She thinks she might be the next Oprah Winfrey — and she’s making believers out of us, too. The actress, recording artist, and former Nickelodeon tween queen is one of the youngest network talk-show hosts in TV history when BET’s Just Keke debuted in June. Throw in a pivotal arc in the second season of Showtime’s Masters of Sex, a flashy lead role in the upcoming Queen Latifah-produced film Brotherly Love, and the adoration of more than 1.5 million Twitter followers, and everything’s coming up Keke.
”I feel like I’ve gone into a dreamland,” Palmer tells EW from the Los Angeles set of her talk show, which she’s hoping will be ordered to series after its initial four-week run ends on July 25. (No plans had been announced as of press time.) Topics on Just Keke run the gamut from sex, fashion, and social issues to Palmer’s Winfrey-ian life philosophies, with a weekly sign-off quotation inspired by Jerry Springer’s ”Final Thought.” (”I’m a big quotes person,” she says. ”They really help me understand myself better.”) The idea for the show stemmed from an encounter with Judge Mathis star Greg Mathis, who spoke to Palmer’s father about her entering the reality realm. Meanwhile, Palmer had independently been seeking a better medium to interact with her Twitter fans. ”I knew if I was going to do a talk show, I wanted my audience to be a part of it: college kids talking about what’s really going on around us. My mom said, ‘This is something you do when you’re older, not right now.’ But that’s the point. If I don’t do it now, then it won’t be for my generation.”
After her breakout role in 2006’s Akeelah and the Bee, Palmer spent three seasons on the Nickelodeon sitcom True Jackson, VP. Her transition from child star to adult actor has been a relatively smooth one, thanks to her supportive family. ”My parents and I kept the lines of communication open,” Palmer explains. ”We went through that moment — I felt [them being] controlling and I couldn’t be myself — but you understand why you go through that in order to find yourself and prepare for your future.”
With Masters, Palmer takes on her most adult role yet, playing Bill and Libby’s new nanny, who becomes embroiled in the season’s racially charged story line. ”I’ve done a period piece before, but never one that involves the civil rights revolution. It was cool to be a part of something like that, with so much integrity and intelligence.” With her busy schedule, there’s not much time for Palmer to just be a 20-year-old — and in fact, another currently under-wraps project is the reason she won’t celebrate turning 21 (on Aug. 26) in grand fashion. ”I’m definitely going to be working on my birthday,” she says, but there’s no dejection here. ”When you’re working on your birthday, it means it’s going to be a good year.”