While most teens get fake IDs to sneak into clubs or buy booze, La La Anthony (neé Alani Vázquez) had a more ambitious plan back in the day for her illicit piece of plastic: to qualify for an internship at radio station WQHT-FM, 97.1 in Atlanta.
“I was 16. I lied and said I was 18–you had to be 18 years old to be a part of the internship program and I had my friend make me a fake ID,” La La says. “It was life-changing to be in high school and be on the radio. But it was a heavy schedule. There are some times I would work 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. and get off and go right to school. So it was really crazy but it was worth it.”
La La parlayed her successful radio career into her big break as a VJ on MTV’s Total Request Live in 2001. But where most TV personalities fizzle out or rarely breakthrough, La La has been steadily building an empire that includes film and TV roles, (Think Like a Man franchise, Starz’s Power, and Fox’s Star), her production company LaLaLand with ITV America, two New York Times best-selling books, and a fashion collaboration with retailer Lord & Taylor. La La showed at just 16 that she would have the hustle needed to become the multi-hyphenate she is today, but that’s half of the equation. The biggest challenge for her now as she expands her brand is to continually prove she belongs in whichever space she’s in–and sometimes create that space herself.
“I refuse to take no for an answer on anything. I was told MTV VJs have no career after MTV, and I’m like, that’s never going to be me,” says La La. “I was always about not feeding into the negativity and proving to people that I can do more than one thing. There was a time, and still now, where people want to put you in a box. Why can’t I do a lot of things and also be great at a lot of different things?”
To assume that whatever path La La’s career branches into will be smoothly paved based on her celebrity status would be a fallacy. It’s true that a famous name attached to a new business has a certain amount of baked-in marketing value, but it also means more scrutiny from both fans and that industry. Take, for example, La La’s initial foray into the fashion world in 2013 with her line 5th & Mercer, through Amazon-owned e-retailer Shopbop. The experience turned out to be a hard-learned lesson in corporate needs clashing with customer needs.
“My fans were like, ‘$200 for a skirt?!’ I don’t even want to pay $200 for a skirt! I wasn’t pricing the skirts but I had to understand that my name is on it so I’m going to take all the heat from it,” La La says. “And also because my name is on it doesn’t mean that I have complete control over it.”
Fast-forward to her new size-inclusive, low-cost denim line with Lord & Taylor that launched August 2017. This time around, La La felt equipped with the language and knowledge to not only get a seat at the table in an industry she has limited experience in, but to actually create a line that has expanded to 30 stores nationwide in just a few months after selling out across its initial 15-store launch.
“People can tell if you don’t know what you’re talking about. When I approached Lord & Taylor to do my clothing line, I knew everything about the market: what it was missing, what my fanbase is, how I can bring a different customer to Lord & Taylor. I did a whole presentation and blew them away,” La La says. “It’s definitely about knowing your brand, knowing your power, and knowing what you’re talking about for people to take you seriously.”
“It’s not like, oh she does whatever she wants,” La La adds. “I still have to prove myself. I still have to grind. I’ve never been given a job. I’ve earned every job that I’ve ever had.”
That shouldn’t suggest, however, that La La is only chasing after existing opportunities–she’s creating her own as well, primary through her production company LaLaLand.
“I just started looking at things and understanding that I wanted to be in charge and in control of my brand, my thoughts, my decisions. Even in acting while auditioning, it’s like a cattle call: ‘light-skinned girl, green eyes.’ You’re looking around and everybody looks alike and you’re just hoping that you do one thing that stands out,” La La says. “But for the most part, you’re just waiting, as opposed to creating your own own lane, your own experiences, your own projects. And it’s the same in business. I just wanted to take more control over my business and not have someone else telling me what to do.”
Currently, La La is developing a wide range of projects including something in partnership with mega-producer Will Packer about “puppets in a bar that just talk shit the whole time,” and the documentary Killer Curves for BET about the underground world of plastic surgery. In addition to Lord & Taylor and LaLaLand, La La is also brainstorming ideas for the third installment of her Playbook self-help series. Yet of all the plates she has spinning at once, acting is what she says is her top priority–and even in that, she’s fighting against the constraints of how people have seen her versus what she’s actually capable of.
La La recently co-starred in the BET mini-series The New Edition Story, chronicling the rise of the ’80s R&B group. She was practically unrecognizable as Flo DeVoe, the mother of member Ronnie DeVoe–and that’s exactly what she was hoping for.
“[Director and showrunner] Lee Daniels told me it was after he saw that, that he was like, ‘She’s got something and I want to work with her,'” La La says of her upcoming recurring role on Daniels’ show Star. “It’s really tough to sometimes get people to see me seriously in that light because they’ve known me as all these other things. It’s great now that I’m in a position to where people are actually starting to be able to see what I can do.”