Being in the glare of the spotlightespecially for those who have been in the public eye since childhoodcan be harsh.
However, Alyson Stoner, 25who many may remember as the dancing girl in Missy Elliott's videos such as "Work It," and who has been on TV shows and movies like Phineas and Ferb as well as the Cheaper by the Dozen and Step Up seriesseems unaffected. Meeting recently with Windy City Times at Knickerbocker Hotel restaurant Nix ( which this writer chose because of Stoner's fascination with Janet Jackson, who once stayed there ), she seemed absolutely down-to-earth.
Mention Jackson, and Stoner became starry-eyed, like anyone discussing an idol. ( She's also a huge fan of Michael Jackson, and people can see her tributesas well as one to K-popon YouTube. ) During this year's Billboard Music Awards, for example, Stoner was not only present but "ran up to the front of the stage" during Janet's tribute. "The cameraman kept giving me face timeand my family [went wild]. My mom said, 'I didn't know you were in the front row.' I said, 'I'm not, but I ran up here because Ms. Jackson-If-You're-Nasty was on stage.' We breathed the same air, and that's enough for me."
Regarding that Janet tribute, how did she choose which songs to feature from the icon's huge catalog? "We did a mixture," Stoner said. "Jared Jenkins is an incredible vocal arranger and producer." She also dropped other factoids about the video, such as the fact that she made the T-shirt Janet wore in her own "Pleasure Principle" video: "I took a Sharpie and colored in letters from the original 'Hawaii' on a shirt to make it look like Janet's. … [The video] was a passion project."
Then the conversation turned to her beginning in show business, with an unexpected development. "After I did the Missy Elliott video, it positioned me as a recognizable dancer," Stoner reminisced. But before one might think that was an advantage, Stoner added, "I stopped auditioning because it came down to an artist wanting a recognizable dancer, or just a dancer. So I wasn't able to do dance gigs. I don't mind because I enjoyed every moment I danced with Missyand it opened other doors, like in film. For Cheaper by the Dozen, they saw my attitude in the video and hired me. Then I became an artist on my own."
However, this year was a really big one for Stoner as wellespecially from a personal standpoint. In March, Teen Vogue published an essay she wrote entitled "How I Embraced My Sexual Identity," about the long journey to recognizing her own attraction to other women. ( In fact, she was in town to attend the wedding of YouTuber Alex G and her wife. ) And it seems that this life-changing event has informed her perspective on life in various ways.
"I was recently in Ethiopia," Stoner began. "I'm a criminal over there. [Homosexuality is illegal in the country.] So they, ironically, asked me to speak at their church. I wondered if they knew, because I didn't bring it up. I listened to how they said they wanted to suppress homosexuals and destroy their support network. I said 'When a group is oppressed, suppressed and repressed, they are going to grow strongerand that support is how they're surviving. If anything, I encourage you to listen; whenever you encounter them, just listenand not just with your ears. Observe their connections and that they're not ill-intended. Allow your heart to feel what it wants to feel.'"
It was interesting to hear this story for several reasonsincluding the fact that Stoner was kicked out of her church, "and it's in Los Angeles," she said. "You'd think they'd be more understanding of the spectrum." She added, "I wishand I can't deconstruct someone's theology and I don't want to project my own ideologybut I would love to give a bird's-eye view so people can understand that the American evangelical church of 2018 is influenced by capitalism and militarism, which aren't even based on the Bible."
Asked about how she came to reconcile her faith ( which she mentions in the Teen Vogue essay ) with her life, Stoner said she actually went to her mentor's mentor. "I went to this guru of sortsa pastor who's in Illinois," she said. "He's really cultured, and he's shown me all of these different perspectives, and that's really cracked me open in terms of my consciousness. My heart and soul don't see labels any more."
Her new perspective is also shown in her newest video, for the song "Fool," which shows her in a relationship with a woman of a different race and build, embracing diversity. "There was something about Jasmine's essence that was grounded and lovely," Stoner said. "When I mentioned to my team that I wanted a female love interest, she was the only person I had in mind. I wasn't thinking about intersectionality. … It was 'human first.' [Filming] was so comfortable."
Talking about her personal circle of friends, she said, "A lot of people I know in the LGBT community are pretty outspoken, and I am pretty quiet. I was wondering if I was hidingbut I realized that being quiet is my superpower."
"I can't allow the past to distract me from the evolution," she added. "You can be enamored of your recent successes instead of remembering how big the world is and [constantly] learning."
For more about Stoner, visit her official page on Facebook.