Chrisette Michele emerged on the music scene singing Hip-Hop hooks for some of the best rappers in the game: Jay-Z, Nas, The Roots.
The way she sang the hooks almost guaranteed that the soulful, mature-beyond-her-years performer would attract an older, more discerning fan base as her inevitable solo career began to unfold.
Her selection as opening act for R & B heartthrob Maxwell, currently on the last leg of his U.S. tour, confirms that grown folks – typically your 35-to-55 crowd – love Michele.
Maxwell and Michele roll into Miami for the final stop of the tour on Friday, July 31 at American Airlines Arena’s intimate Waterfront Theater.
The 26-year old Michele, a New York native, told the South Florida Times during a telephone interview from the Big Apple that, despite her penchant for attracting older fans, she was nervous about performing before a Maxwell audience.
“It’s funny; you’re petrified to sing your song because you don’t know who knows you. But I’ve gotten standing ovations every night since we started. Every night is a packed house,” she said of the tour that has already played Nashville, Philadelphia and St Louis.
That the man with whom she is touring is the consummate gentleman also helps.
“Maxwell has been beyond welcoming, just showing a lot of love. He sent me a bouquet of white roses the first night,” Michele said.
With two CDs under her belt, Michele (nee Chrisette Michele Payne), is well on her way to establishing a respectable, well-rounded career as a singer-songwriter.
Although she demonstrated a strong mastery of the songwriting craft on her debut album, “I AM,” Michele said, she employed a different process with the critically acclaimed follow-up, “Epiphany,” which debuted at number one on the Billboard Top 100 chart.
Doing less of the writing and allowing herself to be vulnerable were key ingredients, Michele said. Accomplished songwriter and producer Ne-Yo helped convince her that sharing pain through song has its benefits.
“It’s OK to say something that you’ve been through because you’re not the only one who’s been there,” Michele said Ne-Yo told her, a point that she said helped to get over her concern about how the media might respond.
Allowing her emotions to flow and take center stage as she sang was far more liberating than she’d anticipated.
“We were crying in the studio, it was really, really that emotional. And it felt so good that I said, ‘If this is how it feels to be vulnerable in the studio, then I don’t really care what anybody has to say…it’s an amazing and beautiful feeling to express yourself,’ ” she explained.
To demonstrate what she means, she belts out a couple of lines of a Dru Hill tune, “Tell me what you want, tell me what you need,” she sings with her signature sultriness.
“When I tell you it was magic, we recorded the whole album in a matter of two to three weeks,” she said.
Some in the music industry scoffed at “Epiphany’s” modest 83,000 units that garnered Michele’s number-one ranking. She said she is thrilled at the figure, but does not allow it to define her talent
“My philosophy is take it to the stage. If you sell 25 albums the first week, take it to the stage. If you sell 6,000 albums the first week, take it to the stage. A million albums the first week, take it to the
stage. I could care less how many records you sell, if you can’t sing, if you can’t bring it to the stage, I’m not really impressed,” she said.
Michele further distinguishes herself from her peers by redefining the way she “parties.”
“It’s amazing; people say you get all this money when you walk through a party,” she said of the fees celebrities can earn by appearing at public events.
“I said, ‘How about we don’t do any more parties and walk through some charity organizations, and walk through some tough neighborhoods, walk through some streets and let that be our party. Let the homeless guy be our celebrity,’ ” she said of Project Awareness, a documentary that she is directing and producing to shed light on important social issues across the country.
“People say I want to help, but I don’t know where to help, so they send $100 over to India when there’s someone next to them who’s really hungry.”
In addition to her performance on Friday, Michele said she will spend some of her time in Miami visiting impoverished areas for documentary footage.
On stage, she said she is mindful of who is in the audience and determined to give them their money’s worth, from the way she sounds to the way she looks.
“When you do a show for grown folks, you got to be serious about excellence. You can’t go up there in jeans and a T-shirt, bare foot and expect them to be OK with having just spent $85. It’s a little bit of a different ball game and I’m down for it,” she said.
Photo: Chrisette Michele
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Maxwell and Chrisette Michele concert
WHEN: Friday, July 31 at 8 p.m.
WHERE: American Airlines Waterfront Theater, 601 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami
COST: $47.75 to $127.75. Purchase tickets at American Airlines box office or at ticketmaster.com.