Lizzo, a three-time Grammy winner, is entering a new awards season campaign — but this time, she’s a TV star.
In March, reality competition series “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” debuted on Amazon Prime Video. The project, now a contender in the Emmys reality race, was the first to come out of the Lizzo’s first look deal with Amazon Studios, and follows the singer as she puts 13 plus-sized dancers through a series of boot camp challenges in hopes of getting them ready to join her on tour.
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“Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” sets itself apart from other competition series from the start. Rather than focusing on dance training alone, Lizzo provides the contestants with personal enrichment opportunities with trained professionals in disciplines like sensual movement and photography. And she doesn’t take any joy in eliminating girls from the process. Instead of regular elimination trials, she seeks to bring as many people with her on tour as possible, and promises a few of the girls who don’t make the tour that if they keep working at it, they’ll get another chance to dance with her.
“I’ve never really felt entitled to accolades or awards. My dream with music wasn’t to make a million dollars and win a Grammy,” she says while reflecting on her Emmys campaign. “It was like, ‘I want to write a song that the whole world sings back at me.’ [With] ‘Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,’ I wanted to change the lives of the girls on my show, and my own life, and the lives of the people who watched it. So many people have watched and pointedly decided to speak to themselves better. To listen to and love their bodies. That is the greatest award anyone can ever hope for.”
Lizzo spoke to Variety about performing with the Big Grrrls on “Saturday Night Live,” singing with Harry Styles and what’s ahead for her deal with Amazon
How did you develop the format for this series? Why did you decide against a more structured system for sending people home?
If we had sent someone home every episode, I wouldn’t have dancers. And most importantly, the reality is that the door has been shut in these women’s faces. They’ve heard the word “no” way more than “yes.” I didn’t want to bring them to L.A., move them into a mansion and just treat them the same way that the world has treated them. That wasn’t the goal.
I didn’t set out to shift the paradigm in reality competition TV, but I definitely didn’t want to do it the way it’s always been done. I wanted to imagine a world where we can help people prepare for life instead of tear them down and humiliate them. That’s how I want all TV to be. That’s how I want life to be. Encourage me! Prepare me! You don’t have to tell me yes all the time, but show me how to get to that yes.
What was it like to have an open casting process?
Casting was really difficult, because the people who auditioned really, really wanted it. We’re talking about an untapped market here, a well of extremely talented, beautiful women with stories that deserve to be shared. The urgency siphoned them through the process. With the 13 girls, there was a sense of, “This person needs this story to be shared now, because this is going to connect with so many people.” The beauty is that you would assume because they’re big girls in dance, their story would be the same, but it’s not. There was so much nuance and depth.
As soon as I got the greenlight to do the show, I was going on TikTok to find raw talent. We actually got a few girls from TikTok. I think it was important for people to see that we’re not going to talent agencies and hiring actors. These are real people.
How did SZA (aka Solána Imani Rowe) end up coming to watch the girls perform and give them feedback as a guest?
SZA is a good friend of mine. I was telling her about the show, and she was like “I want to be part of it!” I was like, “Say less.” It wasn’t like we needed a celebrity on the show; it was from her genuine excitement and desire to be there. She moved so much around her schedule just to make it work.
At that point in the competition, these girls had been through a lot. Seeing Solána there was such a pick-me-up — and in a way, a second audition. I’m not stingy. What I really want is for these girls to have successful careers, whether it’s with me or anyone else. Whether we do a Season 2 or I do a whole different show, [I’m] thinking about how we can shake up the industry by getting these girls hooked up with as many artists as possible. SZA, just based on seeing them once, was like, “I really like her, and I really like her!” It was cool to be able to expose these girls who otherwise would have never been able to get representation to get into an audition room and have a shot to dance for SZA.
They’re so grateful for every moment. They’re fired up, and that energy comes to life on stage. At “SNL,” all four girls were from the “Big Grrrls” show. I wasn’t trying to make a point — I genuinely wanted them. I wanted Asia [Banks] and Crystal [Williams], who are in the music video for “About Damn Time.” And Sydney [Bell] and Charity [Holloway] have just been dancing their asses off lately. Even though they didn’t make it on the TV show to the tour, they’ve stepped it up so much in the past few months that I was like, “Give them a call.”
It was really special to see you make good on your promise that you would continue to look out for them even though they weren’t chosen to join your tour.
The crazy part about it is that I didn’t even think about this TV show when I booked them [for “SNL”]. We did an activation at SXSW. The show wrapped in August, and SXSW is in March. There was so much time in between. And Charity was dancing so good. You could tell that a fire was lit under her. This girl was just dancing her ass off, and I was like, “I need to dance with her again.” All my friends were like, “Damn, she’s shaking that ass!” It just made you attracted to her. It made you want her around you.
And Sydney is such a star. My biggest issue with Sydney back then was that I wanted her to prioritize herself. I’ve had issues in the past where dancers would get injured, and I have to make sure they’re safe, and then I also have to fly someone to Paris last minute and teach them the whole set. It is a huge liability. I wanted her to be aware of the gravity of that. She really has been doing the work, and she’s been dancing so good too. You can’t deny the dance, honey.
After it happened, people were going, “Oh my god, you made good on your promise! You a real one!” I’m like, damn, I wasn’t even thinking about that. They made good on their promise to themselves. I’m so proud.
Speaking of live performances, let’s talk about your surprise appearance during Harry Styles’ Coachella set in April. When are you two getting in the studio together?
I don’t know — I didn’t even know I was doing Coachella! He’s so good at what he does, and he’s just the kindest person. Anything’s possible. If I fit into his plan, honey, I’m there.
What’s coming next out of your first look deal with Amazon Studios?
I actually filmed something that is a dream. I woke up this morning thinking about it. I can’t wait for it to come out. I can’t talk about it, but I’m so excited.
Can you say whether it’s a scripted or unscripted project?
It’s scripted. I have so many ideas. “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” was a show that I had an idea for years and years ago, when I first signed to my management back in like 2018. So I got more like that in the bank. It’s just timing. We gotta make sure the time is right and that we can pull it off, because I got big ideas, honey. There’s nothing small about me.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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