For years, the national media has asserted that the music of Chrisette Michele respectfully invokes the spirit of Billie Holiday. And like Billie, her distinct vocals have made her musical performances distinguishable from her industry peers.
Although Chrisette Michele's talents were undeniable, her debut album stalled at #29 on the Billboard 200 chart, with 26,000 copies sold during the opening week. The strength of I Am resonated with music lovers across the globe, however, and the album would eventually attain gold certification from the RIAA and receive back-to-back GRAMMY nominations in 2008 and 2009: Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (for "If I Had My Way") and Best Urban/Alternative Performance (for "Be OK").
After her GRAMMY win in 2009, the stars aligned upon the release of Epiphany, her sophomore record. The groundswell of public support and her massive "underground" following propelled Epiphany into the #1 spot—taking the industry (and Chrisette) by surprise!
As Chrisette Michele embarked on a promotional tour for Epiphany, she managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on "Porcelain Doll," Billie Holiday, and her recording experience with Ne-Yo.
Congratulations on your recent number one debut. When you first found out, what was the first thing that came to your mind?
"Yeah, right!" [laughing] That's the first thing I said. Then I screamed and yelled at L.A. Reid because he was the one who told me. I told him, "Are you sure? Are you positive?" I was really happy.
Considering the fact that I Am peaked at 29, what were your expectations going in?
Numbers are really more for the business people. I think that when you sing from your heart, you write from your heart and you perform from your heart, you're more interested in the record than how many records you sold. So the first thing I wanted to know was, "What do they think?" I was getting feedback on how many records were sold or what number I was at. What I really wanted to know is, "What does everybody think? Did they like this song? Did they like that song?" My expectations were that people would enjoy the vocals and a new side of me that I decided to expose. It's really a new exploration for me.
Well, I am not alone, when I say that I thoroughly enjoyed Epiphany. And while it's hard for me to pick, I find "Porcelain Doll" to be my favorite track. Do you have any special memories from the studio that are attached to that particular song?
For that particular song, I was sitting in the room with Ne-Yo and a couple of friends. And like always, we were talking and laughing and joking. Somebody decided to play "Porcelain Doll." What had happened was Ne-Yo said, "There's this one song that I really, really think makes sense for you but they told me that you can't sing it." I said, "Let me hear the song." I listened to the song and I was like, "There's no way that I'm not singing this song. This song is me! This song makes sense. I played the piano. My dad called me porcelain doll. This has to be my song. This is mine." I told L.A. Reid, "Please let me do this." So I recorded it anyway. For some reason, everybody's minds changed.
You've gone on record to say that "Blame It on Me" is your favorite track. What is it about that song that you like the most? Is it tied to a particular life experience, or is it just the style or the flavor of the song?
Oh, man. I just love to blow my lungs out. Whenever I'm standing by a microphone, I just like to go hard. That's the song where I didn't hold back. There were tears in the studio. What was crazy is that I dreamt that song and I wasn't even in a relationship. I was wondering why I would be writing a song called "Blame It on Me" when I'm not even telling that to anyone in real life. For some reason, that message resonated with me and I had to go into the studio and record it. What's funny is that so many people are telling me, "Wow, ‘Blame It on Me' is my life story right now." So that song is for the people who are in a relationship that they really just want to get out of and they can't figure out another way except to say, "You know what? I'll say it's my fault. Just get me out of it."