Amerie: Perfect Fit, Pt 1

Amerie is no diva. She’s perfectly fine doing her own laundry, she loves being the underdog, and she doesn’t understand people with identity issues. While some may have trouble connecting with their different races, she insists that she has always been secure with herself. And though the 25-year-old singer remains slightly under the radar in […]

Amerie is no diva. She’s perfectly fine doing her own laundry, she loves being the underdog, and she doesn’t understand people with identity issues. While some may have trouble connecting with their different races, she insists that she has always been secure with herself. And though the 25-year-old singer remains slightly under the radar in the music industry, it’s exactly where she wants to be.

As evidenced by her striking facial features, her mother is Korean. Her father is Black and a lifelong military member, so Amerie jumped from base to base as a child before settling in Virginia and earning an English and Fine Arts degree from Washington, D.C.’s prestigious Georgetown University. When her powerful soprano crept up on us with her debut “Why Don’t We Fall in Love” in the summer of 2002, she seemed innocent. But any notions of her as a round-the-way girl can be thrown out after her sophomore release, Touch.

Without stripping off extra layers of clothing in the name of album sales, Amerie is revealing a bit more of herself this time around. Here, the understatedly sexy songstress chats with Alternatives about identity, change, and fitting in. Alternatives: I want to talk about your Korean background. I’m sure you get those annoying “What are you” questions all the time, right?

Amerie: Sometimes, but it’s not annoying though.

AHHA: Were you prepared for people asking about your heritage?

Amerie: Yeah, because I mean, when I see people sometimes I ask that question, too. I think it’s just an interesting thing. Sometimes you see someone and you can’t really pinpoint exactly what they may be as far as ethnically. It’s cool, but I was also always fascinated with genetics when I was younger.

AHHA: But are people still ignorant sometimes, do you deal with offensive comments?

Amerie: No, I think these days, people are used to different mixes and stuff, so they don’t really. I can’t really say I get any ignorant stuff. Not since I was a little kid.

AHHA: How connected are you to your Korean background?

Amerie: Well, my mother, she’s from Korea, so we definitely had a lot of the culture in the house and the food. And then her friends would come over, so we pretty much had it good. [Korean] was my first language, but I kind of forgot it because she was afraid I wouldn’t learn how to speak English, so she stopped speaking Korean to me. But then I took it in college and I started taking some classes to help me out.

AHHA: Did you ever have identity issues growing up where you were either confused or frustrated about who you were?

No, actually I never understand that one. When people who come from mixed backgrounds say that, I don’t get it because from my experience, people are very open and understanding of whatever it is that your heritage is, and also with being Black, everyone’s either Indian [or] something in their family. I mean, who doesn’t know someone who’s mixed Black or white. I see it sometimes when I’m reading about it and [people are] like, ‘Oh, I didn’t belong.’ I don’t want to say they’re making it up, but half the time I think maybe they just had some issues.

They’re over-blowing things because when you’re a kid, people will take whatever it is that makes you different and blow it out of proportion. So it’s kind of weird. I think sometimes it can be an issue. Of course, there are some things that will come up sometimes, like people not being sensitive to it or saying, “What if you had to choose” and not understanding that you wouldn’t choose one ‘cause you are both and that is what makes you, you. And there were sometimes, you’d have issues with girls ‘cause they’d basically be hating ‘cause they would think that you have issues.

They would think that you’re stuck up because you’re mixed, but you might not have that attitude. I wouldn’t say that there weren’t some girls who weren’t like that, but I guess [people] would just assume that everybody’s like that. So there would be issues sometimes, but for the most part, I think it wasn’t really anything that any kid doesn’t goes through. Some kids go through it with their name. Other kids are taller or skinnier than others. It’s just part of being a kid and growing up.

AHHA: Were you always this comfortable in your skin?

Amerie: Yeah.

AHHA: Where were you born?

Amerie: In Massachusetts.

AHHA: And since you moved around so much with your father being in the military, is there anyplace you call home?

Amerie: Well, D.C. is always home, but I’m in Jersey now. I always feel like I can make my home wherever I am. I think that’s the best thing about being comfortable, you have to make your home wherever you are. But D.C. is always home as well. When I go back there, it always brings back so many memories.

AHHA: While you were at Georgetown, were you focused on singing or just getting your degree?

Amerie: I definitely was trying to pursue a career with music and everything, but I also definitely knew that I needed to get my degree.

AHHA: And when, if ever, does your degree in English and Fine Arts come in handy?

Amerie: I wouldn’t say that about any of my degrees themselves. It was more of the whole experience with being in college, doing my own thing and being responsible for myself that came in handy just because in music and everything, you really have to be responsible for so many things. I think it’s a great training ground, college, as well as being from a military family. That helped a lot because you learn a lot about people. You learn about traveling around a lot.

AHHA: I noticed that a couple of other artists, like Ciara, said that growing up in a military family helps in the music business.

Amerie: Yeah there are a lot of army brats in music [laughs].

AHHA: What about when you were signed, did executives have trouble figuring out what to do with you?

Amerie: Most of my whole career actually has been very exclusive, as far as we don’t really—the label doesn’t do anything creatively as far as music or anything. They pretty much just to their label thing [laughs]. But they never really got involved with any of that—image, the videos, the music. They really just do the paperwork and the ideas for marketing and stuff like that. But as far as things directly with me, that was always something that I always kind of did on my own, always my own team.

AHHA: I guess the image shaping by labels is something that tends to happen more with younger artists.

Amerie: I think that happens especially if you don’t really know what you wanna do ‘cause then you do want some help. But I always had a very clear vision of what I wanted for myself, so that was different. And so, [the label] never tried to say, “well you should do this, you should do that.” I think they like it if an artist kind of knows what they want to do ‘cause it’s less to figure out and they can kind of get into their own thing.