Star Jones: A 21st Century Diva

Diva (di´vä): A woman with a Delightfully Interesting, Vivacious Attitude. So asserts Star Jones, the candid, feisty, headstrong co-host of ABC’s The View, who is, by her account and ours, a 21st Century Diva.

Never hesitant to offer an opinion or give a straightforward answer, the woman born Starlet Marie Jones exudes self-confidence. While Life has thrown her a few curves, Jones has a way of turning challenges into opportunities, and opportunities into achievements.

Jones, 37, who was born in North Carolina and raised in New Jersey, was embraced by an extended family, from which the seeds of success were sown. While Jones attributes her success to “hard work and strong family values and an abiding faith in God,” she reserves the most credit for her mother, Shirley. In her 1998 autobiography, You Have to Stand for Something or You’ll Fall for Anything (Bantam, $22.95), Jones writes, “She filled me with such a tremendous sense of purpose and faith that there’s no situation I can’t face head-on…. I am vested with the notion that the world is mine.”

Jones displayed that sense of purpose and focus early on, when she decided that she wanted to be a lawyer. When Shirley learned of her plans, she sat Star down and helped her determine what it would take to accomplish her goal. Jones recalls, “I was seven or eight years old and she had me planning, and keeping my eyes on the prize, and the funny thing is I never lost sight of that goal.”

Despite a brush with mortality at the age of 20, the prize was eventually hers. Jones developed a thoracic tumor requiring rarely performed surgery, and in spite of the odds, she never gave up on her goals, and instead feels the experience gave her a new impetus to succeed. “I came out of that ordeal a driven young woman…. All of a sudden, my life had a purpose.”

After receiving her law degree, Jones’ ambition led her to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, where she prosecuted lower level cases before being promoted to the Homicide Bureau, and eventually to Senior Assistant District Attorney. She chose to be a prosecutor because “In the end, (it was about) being the only person standing between justice and injustice.”

Jones’ entrée into the world of television occurred by happenstance. In 1991, when Court TV was only a concept, her coworker at the D.A.’s office turned down the opportunity to be their live-action commentator, instead suggesting that Jones participate. She shot the pilot with F. Lee Bailey and Harvard law professor Arthur Miller, and the rest, as they say, is herstory.

During the William Kennedy Smith rape trial, Jones made a provocative comment about the alleged victim’s seeming inability to remember who removed her pantyhose and where and when they were shed. In commenting upon Patricia Bowman’s credibility with the jury, Jones asserted, “It’s been my experience that women know where they take off their underwear. When they don’t, they have a credibility problem.” This created quite a buzz in the world of talking heads – unaccustomed to such a blunt, forthright approach – and prompted a booking on the Today Show, which led, six weeks later, to a contract as NBC’s legal correspondent.

Later, as chief legal analyst and senior correspondent for Inside Edition, Jones covered the O.J. Simpson trial, always keeping in mind that journalism is a “sacred trust,” and that “(People) deserve a media that’s straight and fair and objective.”

Jones, a self-defined “news junkie” who reads six papers every day, is deeply concerned that there are those in the media who care more about the bottom line than the integrity of their reporting. She is disturbed that, in the wake of the sensationalistic coverage of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, the line between traditional journalism and tabloid journalism is growing ever fuzzier. “We’ve turned the corner in terms of journalism in this fast-food era,” Jones says with distaste. Even traditional journalists are tackling stories that they otherwise would not tackle, and taking positions as more of a commentator or analyst than an information source.”

As for the argument that the media just gives the public what it wants, Jones rebuts, “There’s a difference between what people want and what people have a right to know. We may want to know the gossip about everybody, but we don’t have a right to have the gossip about everybody. We now live in a world where public people can no longer lead private lives, and I think that’s a shame.”

Jones, however, keeps firm boundaries between reporting and commentating. “When I was covering the Simpson trial, I was very clear on the fact that I was a reporter,” she says with conviction. “Even to this day, it would not occur to me to give my personal opinion (on his guilt or innocence). What I thought was irrelevant, because if you think I’m coming from a bias, it colors how you take in my information.” Now, she says, “You see people covering the White House, then on Sunday (morning TV shows) they are sitting there giving their own opinions.” Jones is vehement in her belief that, “there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed.”

She also has definite opinions about politics and the implications of the President’s impeachment on the 2000 elections. She feels strongly that “the public is sick of the whole lot – both the Republicans and the Democrats…. If a candidate tries to bring that up, they may feel the backlash.” It is evident that Jones has her finger on the pulse of America when she says, “We want to talk about the issues that impact on our daily lives. The impeachment, the allegations against the President, that doesn’t… put any extra food on the table; it doesn’t get one criminal off the street; it doesn’t give our children any extra books or computers in their classrooms; and doesn’t provide health care for one additional person in America. Those are the things that matter most to us.”

Jones believes that, in light of the impeachment, the prospect of a woman president “is moving from a possibility to a probability. America might say, ‘You know what, let’s give a woman a try.'”

While she has no aspirations for political office (“I’m too honest”), Jones would support Hillary Clinton’s run for a U.S. Senate seat in New York. “Every issue that matters to me, I’m completely on all fours with the First Lady,” she asserts. “She is so dedicated to children’s issues, victims rights issues, issues that involve families and communities, and more traditional women’s issues. I wish that she would run, so that she’d be my senator.”

As co-host of ABC’s The View along with Meredith Vieira, Joy Behar and executive producer Barbara Walters, Jones has a daily opportunity to proffer her candid opinions about everything from the day’s headlines to the latest cultural phenomenon. It’s clear that Jones embraces and enjoys the opportunity to be a pivotal player in this critically acclaimed show, which this year was nominated for ten Daytime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Talk Show and Outstanding Talk Show Host.

While the relationships among The View’s coterie were initially a product of Barbara Walter’s design, Jones says they have turned into genuine friendships. “We love each other,” she declares. “When the four of us get together, we’ll be gossiping and we don’t want the door open. Barbara will bark, ‘We’re in a meeting!’ We’re not in a meeting,” Jones laughs, “We’re having a great time. You could not come to work here everyday unless (the relationship) was as genuine as you see (on TV).”

Her deep admiration for Walters is evident when she firmly states, “Every woman in journalism right now owes something to her, because she opened all the doors. She fought all the battles. Her creation of this show, which celebrates the diversity of women, and the minds of women, and the whimsical nature of women and the intelligence of women, is a wonderful example of her bringing women along.”

Working with her co-hosts isn’t the only thing Jones adores about her career; she clearly enjoys the fashion perks. Jones says, “I am dressed everyday by Saks Fifth Avenue Salon Z. Those people are the love of my life – they take such good care of me.” She is nothing if not a diva with style. She owns 400 pairs of shoes, she shops at outlet stores, and feels that “Clothing, shoes, jewelry, makeup, hair – all that goes into your positive self-image. I’m not the least bit concerned about how other people see me. I’m concerned with how I see me.”

Jones attributes her flawless skin to being blessed with “good genes,” citing as evidence, “My grandmother turned 80 in September, and she has minimal lines. My mom is 57 and she is a fox.” Her beauty routine varies, although her cardinal rule is never to go to bed with makeup on. She never puts alcohol on her face, and says, “Half the time, I wash with soap. The other half of the time, I take baby wipes and wipe off the makeup.” Jones uses clear cucumber gel cleanser or witch hazel to remove the remainder of the makeup, and uses a heavy cream, such as Nivea, at night.

Her beauty – both outer and inner – also comes from a healthy lifestyle. At least three mornings a week, you’ll find her at her apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, exercising on her treadmill while reading a newspaper or watching the morning news. While she affirms that, “I enjoy the gym experience when it’s one on one,” she’s adamant that, “If you tell me I have to jog around a track, I’d rather lay down on a railroad track and die.”

Jones exercises because she enjoys it, and makes it clear that she doesn’t want to participate in the diet culture. “I have no desire to buy into this whole diet mentality of America, or to buy into this skinny-is-the-only-way,” she insists. “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it. If it’s you, then go for it. It’s just not who I am.”

But at the same time, Jones doesn’t identify with the size acceptance movement, asserting, “I don’t accept that we’re the last safe minority that it’s politically correct to abuse.” Nor does she feel that discrimination based on body size is a legitimate arena for legislative or legal intervention. Calling Michigan’s statute prohibiting discrimination based on weight “ridiculous,” she states, “I’m the kind of person who does not believe that size holds me back from anything. I’m the size I am, and I’m confident in who I am. I don’t need the legislature to hold my hand and make me feel better because I’m one size and not another.”

That belief and her feeling that size is irrelevant have their roots in her upbringing. In her autobiography, Jones recalls, “I was never made to feel as if my size determined my worth in any one area…. My dress size didn’t matter to me because my dress size didn’t matter to (my mother), and it didn’t matter to my daddy either.” Indeed, Jones said in an interview for this article, “You all have made this an issue. I haven’t. If this magazine did not exist, I’d never classify myself as a Big Beautiful Woman. I, quite frankly, don’t see the need to do that.”

While Jones is aware that her fuller figure means, “I may not have as many fashion choices available to me as some women,” she continues to define her own personal style. She writes, “The top designers don’t even bother with the likes of me, so why should I care what a bunch of predominantly gay white men think about the way I look?”

Her choices in fashion may soon expand, as Jones is making plans to design her own clothing line. Although she says, “If I had my druthers, I would do a private label for Saks Fifth Avenue,” she also sees the need for apparel with a lower price point. “I’m also thinking about a lower-range line, maybe something for Target.” She continues, “Remember, I didn’t always have a TV show, but I always had to dress. (As) an assistant D.A., I made $22,500, which is more in line with what regular everyday Americans make. And I looked good everyday.” Indeed, in those days she wore Chanel knockoffs and accessorized them with fake Chanel buttons, which she sewed on herself.

Her forthcoming clothing line is sure to complement the Star Jones Wig Collection. Because Jones’ hair tends to be dry, she uses oil on it, and shampoos and conditions with Optimum. Nonetheless, she wears wigs most of the time, but adds, “You never know where my hair ends and where the wig begins.”

There are currently six wigs in the Star Jones Collection, including those with trendy waves, chic layers and dramatic highlights. Made by Especially Yours, the collection is available through mail order ( or 888-679-8657), and 14 more styles will be added in the coming year. As Jones proclaims, “Wigs give us divas a whole bunch of fashion options.”

Whether Jones is entertaining friends at favorite restaurants like the Four Seasons or Mr. Chow’s, travelling to Paris – a place that she loves, or attending a charity event, she always goes in style, wearing suits by Anne Klein, Ellen Tracy and Due per Due, or eveningwear by Oleg Cassini, Brian Bailey and Nahdrée. She’s matter-of-fact when she says, “I have such a sense of style. I don’t know where that comes from, but I know what looks good on me. I know what feels good on me.” Jones adds, “Style is not just looking in a magazine and saying, ‘I’m gonna buy that.’ It’s buying that and putting something with it that makes it say you.”

This woman of style also has a streak of practicality. “Seventy percent of my lingerie comes from Lane Bryant,” says Jones, “and 95% of my underwear and bras come from Lane Bryant because I think they do it better than anyone else. I will take a pair of black stretch leggings from Lane Bryant with a pair of black suede shoe boots and top it with a cashmere sweater from Saks, and you wouldn’t know the difference.”

Jones isn’t all high-glam, however. You may spot her at the White Castle in Harlem, at one of her favorite New York jazz clubs, or shopping for pieces to decorate her new home in the Hamptons. Her home is one of the places where the softer side of Star surfaces. “Every part of my life is always movin’ and shakin’, full of colors, and big, loud and busy. So in my house it’s very soft and comfortable,” she reveals.

On that rare night when she’s home alone – about once every two weeks – Jones takes the opportunity to relax and reflect. “I light a wonderful scented candle, sit quietly on the couch and listen to (jazz musician) Cassandra Wilson. I think I’m happiest right there,” she says softly.

Jones also spends time with her beau, whom she declines to name. She does confess, however, that in their personalities, “We’re exactly the same – so much so that it’s scary.” Jones describes him as a businessman in the entertainment-publishing arena, and as “the smartest man I’ve met recently.”

To Jones, brains are important in a mate, as are a veritable laundry list of other qualities. In her autobiography, Jones candidly notes that she wants a man who is as tall as she is in four-inch heels (for the record, that would be at least 5’10”); who is smart, passionate, handsome, fun-loving, and adventuresome; who has a sense of style, a good heart, a good relationship with his family, and a place in his life for God; and who “is kind and gentle and treats me like I hung the moon.” While she has a preference for strong African-American men like her stepfather and her grandfathers, she sets no racial boundaries for a mate, writing, “I decided a long time ago to play with all the crayons in the box.”

While she is known for her blunt approach and candor, Jones can also act as star-struck as a teenager can. She’s an avid fan of All My Children, and cites one of the characters, Erika Kane, as “My favorite daytime diva of all time.” Upon meeting Susan Lucci, the actress who portrays Kane, Jones felt out of her element. “I can sit with the President of the United States and have a conversation and not be intimidated, but with Susan I was speechless.” She adds, “(To this day) Susan will tell you I’m more a fan than a colleague. I cannot get a grip.”

As a diva-in-training, one of her mentors was Diahann Carroll, who Jones refers to as “the quintessential diva” and “my special godmother,” adding that Carroll is “the single most classy, most elegant woman I have ever met.” According to Jones, Carroll also gave her the best advice she ever received, at a time when she was concerned that people might be put off by her confidence. Jones relates that she said to Carroll, “I don’t know if America is ready for a black woman who is not afraid to be proud of who she is, who likes who she is, and who is not concerned with pleasing everybody.” Carroll responded, “Darling, they will get used to it.”

America has not only gotten used to Star Jones, but has embraced her. This 21st century diva is an original who first, last and always relies on her belief in her own talents, intelligence and style. As she writes in her book, “If you define yourself, other people’s opinions won’t matter. You’re no longer subject to fashion, or to the whims of taste.”

4.1.1BBW Q&A with Star Jones

What’s the most fun, funky item in your closet right now, and when was the last time you wore it?

Brown leather pants by Emmanuel…. I wore them to the Knicks game when they beat Indianapolis!

If you won lifetime subscriptions to three publications of your choice, which would you choose?

The New York Times, Vanity Fair and Essence Magazine

Which historical figure do you most admire?

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His work in the area of equality in education formed the foundation for a whole race of people to achieve

If you were to design one article of clothing that most truly reflected your personality, what would it look like?

A long black sexy sheath dress (It’s classic and will never go out of style) with ostrich feathers at the cuffs (for pizzazz!)

As a diva, what’s the most outrageous thing you’ve gotten away with?

Flirting with Michael Douglas on national television!

Where do you want to be on December 31, 1999 at 11:59 p.m?

Drinking champagne with the man I love

What’s your most treasured childhood possession that you still have?

A portrait of my sister, Sheila, and me when she was four and I was eight

Quick… What would you wear if you felt…feisty?

Quelques Fleur perfume by Houbigant…. There is nothing feistier than a woman who smells like she is sure of herself!

This article is a throwback from a 1999 issue of the print magazine.

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