Countess Vaughn has been in viewers’ hearts and minds since 1988, when she appeared as the child with the powerful voice on Star Search, and even more so after creating the lovable character of Kim Parker on Moesha and The Parkers.

Taking a break for a lengthy amount of time to focus on family and health, Countess has returned to the spotlight by joining the cast of TV One’s Hollywood Divas and launching a t-shirt and wig line. We caught up with her to talk the ups and downs of reality TV and much more.

Why did you decide to do reality TV?
“It was about me and my image. I was in a place where it was time to get back to work. I felt this would be a place to show people the real Countess and show them I’m out here still working and grinding. I have the wig line and t-shirt line; I wanted fans to see I’m doing what I love. I wasn’t in it to try and be a ‘star,’ I’m just being real.”

What has reality TV taught you about the industry and yourself?
“It’s taught me there are different levels of drama. On (Hollywood Divas) I’ve realized there’s really ‘new levels to devil,’ meaning no matter where you are in life there’s always going to be drama and a bunch of he-said-she-said nonsense. Whether you’re in high school or a Fortune 500 company, there’s always drama and politics. For me, it’s all about how to deal with it. You can’t ignore it, but at the same time, I speak my mind and speak up for myself. At the end of the day I can sleep well because I speak the truth and defend myself. In reality TV, there always has to be that one villain and once the cameras roll, you see everyone’s true colors and who steps up to take on that role for the spotlight. I chose not to be that person.”

What was it like documenting your weight loss on television?
“Some of the girls on the show disagreed in my approach in getting back into things. They didn’t want me to do the lipo, but I had to take control of my health and do a drastic jump start. After having two babies plus thyroid issues, I had to get my body back right. I didn’t mind doing it on TV because I’m not embarrassed about it at all. I did the surgery, and since then I’ve been watching what I eat and working out in order to maintain. I’m not in it for vanity or because I’m unhappy with my body; I wanted my fans to see I was taking charge of my health. Maybe I can inspire someone else who needs to do the same.”

How do you stay empowered in an industry that’s so critical?
“I took advice from the other actresses I look up to. I try to stay creative. I’m a producer in the fact that I take complete control of career. I made a team out of trusted friends and family and we’re out here building my brand. I think it’s crucial to surround yourself with genuine and positive people, that way you know they have your best interests in mind and at heart. It’s easy to have all the background noise of the blogs, social media, and all of that, but for me it’s about being 100 percent Countess and loving myself first.”

What/who influences you the most?
“I have two beautiful kids who motivate me in everything I do. My family, dad, and mom believe in me 100 percent and have been my biggest supporters since day one. Everyone came out to LA when I was a kid to support my dream; I’m here every day living that out to make them proud.”

You have a new show in development right now (co-starring Shar Jackson). Can you tell us a bit about it?
“It will be a modern take on Laverne & Shirley. It’s something different. Right now all the details are still under wraps, but I can say my fans will see a much different side of me. Everyone is used to the goofy ‘Kim Parker’ character and a really chill Countess, but this will show off my more serious side.”

How can women empower themselves?
“From being surrounded by different types of women because of the show, I’ve come to realize women who act out are going through things in their life that don’t have anything to do with you, but you’re their emotional scapegoat. I think women can be more positive just by trying to understand where the other may be coming from, or what they’re going through. I’m from sets (Moesha and The Parkers) where a lot of people have passed away. I’ve learned to enjoy the moments I have with people, and try not to waste time being mad at them. If there’s a problem, I speak on it and try to work it out, but I don’t believe in wasting time being mad or hating other people. I don’t want to waste moments being petty and holding grudges.”

What are you excited about with your t-shirt and wig line?
“I think wearing something on a shirt sets a tone in the room. When I wear those t-shirts (‘Don’t Be Mad’), I notice everyone chills out. It teaches them how to approach you, and lets them know I’m in a good space. I had a lot of fans reach out to me saying they wanted one, and now it’s taking off. I’m a walking billboard. I’ve always loved wigs, so this is a line I love. Everyone knows about my struggles with weave in the past, so this is a temporary and safe alternative to the wear and tear of constantly changing weaves.”