Chrisette Michele: Can’t Forget About Her

Crash Mansion, New York City. Singersroom Live, notorious for their intimate R&B concert series, has dedicated a night to songwriting/singing prodigy Johnta Austin. Prior to the performances, it was “Johnta this, Johnta that.” Every artist was great, but a blur now…including Johnta himself. Every artist that is, except for Chrisette Michele. Arriving third in the […]

Crash Mansion, New York City. Singersroom Live, notorious for their intimate R&B concert series, has dedicated a night to songwriting/singing prodigy Johnta Austin. Prior to the performances, it was “Johnta this, Johnta that.” Every artist was great, but a blur now…including Johnta himself. Every artist that is, except for Chrisette Michele. Arriving third in the lineup right before Mr. Austin, a braided Chrisette belted boldness that hadn’t been heard for years. The crowd must have agreed, as she was the only artist who was begged for encores. By the close of the showcase, it was “Chrisette this, Chrisette that.”

Weeks later, Nas’ “Can’t Forget About You” and Jay-Z’s “Lost One” would feature this Def Jam mystery woman. After months of asking “Who is she?” Chrisette Michele finally responds with her debut I AM. A singer/songwriter/composer, the young soul siren has a sound that blends the relevant present while paying homage to the past. We caught up with Chrisette as she gears for her album release and the road ahead. The biggest question answered is her presence in the Nas video, but her absence in the Jay-Z video. Chrisette also explains her beliefs and how they co-exist with her chosen career path, her music, her competition, and how the world finna know her name. Alternatives: What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

Chrisette Michele: I thank God for waking me up.

AHHA: What would you say is your vocal preparation for your live sets?

Chrisette: Apart from singing, I really don’t do too much to be quite honest. Drink some tea maybe. [laughs]

AHHA: At your Singersroom Live showcase, you were the only artist who was begged for multiple encores. Had you always captivated audiences like that?

Chrisette: My grandmother says I did! I’ve been performing since I was five, dancing and everything like that. One, it’s a God-given talent I guess, and Two, it’s what I love doing.

AHHA: Who would you say are some current artists that you feel you identify with?

Chrisette: I identify with most artists, just because at the end of the day we’re all people who communicate to the world through song. I think that is the biggest connection that we all have, to communicate like you said, with a lot of people at the same time. But as far as my sound is concerned, Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill, Ella Fitzgerald, Sara Vaughn.

AHHA: You’ve been compared to and referred to as the next Lauryn Hill? How does that feel?

Chrisette: Really? Oh man! That is nice! Well I guess that’s how it feels! [laughs] I just heard that for the first time. [laughs] You know what? When her CD first came out, I literally rewound every single riff and practiced it over and over until I got it. I did that with the [artists] who I loved the most like Billie [Holiday] and Ella [Fitzgerald], so [Lauryn Hill] happens to be one of those people.

AHHA: Now there have been some rumors circulating as to why you weren’t in Jay-Z’s “Lost One” video but were in Nas’ “Can’t Forget About You” video.

Chrisette: What were those rumors?

AHHA: Besides the usual scheduling conflicts? You didn’t want to be in the video, they didn’t want you to be in the video, etc.

Chrisette: Hmm. Well there’s something else I haven’t heard! [laughs] I have no idea why I wasn’t in the [“Lost One”] video to this day. The day after Jay-Z came back from recording the video, he greeted me in the office with open arms and said, “How ya doin’?” and we never even talked about it. So it was never really spoken to me about, so I don’t really know why. That’s his video though. I just sang the hook. I was excited to be whatever part I could be.

AHHA: Well you looked fabulous in the Nas video…

Chrisette: Thank you!

AHHA: You’re welcome! Speaking of Nas, was the titling of your album I AM any reflection of the title of Nas’ second album?

Chrisette: People ask me that everyday, and when I finally came up with the title for my album – which was a collaboration of the entire record label, “What should your album name be?” – I didn’t even think of that until people started asking me. So no, that wasn’t my intention at first, but I think that Nas is prolific in writing and a prolific artist of our time. If I could in any way relate to someone as great as him, I don’t have a problem with that.

AHHA: In keeping with the album title, finish this statement: “I am…”

Chrisette: I am Chrisette Michele at the end of the day. “I am me,” as Ashlee Simpson said. When Jill Scott named her album Who is Jill Scott? – and that’s who I thought of when I named mine I AM – it was her first time coming into the music industry with a lot of people hearing her. She just simply wanted to identify herself with the songs she was singing, so I think you can identify me with the music that you’ll be hearing.

AHHA: And what will we be hearing on I AM?

Chrisette Michele: Oh man! A myriad of things. I wrote every song on the album, so I think that throughout the album there will be an ongoing theme of self-worth, self-respect, and then bringing that self-respect to other people and touching the world with it. The title song on the album is called “I Am One,” and it’s just about being that one person who goes out and touches somebody else and making that one become two and that two become three and so on and so forth. Then there’s songs about moving on out of stupid relationships, and not being afraid to get your own money as a female, and you know, standing up and being as big as you can be before you pass away.

AHHA: I know you have very strong Christian values. Has there been a point in time as of yet, where those values have been tested?

Chrisette: I think that everybody is tested every single day. It doesn’t matter if they’re Christian, Black, white, Buddhist, Jewish or anything. If you’re on a diet and you can’t have pizza, you walk past the pizza store and you shouldn’t go in but you might. So I mean as a Christian, and in upholding my Christian background and values, I get tested everyday, you know?

AHHA: I just think in our industry, it’s a little more out there than everyday life in terms of what gets presented to you. And as an artist, your decisions to dress a certain way or sing about a certain topic…

Chrisette: Yeah, it’s so hard to answer that question because in my life, I’ve had to say no to a lot of things. I had to be abstinent instead of having sex like how everybody else was. I had to say no when the weed was passed around, so everyday I feel like I’ve dealt with being a Christian. So this music industry has just given me a platform to just be myself. If anything, this is the easiest thing I’ve had to do.

AHHA: Wow really?

Chrisette: Yeah! You know what? I think that when God decides that He’s created destiny for you and He wants to put you in a certain place, He’s gonna make the way for you. I just feel like it’s been much easier than what I’ve heard people say, and I’ve heard horror stories. I’m sure you have too. So it’s not that hard.

AHHA: So you’ve penned songs for Kelis…

Chrisette: Yes ma’am!

AHHA: Were there any other artists that you’ve written for?

Chrisette: I haven’t gotten a chance to “place” any songs as of yet. I am working on a few artists’ projects right now, but we’ll see what happens with that. I’m a writer for EMI.

AHHA: So songwriting for you is all about the songwriting rather than an end to a means?

Chrisette: It’s definitely a songwriting thing. I mean, the words that come out of your mouth, man, change people’s lives. For all of us…everything that you say is important. So, writing is first for me.

AHHA: What is it like sharing space at Def Jam with an artist like Rihanna. I know frequently with Hip-Hop labels they seem to only be able to focus on one female artist at a time.

Chrisette: Mmmhmm! You know that feeling like when you were in high school or elementary school a cool girl came over to you from school and just said, “Hello.” You were like, “Omigod she said hi!” I feel that kind of cool right now! It is the coolest thing to be on Def Jam right now. This is the label I wanted to be on because me and Rihanna have so much that is not in common, I think they are giving us equal attention. We’re not the same so…Rihanna is amazing in her own right, and I think that I am great in my own right as well. So they are paying us both different types of attention. They are treating me like royalty, really.

AHHA: It’s good to know the label is treating you well. I know a lot of other artists have complained of being poorly marketed.

Chrisette: Well my reason for going to Def Jam was because of the way that I thought they’d be able to promote me, because of the difference between me and the [other] artists they have on their label. I’m really excited.

AHHA: As an artist on the verge of possibly leading the next movement of artists, are you pleased with the state of R&B right now?

Chrisette: You know what? I’m not concerned with it. Is that crazy? I know what R&B is, I know who sings R&B right now and I know who sings pop, and if you wanna be a pop singer g’head and do that. If you wanna be an R&B singer, g’head and do that. I think that I can do both pretty well, so we’ll see if people are pleased in the way I convey pop music and the way I convey R&B…but I will tell you that the songs on my album that are called R&B are really R&B songs.

AHHA: If you weren’t here doing this, where would you be?

Chrisette: I’d be a professor in a college or still teaching dance…that’s what I was doing before this.

AHHA: Really? So will there be any dancing in your live sets?

Chrisette: Yeah. I wanna keep it a secret. My live show is going to be amazing; I will say that. It’s going to be phenomenal. There will be an incorporation of sorts of dance, but I don’t wanna give it all away yet.