, I’m not going to do that. Although you can have a natural human response of anger, sadness and frustration when something does happen but I refuse to let stuff like put me in the bed for two and three and six weeks. No more of that. Checking in with checking in with others, that’s the second pillar. You know, checking in with people. Hey, how you doing? And checking in with people that you may deem hold you accountable. Right? Um, because community is so important, you know, to have safe people who won’t judge you, who will walk with you, and who will say, girl, let’s go, let’s go to brunch— if it’s safe out in these streets because apparently COVID numbers are rising again. But you all know what I mean.
Phillip Picardi: Yes. We know.
Michelle Williams: And then checking in with God is simply honest conversations. I don’t mean King James version. I mean: God, I’m overwhelmed. Or: I’m so thankful, even though I might be feeling down, I’m so grateful to look at the trees around me, I’m grateful for life. Those three pillars of checking in.
Phillip Picardi: I am fascinated, to be honest, that God is a part of the three pillars. Obviously, I understand it. I guess where I, you know, where I come from or what I kind of see in the mental health conversation—I would love your thoughts on this—is a lot of people who say that you can pray mental health problems away, right? Or that if it’s not of God, then you simply need to find God and things will get better. And so almost sometimes feels like, especially in very religious circles or communities, that there can be this sort of like dismissal—
Michelle Williams: Absolutely.
Phillip Picardi: —of mental health as something that’s not like a legitimate health concern. Do you know what I mean? Did you feel that tension at all when you were coming to terms with your own, I guess, your own mental health journey?
Michelle Williams: People, really, when they’re ignorant, they might say things because they don’t understand but when you sit down and talk with them, a lot of people that I know have been like, wow, I didn’t think of it like that. How you can say prayer is a weapon, but therapy is a strategy. So you can do both!
Phillip Picardi: There you go. Yeah, that’s a really good way, way of talking about it.
Michelle Williams: Because Phillip, we don’t, do we, do we tell a person, you’re living in sin? If I tell you, girl, I got to go to the doctor, I’ve been having heart palpitations. Verses, or, I have to go get my annual exam. Do we tell somebody you don’t have enough faith? Why do we do that when it comes to people and their mental health issues? When we, when you tell, when someone says, I’m going to go therapist: oh, you don’t have enough faith, you’re not reading your Bible enough, you don’t go to church enough, you don’t pray enough. But like, I didn’t tell you that when you had brain surgery.
Phillip Picardi: Right, right.
Michelle Williams: So why do, we why do we do that, and we isolate or we separate people? Therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists—we have them over there instead of having them be all inclusive with the other medical health professionals.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah, there’s such a stigma around asking for help or knowing when you need help. And I guess, you know, it’s fascinating to have you be such an advocate for it because I can imagine these were all part of your processes because there must have been a part of you who was kind of looking at it, thinking, nobody wants to hear me talk about this, right? Like you said, the enemy, you know, whispering in your ear, right? Like, you are a successful woman. You know, you’ve had a career that most people could only dream of in their wildest dreams.
Michelle Williams: Absolutely.
Phillip Picardi: It must have been hard for you.
Michelle Williams: Well, I’ll tell you this, my depression started, when we traced it back in therapy, way back in the seventh grade is when I can recall symptoms, isolation, my grades were dropping—I was just so sad but still able to function and once I got around community, but for the most part, that’s when it started for me. So Hollywood didn’t cause depression, Destiny’s Child—none of that. Actually, Destiny’s Child to me, was life-saving, life-giving. I got to live dreams. You know what I mean? But I will say I just didn’t know how to process abuse. I didn’t know how to process trauma. And what happens is when those lies are being whispered in your ears, that shame could be guilt that you put on yourself—man, I should have talked about this a long time ago and I’m protecting people. Or shame making you feel like it’s your fault that someone hurt you. And I really feel like a lot of people are dealing with that. I was talking to a young girl yesterday and I said, honey, it is not your fault. Oh, she was just sobbing, thinking abuse and her being molested, that it was her fault. And I said, no, ma’am, do not own that, do not own that at all. And I know it’s easier said than done, but don’t own that. Don’t—anybody listening, do not own someone else’s infliction of pain on you.
Phillip Picardi: Right.
Michelle Williams: It hurt, but don’t own it, don’t say it’s your fault. I don’t care if you curse somebody out, it’s still not right to hurt somebody like that. It’s not right. It’s not your fault.
Phillip Picardi: It’s interesting because you, you know, one of the most famous songs that you’ve ever sang is called Survivor. And that’s kind of one of the themes that I was thinking about as I was listening to the book, right? Like what a, at the beginning, really at the sort of beginning of your career you sing this song urging women to embrace the fact that they are survivors and they are thriving and finding power in that. And it almost feels like maybe it took you a little while to learn that you too were a survivor, that you too needed that kind of message.
Michelle Williams: Yes, absolutely, survivor. I’m trying to figure out, what was it? Did it just turn like 20 years old or 21?
Phillip Picardi: Yes! 20. I think.
Michelle Williams: So that song, not only are we survivors, but we’re thrivers. Yeah, and hearing that song, it’s a whole different meaning for me, for sure. And life will bring new meanings to some of your favorite songs.
Phillip Picardi: Yes, that’s something that’s really special I think about just being able to have a body of work to look back on and look back on those accomplishments. It’s almost like, I don’t know, there were messages in there for us all along that we didn’t know how prescient they would be until we were going through something new. And that’s kind of, you know, one of the things about the spotlight and when we said you were stepping into your light is that, of course, the spotlight also has a glare, you know, and so it can reveal things maybe that we weren’t ready to see, or maybe are cast in a light that’s not flattering. And I know that must have been a tricky part of the journey too, that double edged sword of being in the public eye.
Michelle Williams: Yeah. I will say, I kind of still make sure to have some type of normalcy. You know, I live here in Atlanta, and I was excited that, you know, I get to go to my favorite ice cream spots and not be worried, you know, vs. my sister because she can’t, she can’t go anywhere. So I try to curate and create some type of normalcy. I will say in the Destiny’s Child heydays, it was absolutely bananas. So I personally, after Destiny’s Child, have not experienced the thing about the limelight and the spotlight. Thank God, I’ve been able to use the spotlight or in platform to shed light on issues such as mental health, and I’m going to continue doing it.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah, and you’re also formalizing this role that you’ve kind of carved out for yourself with mental health. I heard you’re beginning or restarting I should say, studies. Is that right?
Michelle Williams: Yes. Yes. Yes, yes. Going back to school.
Phillip Picardi: Wow!
Michelle Williams: Yeah. I feel like, you know, some people say, Michelle, your experience is enough, your experience is enough. But I just feel it tugging like, girl go in there and finish your degree. Now might not be a criminal justice, but you gotta finish that degree.
Phillip Picardi: What are you getting your degree in?
Michelle Williams: Psychology.
Phillip Picardi: There you go. This whole thing is like, it’s like a whole new chapter for you.
Michelle Williams: Yes, it is. It is. So I hope to come back in a couple of years with my cap and gown.
Phillip Picardi: Yes! That’s incredible. And did you make the decision to restart your studies during the pandemic, or when did that kind of come about?
Michelle Williams: I did. But I promise you, for the past 10 years, at least twice a year, I would always Google schools. Like, I think I want to go back, I think I want to go back. But now, more so than ever, because I’m doing lots of mental health speeches and coming in contact with people who love my voice and want my ear. And I was like, maybe, what if I get a degree and maybe do counseling?
Phillip Picardi: Wow! Counseling?
Michelle Williams: Yeah, yeah.
Phillip Picardi: What a complete shift of a life direction for you.
Michelle Williams: Yeah. And if it’s not counseling or, it’s lease, it’s doing something. But I’m doing the psychology track, which allows me to go further for counseling/
Phillip Picardi: Right, and just like when you auditioned for Miss Monica and made your way to Destiny’s Child, hopefully all of these things will reveal themselves for you in very fast time, you know, whatever comes next.
Michelle Williams: Thank you, Phillip. Thank you. Thank you.
Phillip Picardi: I know what a big step it is because I also decided to go back to school during the pandemic, and I’m going to be attending Harvard Divinity School in the fall.
Michelle Williams: Amazing!
Phillip Picardi: Yeah, I’ll be studying religion for a full year and I’m moving to Boston for it, which is where I grew up. So it’s a really like full circle moment for me. But I, it is so humbling to go back to being a student, and I’m also so excited about just the structure and engaging in conversation with people about these big ideas. You know, like having homework, I find myself oddly just like elated whenever I think about it.
Michelle Williams: Yeah. And I think now I know us being old, I’m like, we’re going to be more focused, we actually gonna get our work done, we going get good grades.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah!
Michelle Williams: I’m really, I’m really, really, really excited.
Phillip Picardi: And you lived a full life, you know what I mean? Like, that’s the other thing, especially with mental health and counseling in those things, you know, life experience and wisdom are invaluable assets for that kind of a field of work. You lived such an archetypal life as many celebrities tend to do, right, where you just experience all of the things and I mean, my gosh, like right, like fame and relationships, and make-ups and break-ups and friendship stress, and like all of the things that you know, when you’re a college kid, when you’re a student, of course, those things are happening but to go back with hindsight, I think is a really cool gift.
Michelle Williams: Thank you. Well, I’m excited for you, too. That is really, really, really big and amazing.
Phillip Picardi: Thank you. Thank you. When you look at the kind of conversations that are happening on social media around mental health, you know, for example, of course, we have the incredible Naomi Osaka, who recently stepped away from the French Open and cited her mental health and protecting her mental health as the main reason for stepping away, for which she received both praise and then, of course, you know, scrutiny. What are you thinking and like what is the temperature you’re kind of taking on on how the public engages on these issues, and what needs to either change or evolve from your point of view?
Michelle Williams: I started talking about this, I think January of 2013 is when I kind of revealed that depression has been a part of my journey. So from then till now, I do see a big difference. I do see growth. And that’s because I think social media plays a big part in the making people aware, more people are open to listening, more people are open to saying, you know what I want to learn how to respond versus react. I don’t want my pain to be a hindrance in my future, what can I do about this? And I see people who were once judgmental at least saying, at least they’re changing from being judgmental to wanting to understand.
Phillip Picardi: Right.
Michelle Williams: Do we still have a ways to go? Yeah, I still see rude comments or people saying, oh, you just need to have thick skin or you’re just spoiled, what do rich people have to be worried about? You’ve got it all. I witness—we’re still gonna—even when you make tons of strides, you’re still going to have a few people who have been under a rock, or they will just project their anger and hurt on you.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah, that’s for sure. And I think monitoring those things and also developing healthier relationships to social media and to our devices is essential for like basically liberating ourselves from, I think some of the side effects of these mental health journeys that all of us should be on, right? Like, I think putting down the phone is probably a good first step for recovery and for making ourselves better.
Michelle Williams: This is, I, I totally agree. I was thinking about some of the pages that I follow, like Mental Health America and the Great Depression Project, Phillip and how they’re every day, because social media can be used as a powerful tool.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah, that’s for sure.
Michelle Williams: As I was telling you in the last eight years, as it relates to mental health, I’ve seen, I’ve seen a change.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah.
Michelle Williams: Yeah.
Phillip Picardi: Wow, yeah. I guess in closing, Michelle, I wanted to just ask you, obviously you’ve been through a lot of changes over the past 10 or so years, and some of them have been really, really wonderful. And of course, as you mentioned in your book, some of them have been—to use your word—a series of challenges. How do you feel like your relationship to your spirituality has evolved as you’ve unlocked this new chapter of your life?
Michelle Williams: You know what, I feel like it’s become definitely more of a personal one, and not something that, how I saw other people pray, how I saw the people have relationship with God—meaning what I saw in church. The good thing about being on the road a lot, I had to cultivate my own relationship. So I would say it’s gotten stronger, more authentic, and not so much of like, the isms that go on in religion. I think for me, I’ve been more so on relationship.
Phillip Picardi: Can you tell me, if you’re comfortable a little bit about what that looks like for you?
Michelle Williams: Absolutely. To me, it’s more so what we do outside the four walls of the church.
Phillip Picardi: Yes.
Michelle Williams: We can go to church and put on our best Sunday—as the old folks say, at least in African-American culture, they say, you put on your good-Sunday-go-to-meetin outfit, right?
Phillip Picardi: Go to meetin, OK.
Michelle Williams: You put on your best Sunday, go to—you can put on your best church hat, but still be the meanest person ever. It’s what you do when you go out the church. Are we supposed to be walking around like acting perfect? No, absolutely not. But I was, are we supposed to have love in our heart for every living human being that has breadth in their body? Absolutely. Love!
Phillip Picardi: Yes.
Michelle Williams: Love! Love! That’s it. God, he ain’t ask nothing else. Just to love. God, I want to say, love and mind your business. If I was God, I’d say, can you love and mind your business? Now, when I say, mind your business, I don’t mean to literally see somebody hurting in your view and you do nothing, but love! And do what love does. Love is kind.
Phillip Picardi: Yes!
Michelle Williams: Love isn’t envy. Love doesn’t gossip. Love is patient. Isn’t First Corinthians?
Phillip Picardi: Yes! You know, Michele, you, you gave us reason to celebrate and come together when you were making beautiful music, both on your own and of course, with the women of Destiny’s Child. And then you’re now giving us all a reason to come together in a very different way and to learn to, how to better love and take care of ourselves. And I’m so excited for all of the love you’re going to continue to bring to the world. So thank you for, for sharing about your journey and your story with me. I really appreciate it.
Michelle Williams: Phillip, thank you. And much love to you, and congratulations on the moves that you making, how you’ve been making changes out here in faith but still in the mainstream culture.
Phillip Picardi: Yes! That’s, that’s what we need, isn’t it? Thank you so much, Michelle. Unholier Than Thou is a Crooked Media production. Our executive producer is me, Phillip Picardi. Our producer is Lesley Martin, and Brian Semel is our associate producer. Our editors are Karem [unclear], David Grinbaum and Sarah Gibble-Laska. The theme music is by Taka Yasuzawa.