WJBF – Taina was a Nickelodeon sitcom that broke barriers when it hit the airwaves in 2001 with its multi-cultural cast.

LaTangela, who portrayed Maritza, in the hit comedy series chats with WJBF about her time on the show, and she talks about what pushed her into entrepreneurship with her invention, Grease Bags, which scored her an opportunity to appear on Shark Tank.

Thank you, LaTangela, for joining us here on Celebrating Black Excellence. Now, let’s get started with your acting career. How did you get started with acting? What made you want to become an actress?

Oh, I think I was born this way for sure. I come from an entertainment family. My mom is a singer. You know, she grew up with all of her sisters being in a gospel group. I’ve always been a theatrical kid, and she saw the bug in me very early on and actually started off putting me in pageants. So, I started off doing pageants at a very young age in Texas when I was a little girl. I’m a military brat. I was born in Germany, then moved to Texas, and that’s where I got started getting on the stage and writing my own characters and performing in these pageants, which was an excellent training for me. Then, we moved to Florida, and I joined a modeling school. The teacher there recognized that I was an actress, and he suggested that I go to Biloxi to a seminar where there were agents from New York and L.A. I got picked up from that seminar, my parents moved me to New York, and we just hit the ground running. And it didn’t happen overnight. After that, it was a long haul. It was a lot of no’s, even from Nickelodeon, but finally, I got that role. So, it was all worth it.

Now, speaking of that role, we were talking about Maritza from the show, Taina. What was the audition process like for you?

Man, I actually was the lead on another show called Rep at the time, and that was a show that was based around a repertory company called City Kids in New York that I was actually a part of in real life. A lot of famous people come out of that repertory company… you guys got to look that up. They started to base the show around that repertory company. They called it Rep, and I was the lead on that show. Then, the Taina script came across the table, and they were like, “Yeah, this is it.” Maritza just fit me so well. That was just one of those things that… Rep got scrapped, they brought me in to read for Maritza, and I just knew it. I knew when I went in for that audition that they were going to offer me the role, and it took a while… took a while for me to get the yes. A lot of other people that were auditioning were friends of mine, and so, people were getting calls before me. I remember that night, and it was like 9 or 10 at night, and I was like, “Oh, I just knew I had it like, what happened?” And my mom was like, “Nope, nope. I got The Word. God said it. He told me, ‘You’re going to get that call.’” And before the night was over, I did get the call. I did. You know, those praying mamas. (Laughs)

What was the experience like for you being on Taina?

The entire cast is like my family to this day. We talk all the time. We have actually tried our hardest to get a reboot going because we all miss it so much. The fans all say the same thing that it was too short lived, and they would love to see us come back. It was a great experience playing Marissa because she gets to say and do things you can’t do in real life, you know? (Laughs) If you look at like my yearbook pictures, like the way I was, I went to a performing arts high school. So, it’s like Marissa is me aside from the mean girl stuff. I’m not a mean girl. I was never a bully, but I am extra. I am very much that. (Laughs)

We have to talk about the songs because the songs are still iconic to this day. What are your thoughts on that?

That was my favorite part because what a lot of people don’t know is that, you know, I’ve always been a singer and an actress, and there was one particular time where I wasn’t really getting a lot of auditions. There was sort of a lull in my acting career, and I pursued music harder than I did acting at one time. I was signed to Mecca Don Records, which is Adina Howard’s label – they’re the guys that discovered her. So, I was signed to Mecca Don, and I had a deal on the table with LaFace that we just didn’t come to terms on. So, I was seriously pursuing the singing, and because my heart had been broken a couple of times on the singing side of things, when Taina came along, that was like the perfect segue way for me. I was able to be in the studio just as much as I was on set and was able to be a part of the soundtrack and record in some of the biggest studios. And yeah, like the guest stars on the show were amazing. We never knew who was coming. So, I had the privilege to kind of rub elbows with all of them. It was a blast being able to do the music, and to this day, all the supporters are still playing those songs and still asking me for music. So, I am currently working on new music now and planning on releasing some of the old stuff as well.

Now, as you mentioned, Taina only had two seasons. How does that make you feel that this show is still having an impact?

Man, I never take it for granted at all. I tell my supporters all the time: “Listen, with all the stuff going on in the world right now, you guys do not have to be thinking about us.” So, anybody that is still watching the show on YouTube, still fighting for the show to be at least… even if we had the reruns playing on Paramount Plus, you know, they would be happy to see that. So just to see that same passion and so many of them tell me, you know, that they are entertainers or that they pursued their passions because of the show and because they hadn’t seen anybody that looked like them prior to our show. So, the representation was before its time, and every time I hear it, it never gets old. So, I’m honored to be a part of a show that people are still talking about.

You all definitely made a mark. I went to a fine arts school, Davidson Fine Arts [in Augusta, Georgia]. So, watching you guys on television, it was like something that really mirrored my actual reality. So, I thank you guys for being that representation.

Oh, yes, that was my high school as well. I know this show might before some people’s time, but Fame was my high school. Like somebody started being on the radiator, somebody started twirling through the hallway, and then somebody comes in with the bar, and then, somebody starts singing in the hallways. I came in with fur and sequins and patterned leather. Yes, every day. (Laughs)

So, in 2023, what do you think Maritza will be doing right now?

Oh, gosh, I think Maritza would have been like a one-hit wonder; still thinking that she was the star, the superstar. Still trying to make a comeback, but I think she probably has been through a few things at this point in time. So, she lowkey is probably a little bit more human than she was when she was younger. But I still feel like Maritza would still have her Maritza moments no matter what.

Let’s talk about your entrepreneurship. You are the inventor and founder of Grease Bags. Can you please tell us about that?

Yeah, that’s the other side of me. I am a little bit of a nerd, I love documentaries, and I’m a doer above all. Grease Bags came out of an inconvenience to my kitchen. Literally, that’s what it was. I was so tired of trying to figure out what to do with my grease, especially when I was raising my son as a single mom. You’re limited on funds; we’re not eating out every day. So, I cooked a lot at home, and you don’t realize how much grease you accumulate just making fries, or fried fish, or whatever. It’s just a lot of grease. So, I was trying to figure out a better way to dispose of it. I’m like, “There’s got to be a better solution.” So, I start like Googling, looking up stuff, and watching documentaries, and what I found out that it’s more of an environmental problem than we realize. It’s a simple solution. Just don’t pour down the drain because there’s so many after effects that happen with pollution, sewage backups, and pipeline replacements that cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. I didn’t know it was that big of a problem. I just wanted to throw my grease away in a better way. So I said, “There’s no solution for this that’s convenient. Most residents don’t even know this is a big of a problem. Maybe that’s what I need to be doing.” So, I created an all natural absorbent bag that absorbs up to 32 ounces of oil per bag. So one bag, you know, you can keep filling it up and reclosing it until it’s full, but my bags encapsulate your grease so they won’t leak into your trash or into the Earth. Also, they are BPI certified, so they are 100% bio degradable. It’s zero plastic, zero waste. They will decompose on their own. So, I thought of all these things as a green solution. You can use coffee cans and jars, but then, we can’t recycle them or repurpose those things. We already have a waste problem, so, I was thinking down the line. It can be used as a green energy resource. There’s so many things that that they can do and so many benefits to the product. So, I’m proud of it. I did end up on Shark Tank. So, if you guys have Hulu, you can see season eight, episode 13, and you can catch my episode. That was an experience within itself. So, I’m a Shark Tank fanatic, so the fact that I actually ended up on that show is crazy. Yes, there are 40,000 people that apply for Shark Tank.

That was going to be the next question. How was that experience being on Shark Tank for you?

I attended the open call for Shark Tank, and I was number 453 in line. I thought I was early, and then, I pulled up, but I was like, “Oh my gosh.” People had slept out there. I mean, tents were pitched. It was crazy. I stood in that line all day. I mean, it was before the sun came up when I got in line, and maybe about 1 that afternoon, they finally came out, gave out wristbands, and said, “Take a break and come back and pitch.” We ended up having to tape 9:00 at night. They were like, “Listen, if you don’t hear from us in ten days, you probably won’t. So, try out again next year.” And I did. I got my call maybe nine days later, and it was round after round after round after that. Like, it is no joke. What you see on television is what you get. It’s not scripted. It is it is a one take situation. Depending on what time of year you audition and how you apply because you can apply online as well, my process was about eight months. It was just like I said, round after round and a lot of due diligence. You really have to do that when it comes to your business because it’s a real thing. Then they fly you to L.A., and you got to pitch again in front of the big guys. Then, they decide whether or not you actually go on air. So, you can get sent home again, even when you go to L.A. So, they pick 180 and about 100 of those people actually go on air. So, even after you film it, you can get cut. It’s just nonstop trauma over there at ABC. (Laughs) No, I love it. I love it. No, seriously, though, it was a great experience, and it’s one of my proudest moments for sure.

Now, you also have Child Star Central. Can you please tell us about that?

Yes. Child Star Central is a page that a friend of mine and I created, Leon Frierson, and he’s from the Nickelodeon show, All That. It was a page that we started. We actually started the entire project based around a reality show idea about myself and my child star friends, and it’s just basically one of those things that nobody understands the life we live but us. You really only hear the tragic stories or the really successful stories, but there’s the inbetweeners that we like to call ourselves. That’s us, and it’s like you kind of live in a double life. You might not be making the money or still living off of the money that you once made and still trying to survive, but also not letting go of your career, still planning to make a comeback, or still trying to come back behind the scenes, or working on other things behind the scenes. So, we wanted a central place where you could go and see what your favorite child stars are up to right now. So, many of us are doing music, or movies, or are in different projects, or we have products out that you don’t know about. You think they just disappeared, but they are working on some great things. And I mean, most of us are musically talented because back in the day, you had to be a triple threat. Like they [the executives] would be like, “You can’t sing, dance, and act? Get out of here! Bring another kid in!” (Laughs) You know, it was like unacceptable. So most of us are musically talented, and we have some fire music out there right now, or writing scripts, or doing movies. So, we just want to bring attention and to us, and let everybody know what we’re up to now.

If people want to follow your journey or keep up with you, how can they do so?

Yes, I am actually… iam_latangela on all platforms. So, you guys can find me on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Also, you can check out Grease Bags at www.greasebags.com, and also on Amazon as well.