Written by | Ray Cornelius

If you’ve been on social media lately, you may have noticed that Niatia Jessica Kirkland aka Lil’ Mama has totally changed her look and image. The once “rough around the edges-little sister type” has now morphed into a full-grown beauty with no plans on going back!

I caught up with the hip-pop star and emerging actress during June’s ESSENCE Music Festival where she talked candidly about finally embracing her femininity. She also opened up about being inspired by music legend DIANA ROSS. From her iconic “wind-blown” hair to her legendary film career, Niatia has found her new muse for the moment.

“I love Diana Ross. I am inspired by Diana Ross. I feel like Diana is from the projects of Detroit, Michigan but you would never get that from her image. You would never look at Diana Ross and think, ‘project girl,’ said Niatia during our exclusive interview.

“I had a tough beginning in this industry because I was so young and I was straight from the streets. I didn’t have the media training to create a persona for myself. I was so wild and tomboyish that eventually I felt like I found my way to my femininity. It’s always been a part of me and always been inside of me but I felt like my circumstances and being ‘from the hood’ made me afraid to be soft and beautiful. So Diana is also not just an inspiration to my fashion and the way I carry myself now but also for being such an amazing talent as a singer and as an actor.”

Niatia received rave reviews as Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes in VH1’s hugely successful 2013 biopic “Crazy, Sexy, Cool.” Her newest role as an exotic dancer turned murder—Falicia Blakely—in “When Love Kills” will no doubt also catch the attention of industry heads. For the twenty-something-year-old starlet, Ross’ career now serves as a blue print for where she wants to go next.

“It’s kind of prophetic! In 2009, I was in Texas at an All-Star Basketball Game after party and Chris Tucker came in and looked me in my face and said, ‘study Diana Ross.’ Like where did that come from? That had to be like God speaking through him. I’d never studied Diana or even looked at her until I started acting. I was like, ‘WOW!’ I’m kind of like parrallel to her in a new time,” said Niatia.

Check out her recent photos below where she channels Ross for a premiere of “When Love Kills.” Niatia looks “fabulous and fierce” with Ross’ signature big hair and a flowy white ensemble designed by Michael Costello:

“When Love Kills: The Falicia Blakely Story” airs tonight at 9 p.m. on TV One.

Photo Credits: RayCornelius.com + Instagram/Lil Mama/TyrenRedd + YouTube