She's still classy, she's still sassy and Baltimore still can't get enough of her.
Hometown diva Mo'- Nique, star of UPN's sitcom "The Parkers," returned to the area yesterday to thank local fans who have supported her career since her days as a struggling stand-up comic. Hundreds gathered at Security Square Mall in Woodlawn for an autograph session with the 32-year-old actress and co-star Dorien Wilson.
"Hey, baby," Mo'Nique called out as she waved at fans screaming her name. "Hey, everybody."
The homecoming was part of a promotional tour for the television comedy in which Mo'Nique plays Nikki Parker, a 35-year-old single mother from the Leimert Park section of Los Angeles who attends college with her 18-year-old daughter, Kim, played by Countess Vaughn. Wilson, an accomplished stage and television actor, plays Professor Oglevee, the object of the elder Parker's obsession, who spends most of his time fleeing Nikki's affections.
The show, a spinoff of the "Moesha" series, is one of the highest rated sitcoms in the African-American community and has helped UPN deflect criticism suffered by other networks because they lack minority programming. Offscreen, Mo'Nique and Wilson are close friends who share a chemistry that makes it easy to understand why some fans have problems separating fact from fantasy.
"People actually think that we are together," said Mo'Nique, who is happily married, as is her co-star. "They really believe that we are a couple."
Sitting in a downtown restaurant, they laugh and joke as they await the limousine that will whisk them to the next appearance.
Resplendent in a red pantsuit she designed, Mo'Nique is as warm and engaging as her television character. Restaurant employees who greet her with the wide-eyed enthusiasm reserved for stars receive a huge smile and "Hey, baby" in return.
"I still see me as just Mo'Nique, but other people see something else," she said. "It's a wonderful feeling for this to be happening here in my hometown."
At Security Square Mall, a group of young girls screams Nikki Parker's trademark greeting of "Heeyyy, Professor" as others crowd for a chance to touch Mo'Nique and shake her hand. Four-year-old cousins Deaqwon Townes and Shaquille Woodland clutched autographed photos as their mothers led them from the line.
"I had to come because [Mo'Nique] is my girl," said 34-year-old Vonda Hunt, Shaquille's mother. "The show is so funny."
Letitia Osborne, 57, said she and her fiance, Frederick Platt, 57, never miss a show.
"It's really good television that the whole family can watch," Osborne said. "They are like everyday people and just real down to earth."
A former co-host for a morning radio program on Baltimore's WWIN-FM, Mo'Nique is scheduled to make appearances today on local radio, at her former elementary and middle schools and at Milford Mill Academy, from which she graduated in 1985.
Mo'Nique said that when UPN began planning the publicity tour, it had to begin in her hometown.
The woman who used to practice giving interviews in preparation for stardom said she wants to impart the hopeful message to young people that they can be successful.
"You can achieve anything," Mo'Nique said. "I was not an honor student, and my parents were not millionaires, but I always knew that I wanted to be a star. So I set my goal and I did what it took to get there."
"This is all about giving back," Wilson added. "Baltimore has been good to us, and we want to give something back."