*We caught up with Internet sensation Kwaylon “BlameItOnKway” Rogers to dish about his massive social media fame and appearance in Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Farewell Play, which launched exclusively on BET+ on August 27.
In Tyler Perry’s final stage run as Madea, he pulls together some of his audience’s favorite characters for a family gathering. Madea, Mr. Brown, Cora, and Aunt Bam are all under one roof for over two hours of pure joy. Rogers plays TiTi in the show, his popular online persona that is a big part of his success.
When his insanely popular Instagram platform caught the attention of Rihanna some years ago, he tells us that his reaction was one of “You really have to go full force at this point because Rihanna has her eyes on you.”
“And after that … God is continuing to bless me, and put blessings in my lap. The collaboration with Janet (Jackson) led to the collaboration with J-Lo, that led to the collaboration with Tyler Perry. He saw all of that and he was like, “Okay, there’s something about this guy that’s special. Let me give him an opportunity,” Rogers explained.
Check out our full Q&A below.
I’ve been following you on social media for year. How does this interview find you today? How are you holding up during this crazy COVID pandemic?
Kwaylon: I’m holding up real good. I’ve just been trying to stay busy, but at the same time stay safe. But I love doing content. I’ve always loved doing content. I love making people happy, so I could only be on lockdown and locked in a room for a good week or two. And then after that, it was just like, okay, let me put my face mask on and get back to work.
Speaking of that, one thing that I’ve noticed over the years is that your creative team turned it up several notches. They’re simply dynamic. That got me to thinking about the very first clip I saw of you years ago, the ALS water bottle challenge – to where you are now.
Kwaylon: That is a classic. You went way, way back with that one.
Talk about your creative team and at what point did you start to expand and incorporate all these special effects and clever edits.
Kwaylon: It’s funny because I’m from Dallas and I lived in Houston for maybe five, six years. And I worked at Christian Louboutin. I worked at this retail store and I always felt pressed with time when it came to content and stuff like that. And I just took that leap of faith and left the job and wanted to go full force into the content.
So I moved to LA and it took a minute to find some people. But through meeting that one person, I would meet somebody else. And through that person, I would meet a makeup artist. And through that makeup artist, I would meet a hairstylist. And through the hairstylist I would meet… but I would also expand with key people. So when it comes to a makeup artist or hairstylist, I would have two or three of them give different looks and not to get stagnant and get comfortable with just one certain look.
So your infamous TiTi character… you actually play her in Tyler Perry’s “Madea Farewell” stage play?
Kwaylon: It’s different because TiTi is TiTi, but TiTi is a younger version of TiTi. So TiTi on Instagram and across social media platforms, she’s a 28-year-old. But in the play TiTi’s 17 years old. So what you notice with the content on social media, TiTi is a lot more bold. She’s a lot more fussy, but in this play, she’s scared of Madea. She’s not going to talk back to Madea. So she has to humble herself.
How did you get involved with the play? Was Tyler a fan of your content? Did he reach out and ask you to join the show?
Kwaylon: So what happened was… I had just finished a really cool video with my director who is my right hand man. At that point we were on fire. We were releasing content back-to-back-to-back. He knows I’m a huge fan of Tyler Perry. And he was like, maybe you should make a post on your page just to see what would happen. And I made a post. I put a picture of Medea right beside TiTi, and at the top of the picture say, “Y’all my dream is to meet Tyler Perry.” And all of my fans…and he had over 30,000 comments on some posts where people were just tagging my name. Like, Hey Tyler, you need to know this guy.
I met one of his stylists a long time ago. And she told me, “I met you in a club with my friend and you didn’t know who I was, but you were so nice to me. You were so, so nice to me. You took a picture with me and you had a little small conversation with me. So that being said, I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m Tyler Perry’s stylist, and I can connect you to him.” An hour later, Tyler Perry’s calling me just off of me having that good experience meeting his stylist, and we connected. She gave me that big opportunity with Tyler and Tyler had checked my videos out. And by the time he called me, he was just already laughing like, “Oh my gosh, where have you been?”
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How often do you hear “You deserve your own show? You need to be on TV.”
Kwaylon: Oh it’s time. It is so time for TiTi to be on TV. Well, I mean, actually it just happened. TiTi’s already on TV, but I definitely want to, because it’s a cool thing to look on my TV screen and to see something I created. But yes, all the time my fans are in my comments, saying, “Hey, you need to be on TV. You need to be on TV. You need to be on a show.” So the fact that I’m living that dream is so cool and so, so surreal.
So for folks who didn’t see the play during its initial run, tell us about some of the themes explored in this story that you think will resonate with Black viewers.
Kwaylon: Yes. With TiTi’s character, she’s chasing this guy and he doesn’t see that. He doesn’t want her, and she’s super insecure, but towards the end of the play, you see… I don’t want to give too much away, but… towards the end of the play, Madea talks to TiTI and kind of lays it out as far as instilling in TiTi that you’re beautiful and you don’t have to chase whatever. You don’t ever have to chase whatever you want. If somebody wants you, they’ll want you. And with the TiTi character, I love how he played it out from the top to the end, because she started out obsessed. And towards the end, Madea kind of got her together.
What are you hoping viewers are left thinking about or talking about after they go on this journey with TiTi and Madea?
Kwaylon: I just hope that they want more. ‘m getting a lot of responses, “Okay, now at this point we need a TiTi and Madea movie.” I just want that momentum to keep and stay. It’s just really cool to see how many people are watching it at the same time, too. I’m reposting back to back these little stories and these little clips of people watching it with their families. People watching it with their friends, people on their phones at work. I think Tyler did a really good job of giving TiTi a spotlight, but not giving TiTi too much. You leave people wanting more. So that’s what I want people to just want more of TiTI and Madea, or TiTi and Bam, or TiTi and Cora and Brown.
Let’s talk about TiTi. Where did the inspiration come from? Is she a mashup of different female personalities in your life?
Kwaylon: Yes, yes, absolutely. I have two sisters and both of my sisters have girls, and my mom has like seven sisters and all of them had girls. So I grew up around a lot of women, but I also grew up watching people like Madea, and I grew up watching people like Jamie Foxx’s character Wanda, and Shanaynay, Martin Lawrence’s character. So I grew up watching those characters and I always loved how they could turn into somebody completely different, because even with myself, like I’m a shy, pretty laid back person, but TiTi, I’m loud. I’m bold. And I always thought that that was cool.
I’ve been speaking to a lot of artists lately about the challenges of promoting their brand on social media since COVID put the nation on lockdown. With more people at home and online, are you having to put out more content to keep up with the demand?
Kwaylon: I’ve always kept it real, as far as pacing. I would never overload the character. So I would pace it out. But at the same time during COVID, the watch time is up. So people are at home. People are on a lockdown and trying to stay safe and just watching TV and watching Netflix. So I wanted to tap into doing longer-form content. So if you pay, if you look at my page now, whereas before COVID, I was doing a lot of one minute, or 30 second clips, but now I’m tapping into three, four or five minute. I’m really expanding the time with the content.
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When did you realize you were an internet sensation?
Kwaylon: That’s a really good question. I would say one of the most pivotal moments for me was when Rihanna followed me. She was one of the first huge, obviously icons that followed me. And she was supporting me. She DM’d me and she ended up putting me in her Fenty campaign for makeup. I was one of the first influencers to do that, so that was a cool experience. At that moment I had just moved to LA and she gave me that opportunity. It was like, okay, now you really got to go after it, you really have to go full force at this point because Rihanna has her eyes on you.
And after that … God is continuing to bless me, and put blessings in my lap. The collaboration with Janet (Jackson), that led to the collaboration with J-Lo, that led to the collaboration with Tyler Perry. He saw all of that and he was like, “Okay, there’s something about this guy that’s special. Let me give him an opportunity.” So it’s really, really, really cool. Super cool. I would say Rihanna definitely was the first person to put me on a platform. And then obviously Tyler Perry is just like, at this point, it’s like, okay, now I want to do a movie.
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With the COVID crisis, the Black Lives Matter movement sweeping the nation, the civil unrest over race relations in America and calls for social justice, is any of this inspiring the type of content you want to put out going forward?
Kwaylon: I ‘m currently working on something really, really cool and really, really current that people need to hear. You know, as far as racial injustice, all of these police crimes, all of this stuff. So I’m going to touch on a lot of that stuff with these little docu-series that I’m about to come out with on YouTube. It’s definitely inspired me to change how I do videos, even just to help our people out. If you notice on my page recently, I’ve done this thing, and this is just no benefit to me, but it’s just all about the people that support me, and about my people and about our people. And I noticed that there was a lot of people in the pandemic that had been hurt as far as businesses.
It was a lot of businesses that were impacted from the COVID situation, and it inspired me to give an opportunity and a platform for other people. So I made a post where I’m like, “Hey y’all, I want to help you guys continue through the pandemic with the businesses and stuff like that.” So I had people send me their packages from their businesses: skin care lines, people that do hair, lashes, all of this stuff. I got so many. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of packages. And I put them on a platform and I shouted out five, six businesses, and I’ve done it like three or four times at this point. And each time the businesses are selling out. So that’s my way of not just giving people funny content, but how can I tap into helping people and uplifting people and really changing someone’s life if I can.
You know, people can tap into a 15 second video, a minute video and they can escape for that time and laugh and forget about whatever it is that they’re going through. But I also want to touch on how I can help people really grow and understand, now is the time, more than ever, to even start a business, and the importance of that and just not getting stagnant. So my content is slowly but surely changing. Not just funny content, but actually how can I empower and uplift people?
God gave me this platform with these millions and millions of followers. I can’t just make them laugh. I think that’s one thing that Tyler taught me. There was this thing that I would do every time I would release a video on my page. I would always send it to Tyler, like, “Hey, give me feedback. What do you think about it?” And obviously he really liked the content, but there was one time where I sent him a video and he was like, “Hey, I liked this video. It’s funny. It’s cool. But at the same time, what are you leaving people with after they watched this video?” And at that point, I realized, okay, now it’s bigger than the usual TiTi kicking a guy out of the house. It’s just a little funny video, but now, how can I incorporate a lot of discrimination — in a funny way, a relatable way. And then talk about people voting, talk about the crime that’s going on, all of this stuff that’s going on right now.
My content is about to be geared towards that right now. Because again, it’s bigger than just a laugh and just a minute clip, but how can I actually change somebody’s life after they watched the video?
And I feel like Tyler does that. He does a really good job of doing that on the play. The play is really really funny, but you’re left feeling like, “Okay, let me apply all of these messages to my life.” I remember looking out the window on tour and seeing all of these people walk into the building and you see a couple and they’re separate, right? They’re walking, they’re excited to come, but they’re not really talking or whatever. And then you look out the window and you see people laughing, you see people, “Oh my God, that was my favorite part.” And you see people hug and, and people just talking to each other and just giving each other love. And it just goes to show that sometimes people just need to escape for a minute and just laugh, but also be impacted with the message that they can apply to their lives. And Tyler does a really good job with that.