So totally Raven
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
Raven-Symoné was a mere tyke when America first saw her on "The Cosby Show." She was 4 years old.
Now, at 20, she's a workaholic who has completed about 100 episodes — including her fourth and final season — as the wildly passionate, versatile teenager Raven Baxter on Disney's popular family comedy "That's So Raven."
From the time she portrayed Olivia Kendall, the granddaughter in the Huxtable household headed by Bill Cosby, Raven has grown up in front of a camera — in films as well as television.
"Normal for me is what I know, what I did, what I'll do," she said in a telephone interview from Richmond, Va., where she was prepping for a mammoth summer-fall concert tour displaying the latest Raven: an in-the-flesh no-longer-a-kid trouper with a flair for theatrics and singing. She'll share that slice of her bustling life with local fans in a free concert at the 50th State Fair tonight and Saturday.
"I've felt more comfortable on a set than in school," she admitted. "But I had a 'normal' life, too, which, for me, was doing shows while attending public schools. What is normal is what's normal for you."
Not since the days of Mousketeer Annette Funicello in the 1950s has Disney had a triple-threat such as Raven. Through "That's So Raven," she has evolved into the brightest star in the Disney constellation. Some call her Disney's It Girl.
She plays the sitcom Raven as a teen with confidence to spare, unafraid to stretch the boundaries of a kiddie-oriented show by doing impersonations with Tracey Ullman-like fervor. She sings, too, and has recorded three albums during the show's run. And she was a producer of "Raven" during its final season, adding a behind-the-scenes credit to her bulging portfolio.
Raven is also busy as a member of The Cheetah Girls — she has completed CDs and a Disney Channel movie with the all-girl act, earning a platinum award for the movie's soundtrack album.
Concurrently, Raven provides the voice of Monique in a still-recurring role on Disney's animated action-comedy "Kim Possible." She also co-stars in the just-completed sequel to the Disney Channel original feature "The Cheetah Girls."
Now she's engaged in a full-on tour, providing a glimpse of her talent not fully explored in the TV vehicles: concert attraction.
"It's really fun, singing and dancing and making the crowd laugh," Raven said about her 30-city itinerary crisscrossing America. She's mostly performing at theme parks and state fairs, venues her core youth fans frequent, but there are also some arena stops on her calendar.
"There's a really big stage crew in some dates, and I have dancers," she said. "It's my formal concert, based on my 2004 Raven-Symoné album, and it's not like when Raven Baxter sings to get a laugh (on TV)."
Raven says she's been a life-long learner, picking up knowledge as she goes. She was earning a star's wage at an age when most people are still learning to read. And through the years, she become attuned to the business, the producer role being the latest tangent in her show-biz journey.
"When you're young, it's osmosis," she said. "I saw everything, but I didn't know I was learning."
From Cosby, she acquired a warehouse of lessons. So what sticks in her mind?
"I learned (from him) to be professional; I learned to respect others," said Raven. "I call him Mr. Cosby. I still communicate with him — but not as often as I should."
On the tube, Raven is something of a free spirit who has premonitions ("visions") of the future, and who does girlie things like shop and date and dance — resulting in misadventures.
So how much of her off-screen life is captured in her TV roles?
"I think on any show, you portray a little of yourself in the part," she said. "Raven Baxter is somewhat like Raven-Symoné — when I was 13. But not now."
Her passion for fashion was part of an episode in which Raven Baxter gets an internship with fashion diva Donna Cabonna. "I love her to death; the internship is part of my basic growing-up dream. There's a lot you can do with teenage roles, but the parts I choose ... must be people I can do."
She is very protective of her private life. Although there are online reports of a Raven boyfriend, she simply said, "I don't discuss it."
Consequently, she dismisses idle gossip. "You know how the industry is — sometimes, my best friend is supposed to be mad with me. Can't believe it."
She said the "Raven" episodes are filmed in front of a live audience, so the laugh tracks are real.
"For the live audience, it's just as fun, or more fun, than watching at home. You get to see Raven Baxter do all kinds of crazy things."
There's also a clear divide between the work Raven and the home Raven. "To be myself, I work at keeping the Raven Baxter on stage."
And she's game to try almost anything for the show. "I've had all kinds of gook poured over me, I've played a baby, I've skateboarded. It's all in a day's work."
That's so ... Raven!
Reach Wayne Harada at firstname.lastname@example.org.