You know her as the pixie-ish BFF of La La Anthony, star of the VH1 reality series La La’s Full Court Life—and in the show’s fourth season, Po Johnson comes into her own as a young woman grappling with family drama, musical ambition and her status as a gay role model.
La La’s Full Court Life follows La La; her husband, New York Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony; their young son Kiyan; and her two best friends, Po Johnson and Dice Dixon. While La La juggles the demands of parenting with her own career in fashion and entertainment, Po and Dice are there to motivate her or rein her in. Since the second season, the series has delved deeper into Po’s life—and in the current fourth season, she confronts a difficult relationship with her father, even as she readies the debut of her first EP. And as one of three openly gay characters on the show, Po is setting a new standard for gay visibility just by being herself.
GO: What can we expect from this season of La La’s Full Court Life? The first few episodes showed some drama between you and your father.
Po Johnson: I don’t have a good relationship with my father, but I’m trying to grow one, which is a beautiful thing. I hadn’t seen my dad for years—I never knew where my father lived; I don’t keep up with him. He does not keep up with me. [But] there was a time in my life where I realized there was a void; I was bouncing from one relationship to the next without knowing why. In the show, we begin to understand why that was happening. I talked to La about it, I talked to Dice about it, and I said, “This is something I want to do.” The show helped me get in touch with him and he agreed to come out to Brooklyn and visit me. We talked. That’s really all I can say now.
VH1 has really helped me beyond my story [on camera]; they’ve really gone in and asked what’s going on with Po, aside from my music. They latch on to all these activities that I have going on in my life, which is pretty funny. Usually we’re following La, but in this season, I have a caravan following me around.
So you have a bigger role this season than in previous seasons?
Absolutely. It’s great to see us grow. It’s very organic, how it happened this season. You can see the difference physically when we’re filming. They’re splitting us off—usually we’re all together in La’s world, because she has this and that going on.
[This season] I had my EP release party, and they filmed all of the behind-the-scenes stuff; it was hectic and crazy. I also have this Brooklyn life which is very fun and hipsterish. The Brooklyn theme party will be a really funny episode. They’re diving into all of that with my crazy friends. The eclectic lifestyle I live is really true to myself and true to my music. You didn’t really get to see that side of me beyond La’s life in the first seasons, but now you will.
Tell us about your music—what’s been going on with your new EP?
I’m putting the finishing touches on it and it will be out in mid-to-late fall. I call it a sound collage, a collage of lyrics and music that I’ve been working on since I was 16. It’s everything that I’ve always wanted to say, ever since I was young.
I was very introverted and very shy, because I had five siblings and a stuttering problem and I wasn’t able to listen to “secular” music because I grew up very religious, in a devout Christian home where we weren’t allowed to do anything. I also had three cousins who grew up with me, and they were all boys. It was a full house. I was the first girl in a house full of older boys who bullied me. I could never have a boyfriend. It was a mess—a fun mess—but I felt muted in my ideas and what I wanted to say. I never really fit in. I was a middle sibling, so often my opinions fell on deaf ears.
A lot of the things I wanted to say when I was younger, I say in my music now. I had to grow into Po. I just recently learned how to communicate my emotions to the world with music. I find myself talking about things that happened to me when I was a teenager, about being a girl getting bullied, about being in love with someone and having them break my heart. That timeline followed me until the present day.
In addition to the music and acting in the occasional indie film, you’re busy on the show. How do you balance it all and still have time to create?
The show has made it easier, actually. I had a 9-to-5 job where I worked behind the scenes in television production as a production manager. That took up most of my time, and one day I just called La and said, “I quit.” I was making a shitload of money, but I wasn’t happy. It wasn’t something I wanted to do. When I gave myself the time to pursue my dreams, I had to actively pursue my dreams. I had to discipline myself and say, “you’re gonna do this, you’re gonna do that.” It’s very intense, and I’ll see where it takes me. I’m working for myself now. I don’t juggle—I just do it.
That sounds like the classic Brooklyn lifestyle, always out hustling. How do you like Brooklyn?
I moved back to Brooklyn in December, and I love it. I lived there years ago. Now I live in Bed-Stuy—I’m from the south, and it really reminds me of the south. Don’t get me wrong, on some blocks you gotta watch yourself. But it’s very neighborhood-like, it’s always, “how you doing?” People recognize me, they talk to me; they give me advice in a personal way, like they’re my aunt or something!
Brooklyn is also very inspiring. You see the homies on the corner, you see the hipsters riding their bikes, you see the gay boys, you see the old Jamaican women who go to church every day with their big hats. And then there’s the hardware store that sells everything but hardware. It reminds me of home. I’m very big on community and family. It helps me write songs; in fact, one of them, “Femme Fatale,” is all about me and my homegirls getting ready to go out in Brooklyn. It’s my second home.
Speaking of family, tell me about your involvement with the LGBT community and what the show means for gay people’s visibility.
I talk to Dice about this all the time. I attribute it to La La, VH1 and the production company—they never said to us, “Hey, this is who you should be and this is the voice we want to hear.” La said, “These are the two people I’m closest to in my life, and they happen to be gay.” It was never a situation where we had to be that or hide that. And we never felt we had to go in there and raise the roof or wave rainbow flags. We were just being ourselves, and part of our lives is us talking about girls or being discriminated against or not being let into a club. At first we didn’t realize what we were saying, it just came out in an organic way. Then the show came out and we were like, “holy shit, we are being so gay on TV right now.”
It was something I had to tell my mom, because again, I grew up in a Christian home. I didn’t have to come out all over again, but I had to tell her, “This is going to be talked about, a lot. The world’s about to know who I am.” I think you have to admit it to yourself before you admit it to anybody else, and that’s what we did on the show. That show is our self-realization, and we discover more every day. It’s as simple as not hiding it—it’s so easy for me to be myself on that show. And thankfully, we’re funny.