Everything Sucks! is a teen dramedy that follows two groups of high school misfits — an A/V club and a Drama club who collide in 1996 Oregon. Jahi Winston plays Luke in the highly-anticipated Netflix series. Jahi is a star on the rise. Before Everything Sucks! he starred alongside Taraji P. Henson in Proud Mary and David Schwimmer in Feed the Beast. Jahi also played young Simba in the Broadway production of The Lion King.
Jahi stopped by HollywoodLife’s office in New York City to talk about all things Everything Sucks! He notes that this show will introduce “the youth of now to the youth back then.” Plus, Jahi reveals that he and BFF Caleb McLaughlin laugh off the comparisons between Everything Sucks! and Stranger Things. He also chats about working with Taraji and his music. Check out our Q&A below!
Tell me about Luke in Everything Sucks!
Jahi Winston: Luke is this bright, happy kid. His whole world just kind of revolves around his friends and going to high school, which is a weird transition just like for a lot of kids. His whole world turns around when he meets this girl that he really likes and that kind of shifts his priorities.
You’re 14, so you were not born in the ’90s. What kind of research did you do for the show?
Jahi Winston: My perception of the ’90s really was kind of influenced by TV. Any shows that I liked that were on during that time, that’s just what I thought the ’90s were. But I really started with Luke and put him in this world rather than researching the whole era. All of the cast researched pop culture and everything because it was such a big deal back then.
Throughout this journey, what surprised you about the ’90s?
Jahi Winston: I would say it would probably be the weird catchphrases, but not a lot things surprised me.
Everything Sucks! does follow a group of young kids and people are drawing comparisons to Stranger Things. How do you feel about that?
Jahi Winston: You know, my best friend plays Lucas on Stranger Things. We were friends way before we even auditioned, so we kind of laugh at it together. I just don’t want people to go Netflix, click on Everything Sucks!, and think they’re going to see demogorgons, Dungeons & Dragons, and all that Stranger Things stuff. The comparisons are cool because Stranger Things is a really successful show, but I kind of laugh at the comparisons.
What kind of issues will the show explore?
Jahi Winston: Our main focus is really dealing with adolescence and growing up and that pre-pubescent era where you don’t really know who you are. It’s all the issues that come with that. There is no coming of age story or show or movie that has ever been told like this. We’re really redefining how young people and youth are seen on TV with like things we can say and things we can’t say. People are surprised because when young people talk about things that are kind of taboo, it becomes rebellious. It’s not really rebelling, it’s just who we are and what we do. It’s not the same from 20 or 30 years ago. This is us introducing the youth of now to the youth back then. These are true teens playing teens. It’s for teen, by teens, and this is our present to our generation.
You recently worked with Taraji P. Henson on Proud Mary. What was that like?
Jahi Winston: She’s hilarious. I love her so much. We kind of bonded instantly just because of our love for acting and performing. She’s from southeast D.C. and my mom is actually from southeast D.C. My family is from there. Whenever we were on set together, we were like family. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with someone where the bond was so strong. She gets me, I get her. She’s just amazing.
Did she give you any advice about the industry?
Jahi Winston: I’m learning that people don’t just give out advice. True actors and vets, they usually lead by example. She doesn’t really give out advice, but one thing she did say was, “You’re good. Believe it.” That really stuck with me. She’s just this motherly, nurturing person.
You had a single come out last May, will we see Luke sing on Everything Sucks?
Jahi Winston: No! Luke doesn’t sing, but Jahi sings. You can definitely expect new music from Jahi.
Will we see an album from you in the future?
Jahi Winston: Absolutely. But it’s not a typical coming of age, teeny bopper album. I need the resources, and I need full creative control. I don’t want other people thinking for me, so when I make it, I want it to be right and I want it to sound like I sound.
Everything Sucks! season 1 hits Netflix on Feb. 16.