WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD
Dress: Rosetta Getty, Jewelry: Erickson Beamon
Words by Shaday Stewart
When it comes to artist Courtney “Coco” Jones, fans typically fall into two camps: people who’ve been swooning over her soulful voice since her Disney days and recent devotees who can’t believe they didn’t know about her all these years. The 24-year-old singer, songwriter, and actress has stepped up her vocal game year after year, and with her latest TV role as Hilary Banks on “Bel-Air,” Coco Jones is poised to supercharge her acting career as well.
Whether her legion of talents are new to you or not, you won’t forget Coco after you’ve heard her sing. She’s been belting out tunes since she learned to talk and landed her first gig singing at a graduation by age six. Born in Columbia, South Carolina, Coco grew up with four siblings in rural Tennessee where she had a lot of opportunity to explore her surroundings and be imaginative. And as the daughter of a session vocalist and former NFL player, it’s no surprise that Jones isn’t afraid to get up in front of a crowd and let her powerful vocals, infectious confidence, and instantly relatable comedic charm speak for themselves.
Now, as Hilary Banks, she’ll get the chance to take on a mature and nuanced portrayal of Black womanhood on the dramatic reboot of “The Fresh Prince.” In this anticipated remake, Hilary isn’t the comically vapid and self-involved socialite we’ve come to know, but an ambitious young woman confronting her economic privilege while navigating societal barriers in her career (with impeccable style, of course).
Dress: Gucci, Jewelry: Erickson Beamon
Hilary’s journey and struggle for validation are all too familiar for Coco. Although it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Jones in the entertainment industry, she’s risen to every challenge and collected loyal fans along the way. She was first scouted by Disney at age nine, later performing on series like “The Maury Povich Show” and “Radio Disney’s The Next Big Thing.” In 2012, she got her big break playing Roxie alongside Tyler James Williams in the Cyrano De Bergerac-inspired TV movie “Let It Shine” and other Disney vehicles, including “So Random!” and “Good Luck Charlie.”
But while Coco earned a coveted deal with the Disney Music Group label, Hollywood Records, she received little support to move her career forward. Like many POC in the entertainment industry, Jones found herself shuffled around by record execs who didn’t see her as the ideal fit for their cookie-cutter tween pop star mold. By 2014, Jones went off on her own and promoted her music independently, even referencing her experiences in the 2018 track “Just My Luck.”
She also pursued more acting roles, appearing in films and TV shows, such as “Grandma’s House,” “Five Points,” “White Elephant,” and “Vampires vs. the Bronx.” With her recent sign-on with Def Jam Records, Jones is ready to express herself on her own terms and move into an empowering new phase of her artistry. I recently connected with Coco to talk about her new single, the evolution of her career, and her thoughts on “Bel-Air.”
Dress: Zimmerman, Earring: Alexander Mcqueen
BLANC: Can you tell me a little about your childhood and where you’re from?
COCO: I’m from Nashville, Tennessee. It was really secluded. We had a lot of land, so we were nowhere near the city — very much country. So, we were really creative, me and my siblings, with the games we would create and the things we would do. We were outdoors a lot.
BLANC: How did you get into acting?
COCO: Acting came as a way to be on stage more because I started off singing, and singing is always number one. But as a kid, I was like, “What else can I do?” I was just so adamant on doing more in the entertainment industry.
BLANC: Tell me about your connection to music. When did you start singing?
COCO: I actually found out I could really sing from my mom’s friend, who was a professional violinist. I was, maybe, one or two, and I was singing “Barney.” My mom told me that she stopped their conversation and was like, “Your child is repeating all of these songs back with perfect pitch. She has a perfect ear.” I look at little videos of me as a kid and I’m like, wow. I literally never stopped humming or singing. It was all I did, even before I could talk.
BLANC: What artists really inspired you?
COCO: I grew up singing a lot of powerhouse singers, like Aretha Franklin, CeCe Winans, Mariah Carey, and Jennifer Hudson. My mom told me, if I can sing these songs, I can sing anything.
BLANC: Can you tell me about your upcoming single and recording career?
COCO: Yeah, I have “Caliber” coming out on March 25th. I’m really excited because I’ve been wanting this day for a really long time, but I wasn’t prepared. This is kind of my Renaissance moment because I’ve been signed before to Hollywood Records. I’ve released independent songs. I’ve been in this business a long time. And now, I know who I am and what I’m trying to say. So, this song is the perfect coming-of-age song for me.
Dress: Paco Rabanne, Necklace: Khiry
BLANC: Interestingly, you said you weren’t prepared. Why don’t you think you were ready before?
COCO: There’s a lot of growth that I needed. When you’re a child actress, you don’t really grow up the way other kids do. Socially, you’re a little bit behind in a way. I think I needed to experience more, make mistakes, and just live life and, honestly, get pushed around a little bit more because I was so sheltered. I needed to feel real life in order to have real stories to sing about.
BLANC: What would you say to people who feel like “Bel-Air” is just a remake?
COCO: I would say it’s a reimagining. You have to come into the show with an open mind. Because honestly, the only thing that’s really consistent is the plot. The way we deliver this show is a completely different genre of television; it’s nothing like the original. And Hilary is different because she’s a chef, first of all. She’s an influencer; that wasn’t even a concept back in the day. She comes from this upper-echelon area code, but really, she’s trying to get out of the mud. The things she’s trying to accomplish, you can’t purchase. So, she really has to work her ass off. And she kind of gets off-center at times when she’s trying to strive for these opportunities in an industry that doesn’t cater to her and what she does. But I think her journey is really relatable. She always reminds herself that what she brings to the table is enough.
BLANC: Did you feel like this was a really great character exercise for you?
COCO: Oh, yeah. Even just the scene where Hillary’s talking to the white executives, and she’s being told all the changes she needs to do in order to be on their platform. Oh my gosh, I’ve experienced this in so many ways. It’s a very full-circle moment to get to play Hilary and also to represent dark-skinned Black women in such an amazing light. She’s an outside-the-box perspective on what a Black girl can be. So, for me to get to step into that role, it just feels like all the “noes” when I auditioned were worth the “yes.”
BLANC: Is there anything else you want to mention about “Caliber”?
COCO: I’m really excited for people to see my look as a woman. I haven’t really made songs as a grown-ass woman yet. So, I think this is really going to set the tone for where I’m going. And I really want to say “thank you” to all the people who have supported me through every stage, because it’s been a lot of different versions of me until I found the one that’s the most authentic.
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Watch the new video for Caliber
Photographer: Kanya Iwana
Fashion Editor: Shandi Alexander
Hair: Fesa Nu
Makeup: Shanice Jones
Set Design: Domenica Agostino Leibowitz
Production: Christina Alba