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Genius: Aretha star Shaian Jordan talks career-making moments and big dreams

Shaian Jordan has a big voice and big dreams, and her hard work is paying off. And when the 14-year-old isn't killing it in her breakout role as Little Aretha Franklin in National Geographic's Genius: Aretha (premiering this Sunday!) she's just like any other teen.

We sat down with Shaian to talk all things Genius: Aretha, from her fave on-set moments to the super-sweet connection she shares with the Queen of Soul.


National Geographic/Richard DuCree


Girls' Life: How did it feel to learn you got the role of Little Re?

I was really excited—my mind was blown! To be able to play such a legend? It was just amazing. I've been acting in plays since I was seven, and this is my first onscreen role. We were out to dinner when I got the email, and it said, "Welcome to the cast," and I was just frozen.

GL: What's Genius: Aretha all about?

Genius: Aretha is all about Aretha Franklin and telling her story. I tell it from her younger perspective when she was growing up and what she's been through at a younger age. And Cynthia Eviro tells Aretha's story as an adult.


National Geographic/Richard DuCree

GL: Do you have a favorite moment from set?

All the memories are special, but my first week there, I had a scene where I had to sing a song in front of 600 people. And I was very nervous because it was my first time singing in front of people, like that large of a group of people. 

And I was able to connect with my character because I was nervous before that, just like Aretha was nervous because it was her first time singing in church. And I broke down a little bit. And Mr. Courtney B. Vance (who plays Aretha's dad, C.L. Franklin) took me to the side. We made sure I was comfortable before I went on stage. We prayed and he made me laugh. So it was so memorable to be able to connect with Aretha in that moment.


National Geographic/Richard DuCree

GL: Do you have any role models like Aretha Franklin?

I definitely look up to Beyonce and Zendaya. They are an inspiration to me because they are people who I've grown up watching ever since I was little. And being able to see how far they've come now is really special.

Shai's top faves

Fave T.V. show? This is us.

Fave song right now? drivers license by Oliva Rodrigo

Fave artist? Beyoncé, I could listen to her music any day!

Fave fashion trend rn? Literally yesterday I got a corset because I see outfits with them and I think it's so cute!

Fave hobby? I love tap dancing and designing.

GL: So turning to your future, what are some of your biggest dreams and goals?

I, of course, want to inspire others and make a difference in the world while I'm doing something I love, and I want to use my platform to spread awareness and be able to influence others. Overall, I just want to become the best version of myself I can be.

GL: Do you think filmmaking is in your future?

Yes, that's something I've always thought about. At my school, I write for the newspaper, so I write a lot. And I used to do a fashion segment for the school's TV news called "Staying Fly With Shai," so I want to get more into editing and maybe starting a YouTube channel, too!


National Geographic's Genius: Aretha premieres March 21.

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by Erin Sargent | 3/20/2021
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