Single-Minded Entrepreneur: A.J. Johnson

By Paula Santonocito

smw - aj johnsonFrom star student with an eye on a career in medicine, to television and movie star, A.J. Johnson has always followed an unconventional path.

Today, the actress and dancer, once best known for the lead role in “House Party,” is taking her career—and the careers and lives of others—to new heights in her role as president of THE AJ ZONE, a lifestyle coaching firm.

But, as learned, it’s not an entirely new role. This single-minded entrepreneur has always been in the zone.

Here’s what A.J. Johnson told SMW.

SMW: You studied health and wellness in college, majoring in psychology and chemistry, and you were an exceptionally good student; you graduated magna cum laude. Then, you considered medical school. Why did you deviate from your original career path and become an actress?

AJJ: I was blessed with a high level of drive and motivation—an overachiever, I guess, so when I was sooo interested in dance and acting but forbidden by my academically focused parents to pursue it professionally, I found a way to please them and me—I went to college and did well, but I also found my way into the theater department in college and got very involved with city dance troops, modeling, and theater groups. Once I finished college, deviating was not really the plan; taking a small break from school to explore the arts was the plan. I was ok with “getting the performer out of my system,” so I promised my dad that I simply wanted to “try” the arts for six months, before diving into med school. I was even surprised that within that six months I was dancing in the hottest music videos and guest starring on hit TV shows, all of which soon led to my first film lead role in “House Party.”

SMW: After finding success as an actress, what led you to become a lifestyle coach?

AJJ: Wow…honestly, even with the success I experienced as an actress, I always felt like there was something more, different for me to do…the health/medical field pulled at me constantly—it was me doing PSAs and speaking engagements for the American Cancer Society after losing my mom to thyroid cancer, or just simply always researching and living the healthiest lifestyle I could for myself, and taking the passion for it all everywhere I went. Even though I did not go to med school, I never let go of the scientist that lived in me. The longer I was in the entertainment industry, the more people, in all of its many divisions, watched my lifestyle, heard and saw my passion for healthy living, and asked for my guidance. Then, my dad told me, on his death bed, that he wanted me to be all of who he knew me to be. He asked me to teach others what it was too late for him to learn. I tried to return to acting after he passed, but the pull of better health pulled harder, even while I was doing press junkets for movies or literally on a movie set shooting. Better health and wellness was sooo in my face that I would have had to fight to NOT do something with my passion, knowledge, and live by example ethic. When I surrendered to the calling, all heaven broke loose! (Laughs.)

SMW: As a lifestyle coach with many celebrity clients it seems as though you have found a way to combine your acting career and your health and wellness training. How do the two areas complement one another?

AJJ: I know: another example of how divine all of this is for me. I think that the fact that I am a celebrity who is NOT in rehab and more obsessed with protein powder than a martini at a party fascinates people! (Laughs). I also think that my back story, losing both parents and turning my grief into action-interests-people—I think all of it, all of me, me the actress, me the wellness personality—all of it IS THE AJ ZONE. Other celebrities look at me, my physical, my mental and spiritual, and the time that I’ve maintained it all against the odds and demands of Hollywood, and hold me as their example. I am an obsessed-with-healthy version of them—if I haven’t mastered it, they watch me trying to master staying away from the craft service table on a 17-hour shoot day, or I’ll find the nearby park so I can run during a lunch hour on set. When I’m not on a project myself, I’m coaching other talents for their upcoming projects, so either way I’m connected to it all. Healthy living is hot right now, it’s been a successful area in the reality TV arena, in all magazines, now healthcare being a priority concern in our country—this focus—it’s all great for me to share my brand of healthy to mass numbers quickly; so again, all of it is me.