A year after she came out publicly as a lesbian in The Advocate, infamous spiritual adviser Miss Cleo (née Youree Dell Cleomili Harris) tells it likes she sees it on her new CD, a collection of politically charged poetry inspired by spoken word performer–activist Gil Scott-Heron. After her publicist postponed our interview due to an inauspicious date — “Cleo practices Egyptian numerology, and the number 6 does not bode well for clear communication” — the controversial former queen of late-night infomercial psychics shed some light on past love affairs and gave both Bush and Britney a free reading.
Advocate.com: When you came out in The Advocate a year ago, you still had friends and family that didn't know. How did the article go over?
Miss Cleo: There definitely was some fallout but nothing that I couldn't navigate. I was a little concerned about my Jamaican landlord, but he gave me no worries. This will tickle you: My closest cousin's mother is my heart, and she's always defended her niece. When she heard about it she called my cousin and said, “Why are they bothering her again and telling this lie?” My cousin said, “Well, it's not a lie.” So she marinated with it a couple of weeks, called my cousin back, and said, “She's been through so much lately, she's just going through a phase!” That was her comfort zone. I was afraid to call her, but I finally got up enough nerve on her birthday, and there was no difference. Now, I have some family members I haven't heard from at all — and these are people who'd call me once a month. Part of it is I don't think they know what to say. And part of it is they're not sure how much information I'm going to give them!
You tackle many hot topics on your CD, but what got you riled up enough to record your poetry and share it with the world?
After the Virginia Tech tragedy I was just mortified, because I remember Columbine and the chill that ran up my back. And then with the economy I was seeing everybody suffering and people just becoming very complacent. All we wanted to do was talk about it, and I thought, You know what? I'm tired of talking. I was very moved by the Dixie Chicks and the fact that they got lambasted for exercising their right to freedom. We're not supposed to be afraid to speak our mind — that's the whole reason everybody breaks their backside to get here! I've been known to put my foot in my mouth a number of times, but I decided, Well, if I'm going to do it, let's do it on a grand scale. I feel very strongly about voicing out and acting up, which is an old battle cry from the '70s. Old-school is coming back again. It's time.
Your poem “W Times 3” criticizes “TMFI” on the Internet. So should we not expect an official Miss Cleo MySpace page anytime soon?
I've had a few people say “Oh, Auntie, let us set one up!” I said, “Don't you dare!” There are Miss Cleo MySpace pages on there, but I don't know who the heck created them! Everybody wants to be Miss Cleo, but those are not Miss Cleo. Don't get me wrong, the Internet has many positives, but it does have a flip side. I worry about children being taken advantage of.
Do you have a sense of humor about Miss Cleo spoofs in the media?
Absolutely. You have to! Sweetheart, after 2002, if I'm not desensitized to a certain degree, I really just need to pack it in. There were so many things said about me, and I just thought, Are you shittin' me? [Laughs] I'm a very sensitive person, but I had to get tough. I enjoy many of the jokes. I enjoyed Dave Chappelle's take on me. There's a number of things out there where people have their opinion about me, but it doesn't change my life. I am who I am. One of my favorite [poems] that's a poke at all that is “Confessions of a Voodoo Woman,” where I'm saying, “Be careful while you're taking Ms. Cleo's name in vain.”