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Keke Palmer's mom reveals emotional reason she pushed her daughter to stardom

In an interview with Sheinelle Jones, Sharon Palmer gets candid about raising a child star.
/ Source: TODAY

When her daughter Keke Palmer was a child, mom Sharon Palmer had no idea she would go on to star in more than 50 movies and television shows.

On TODAY on Friday morning, Sharon Palmer told Sheinelle Jones that Keke’s childhoodwas far from the luxuries of Hollywood.

“We're from Chicago, which is blue-collar — we didn't come from money,” Palmer said. “We lived in a very low-income area, but we also came from a Christian family.”

While the talk around the neighborhood often centered on crime, the Palmers focused on faith.

“The talk in our home was God and faith and ‘You can achieve’ and ‘Don't allow yourself to be a product of your environment’ and ‘For damn sure don't let yourself be a stereotype,’” Palmer shared.

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Palmer said Keke, whose full name is Lauren Keyana Palmer, was inquisitive as a child.

“She was the type of kid that would go, ‘Why is the sun yellow?’ and ... constant questions,” Palmer said.

An audition for “The Lion King” when Keke was 9 years old would change the course of the family’s life.

“Out of thousands and thousands of kids, she got down to, like, the last 20 kids. And then she was out,” Palmer said, adding that instead of being sad, her daughter was eager to audition again. “And I felt, like, ‘Wow, if this kid is not upset by not getting a role, then maybe she can handle the entertainment industry.’”

After that audition, the Palmers piled into a minivan and drove to California, where Keke began auditioning in earnest. Palmer said a friend encouraged Keke to try commercials.

"And so I was, like, 'Commercials?'" Palmer recalled. "They were, like, 'Yeah, my daughter paid for college with commercials.'"

Getting emotional, Palmer told Sheinelle that the dream of secondary education inspired her to push her daughter toward television.

“I did it so she could go to college,” she shared through tears. “I never expected any of this. I didn't do it for money or fame. It was college. I wanted her to go to college. I wanted my kids to go to college. And I wanted them to have a better life.”

TODAY's Sheinelle Jones speaks with Sharon Palmer, Keke Palmer's mom.
TODAY's Sheinelle Jones speaks with Sharon Palmer, Keke Palmer's mom.TODAY

Keke wasn't even a teenager yet when she signed with Atlantic Records in 2005. She made her film debut in 2004 when she played Queen Latifah's niece in "Barbershop 2: Back in Business," and she played the title character in "Akeelah and the Bee" opposite Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett in 2006.

In 2014, Keke became the first Black Cinderella on Broadway.

“She says as soon as the lights came on her, that a little Black girl in the front row said, ‘That's not Cinderella,’” Palmer shared. “And Keke said it just made her heart smile, because she was like, ‘Yes, I am. I am, baby. I am Cinderella.’ So she knew that she was doin’ something big. And that it's important for kids to see themselves.”

As Keke’s manager, Palmer shared that there have been growing pains.

“The entertainment industry is not easy. And it's definitely not easy on the mother-daughter relationship or the mother-child relationship, because the industry — you change roles,” Palmer said. “Because now you have this daughter that makes more money than you've ever made in your life.”

Though she juggles motherhood and managerial tasks, Palmer has strived to maintain one thing above all: balance.

“There's no handbook for it. I can say that,” she said. “Patience. Faith. Follow your heart.”

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