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Mary J. Blige on her new album and being in a good place

By Denise Quan, CNN
updated 2:26 PM EST, Tue November 22, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mary J. Blige's new album, "My Life II," is a follow-up to an album from 17 years ago
  • The singer says that recently, she has learned to say, "You know what? I AM deserving"
  • "You either know how to get around it, or you just have to go through it," Blige says

(CNN) -- Seventeen years after the release of her breakthrough album, "My Life," Mary J. Blige offers up a sequel -- "My Life II: ... The Journey Continues (Act 1)."

"The first 'My Life' album was about healing and helping people get through things," the singer told CNN. "Now there's recession, there's war and there's people really not feeling good about life anymore. So it's time, because people need to feel the hug that comes through music."

In the mid-90s, Blige herself was in a troubled place, spiraling downward with drugs, alcohol and a tumultuous relationship with K-Ci Hailey of the R&B duo K-Ci & JoJo.

"I just knew by maybe 1997, I would be dead or just finished. That's where we were at the time. We were very suicidal, very dark," she recalled.

Blige admits she reached out to fans for support, because she didn't know where else to turn.

"I spoke up through my lyrics that I needed help, and the spirit that came behind it was that I was sad, you know," she said. "I needed help. Four million people responded to that album, saying, 'Mary, wow. Me, too.' "

"My Life II" finds the New York native in a very different place.

At 40, she's cemented her place as an R& B icon, with 50 million in worldwide album sales and nine Grammys. In 2003, she married Kendu Isaacs, a man she credits with saving her life.

And lately, she's been honing her acting chops, taking on the role of a nightclub owner in the big-screen adaptation of "Rock of Ages," starring Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Russell Brand. She's also set to star as the eclectic jazz great Nina Simone in the biopic, "Nina." It's "The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul" playing "The High Priestess of Soul."

CNN caught up with Blige last week in Los Angeles to talk to her about her music, her acting and Tom Cruise.

CNN: A lot has changed in the 17 years between "My Life" and "My Life II." What precipitated that change?

Mary J. Blige: That's an interesting question. I come from pain. I come from poverty. I come from embarrassment, and my mom struggling, and having two jobs and leaving us with the baby sitter -- and coming back and we're outside the baby sitter's house. I've come back from abuse from people. I really wanted out.

It started snowballing into this thing that was hurting me, and I was in the public eye. I got to a place where I understood that I needed help, and that was during the "No More Drama" album (released in 2001) when I met my husband -- who was my boyfriend at the time. And who knew that he was going to have the information that he had for me, and that I was going to be able to receive it?

CNN: We've seen young people like Lindsay Lohan struggling. Why is it that she can't get it together?

Blige: Why can't Lindsay and so many other people get it together? I mean, everyone is afraid of the pain. That is a painful walk. Embarrassment is painful. It brings a tear to your eye when you have to walk down the red carpet with so much shame in you, and so you would rather paint something on. But in my case, I never cared about being embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help. I was just ashamed of being ashamed. I was just tired of feeling that way.

CNN: You talk about being abused. The Penn State scandal must have hit you pretty hard, as someone who went through an experience that was similar.

Blige: Yeah, it hurts when I see stuff like that -- children being molested by grown-ups. But the thing that I have learned is that there is something wrong with that grown-up. It is something wrong with that adult that people are overlooking, and sweeping under the rug and throwing money on.

And you have to get to a place where it's just, "You know what? You did it, but I have got to get out of it. You did it to me, but I can't let you destroy me, and not allow me to have a chance to have what I am supposed to have in life -- which is happiness, which is success, which is life, period." That is the only way I can describe it.

CNN: It sounds like it took you a while to get to that place where you said, "I'm deserving of all this success."

Blige: It did take me a while.

It was just recently that I started saying, "You know what? I AM deserving." I wouldn't say two years ago, but I'd say maybe five or six years ago I was like, "Wow, I deserve this" -- because sometimes when I get so many accolades, I want to bury my head. But then I hear someone say, "No, pick your head up. You earned this. You walked the walk. You are walking the walk. You are not finished yet, but you are still standing in the fire, walking through the fire. You're still 40, but you are still standing up for women proudly, and doing what you need to do, so keep your head up."

CNN: Let's talk about "Rock of Ages."

Blige: I play a gentleman's club owner. I mean, you know ...

CNN: Is that a strip club, Mary?

Blige: Yeah, it's a strip club! But you know, on the highest scale. And my job is to encourage those women to feel better in a dark place.

CNN: Did you have direct scenes with Tom Cruise?

Blige: I definitely had a scene with Tom Cruise, and he is just so helpful and so much fun. Everyone was just -- how can I say it? Everyone in that star-studded cast, they were just as star-struck to meet me as I was to meet them. And when I met Catherine Zeta-Jones, she was like, "I love you!" And I was like, "What? I love YOU!" And Russell Brand is just amazing. And Julianne Hough is my friend, and Adam Shankman (the director) is one of my really good friends. So we were like family -- no joke.

CNN: You seem to be in a really good place, and that's reflected on "My Life II."

Blige: Yeah, I am. The place I'm in with "My Life II" is understanding that there WILL be trials. Trials will come. It is not going to be, "Oh, everything is wonderful all of the time," because it is not. And the balance is you either know how to get around it, or you just have to go through it. That's life.

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