A longtime fervent supporter of LGBT causes, La Toya Jackson will compete to raise funds and awareness for AIDS Project Los Angeles on a dramatic new season of The Celebrity Apprentice, which premieres March 6 on NBC. As the 54-year-old singer-songwriter readies to release her long-delayed 11th studio album, Startin’ Over, she explains why APLA has become as important to her as it was to her brother Michael.
Advocate.com: Why did you choose AIDS Project Los Angeles as your charity organization on The Celebrity Apprentice?
La Toya Jackson: My brother is in the Guinness Book of World Records for giving over $400 million to charities around the world, and AIDS Project Los Angeles was one that was very close to his heart. When I was approached to do Celebrity Apprentice, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to bring some awareness to APLA.
How did you first get involved with APLA?
I got involved with them when my brother passed. I have always been involved with different organizations, especially ones that help people who are dying and things of that nature, but I wanted to continue the work with APLA where Michael left off.
Of all the charities that Michael was involved with, why was APLA so special to him?
Well, there are a lot of different charities, and no one charity is better than the others because they all serve an important purpose. But there are young kids out there suffering from AIDS, innocent kids who didn’t ask for this and who don’t have a voice, so Michael knew how important it was to find a panacea to make sure these kids are cured. I remember going to the hospital to see these poor little babies that weren’t any bigger than my hand because they had AIDS.
How will the money you raise for APLA on Celebrity Apprentice be used to help people?
It will be used in many different fashions. Some will be donated toward the effort to find a panacea. Some will go to buy groceries and things for those who can no longer leave their homes, and I often go deliver groceries to people. But more than anything, the money will go toward giving people medicine to keep them well. The medicine is very expensive, especially when you don’t have insurance.
Your 2009 single “Home” also benefited the cause.
Yes, every single penny went to APLA. That song had actually been recorded about eight years ago. Not long after my brother passed, my record company wanted me to put out a song, but I told them I didn’t want to put a song out at that time. But I decided that if had to do it, I’d put out this song and donate all the money to charity. “Home” is a song about my family. It’s about how you all grow up together and then you go in different directions that take you away from home, but you can always come back and find each other because we’re still together as one.
How have you been personally impacted by HIV and AIDS?
I’ve lost quite a few friends to the disease. I had a makeup artist — he actually did my makeup for my Playboy spread — and we were very close. I just couldn’t understand it in the beginning. He passed away, and then one of my dancers, who was also very close to my heart, passed away. Another friend, Bobby DeBarge, eventually died from the disease as well. It was very troubling to feel like I couldn’t do anything about it. But now I know that even though you can’t cure the disease in one moment, you can certainly do something to help by giving.
Do you feel that AIDS awareness has receded since the ’80s and ’90s?
Yes, and people need to be reminded that it’s still affecting millions. In the beginning that’s all we heard about, and people were terrified because we didn’t have enough knowledge. We forget the fact that it’s still out there, but it needs to be back at the forefront now so that people can be more aware and can donate more to AIDS-related causes. It’s a disease that’s not going away anytime soon.
When did you first feel the support of LGBT community?
When I first decided to sing. Well, my father said, “You’re going to do an album,” so I did an album. After that first album in 1980, that’s when I first felt the love from the gay community. They embraced me greatly, and I was flabbergasted, actually, because it was all so new. I’ve been overwhelmed by the undying devotion, which is really wonderful. I love it.
And you’ve returned the favor.
Well, that support comes from my heart, but it’s always good to give back. They embrace me, so I embrace them.
You got another stamp of approval from the gay community when you were asked to be a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race this season. How was that experience?
I love RuPaul to death. He’s been a friend for many years, and it’s wonderful to be around him. But I did think, Oh, my God, they’re all going to be so gorgeous, and their makeup is going to be so over-the-top. I’m going to look like Plain Jane!
I’ll bet you could teach those queens a thing or two, Miss La Toya. Remember when you raised money for APLA on Halloween 2009 by working at Millions of Milkshakes in West Hollywood while wearing a big orange wig and silver catsuit? I’m not sure what look you were giving, but you were giving a look.
[Laughs] I was doing one of the Jetsons. Maybe you’re right, but there’s a lot that I have to learn too. Believe it or not, I learn a lot from the gays. And those drag queens were girlier than any of the girls I know, so it was great to learn new techniques and tricks of the trade. I learn a lot of dialogue and vocabulary from you guys too, by the way. Like “tucking.”
Richard Hatch is representing the gay community on Celebrity Apprentice this season. Did you two get along?
You know what? Richard Hatch and I got along just fine. It’s interesting, because everyone was a little intimidated by him in the beginning, but Richard’s actually a nice guy. I liked him very much.
The show hasn’t even aired, but people are already talking about the feud between contestants NeNe Leakes and Star Jones. Did you get caught in the middle of that drama?
Let’s just put it this way: There’s a lot of drama. I prefer peace, but sometimes you’re put in situations you don’t wish to be in, so you have to try to make the best of it.
Are you Team NeNe or Team Star?
Oh, Team NeNe, by far.
Really? That surprises me.
I know it does. But I’ll be truthful with you: NeNe’s bark is much bigger than her bite. Deep down inside, NeNe has a heart, and I can’t say that for everybody else.
Star has said that NeNe perpetuates the stereotype of the “bombastic black woman.” Is that valid?
That’s their fight, and I’m going to leave it to them to battle it out, but we all need to conduct ourselves like the young women that we are.
What was it like working with Donald Trump?
Incredible. He’s really done a wonderful thing here, reaching out to these celebrities to come fight for different charities. It’s brilliant.
Your album Startin’ Over was originally scheduled for release in 2003. There have been some roadblocks along the way, but will Startin’ Over finally get a release this year?
Absolutely. It’s going to finally happen this year. It’s time. I’m really excited about the songs, and I know you guys will be terribly surprised.
On your 2004 dance hit “Just Wanna Dance,” you sing about clubgoers not knowing if you’re “a he or a she” and kicking it “with a girl or a man.” Will any other songs on the album appeal to or resonate with the LGBT community in particular?
That’s an understatement. Just remember these three words: love, honor, and obey.