Editors' pick

Chrisette Michele

Rhythm and Blues

Editorial Review

Chris Richards reviewed an August 2007 Chrisette Michele performance for The Washington Post:

Her banal R&B tunes might sound worthy of "American Idol," but there's no denying that 24-year-old Chrisette Michele has a voice that makes Jennifer Hudson sound like Sanjaya. Her pipes seemed practically invincible on Saturday night at the sold-out Black Cat, where she delivered her lovelorn ballads with a remarkable growl. Think Macy Gray with more focus, Angie Stone with more panache, Amy Winehouse with more sobriety. With her acrobatic, low-register melisma, Michele's gritty voice sounded like a motorboat darting across the high seas of heartbreak.Unfortunately, she's a bit of a motor mouth, too. Between tunes Michele would name-drop the songwriter ("So, when I was in the studio with John Legend . . . ") or explain her lyrical inspirations with a string of corny Dr. Phil-isms. The chitchat didn't help an already oddly paced set, with her nine-piece band hopping from the jaw-dropping ballad "If I Have My Way" to the calypso-tinged "Best of Me" to the over-mushy "Golden."

Things finally started to jell with "Good Girl" -- Michele's fiery ode to the independent woman. "Ain't too many good girls got they own dough, got they own flow, ain't looking for sugar no more," she proclaimed in a sandpapery voice that smacked of future superstardom.

How did she follow it? With a premature exit. "Thank you, good night!" Michele said with a smile after a mere 40-odd minutes onstage.

Bah. Even an episode of "American Idol" lasts longer than that.

Geoffrey Himes reviewed Michele's 2007 album "I Am" for The Washington Post:

Just when the world seemed overrun by sound-alike R&B divas who all decorate their verses with the same melismatic curlicues and who all deliver their choruses with the same lung-busting, roof-rattling power, along comes a baby diva who sounds like no one else. Chrisette Michele, 24, doesn't have to over-embellish or over-wail on her debut album, "I Am," because the Long Islander can seduce a listener with the casual silkiness of her voice and then catch that listener off guard by slipping into a nasal drawl at the right dramatic moment.

On her top-30 single, "If I Have My Way," for example, she promises her panting lover that they'll make love someday -- just not today. She sells both parts of that message by describing their future lovemaking in a giddy high soprano that seems on the verge of climax and then choking off that vision in a scratchy voice that suggests she's trying to rein in her own desires. That strangled tone resembles Macy Gray's weird rasp, but Michele's is far more versatile, for she can use it in almost any register and can slide into it seamlessly from a bell-like purity and back again.

Michele is getting a big push; she was introduced by cameos on Jay-Z's song "Lost One" and Nas's "Can't Forget About You," and her debut album boasts help from producer-songwriters Babyface, John Legend and Wil.I.Am. But so strong is Michele's personality that the producers adapt to her sound, not the other way around. Thus the understated grace of her delivery dominates, whether she's singing about a child's view of the world on the Babyface collaboration "Your Joy" or trading vocals with Wil.I.Am over a Run-D.M.C. sample on "Let's Rock."

"Flashy ain't my style," Chrisette Michele sasses on "In This for You," one of the 14 songs she co-wrote on her charming debut, "I Am." But it seemed that within a flash, the 23-year-old became R&B's It Girl -- her album dropped only two months ago.

Prior to that, her major claim to fame was singing the hooks on Jay-Z's "Lost One" and Nas' "Can't Forget About You." But Michele got a solid head start at age 8, studying classical singing and saxophone.

She continued her music studies at Long Island's Five Town College, and soon after was performing at New York's Village Underground, where she attracted the attention of India. Arie, who invited the starlet to open her concerts.

And like the scenario she paints on the CD's dazzling opener, "Like a Dream," where she seduces a drummer at a jazz club, Michele's singing entranced Antonio "LA" Reid, who signed her to Def Jam and produced the disc.

At 23, her voice combines the power of gospel with the pliancy of jazz, and her songwriting deftly juxtaposes girly innocence with womanly worldliness on hook-laden songs that range from lithe bossa nova ("Best of Me") to gentle pop balladry ("Love Is You") to rugged R&B ("Good Girl").

"I really wanted to cross genre barriers," she says. "I didn't want this to be just another R&B album. I also wanted to have something positive and encouraging in my songs." But, adds the daughter of both a church deacon and the surrounding hip-hop culture, "I didn't want to be too preachy."

Among those who helped Michele hone her songcraft were Will.I.am, Salaam Remi and one of her biggest idols, former Reid associate Babyface. "He taught me how to write strong intros," she says. "Babyface told me that a song will always be remembered by the way that it begins."

Here's hoping "I Am" is merely an attention-grabbing beginning to the unflashy soundtrack of Chrisette Michele's long career.

--John Murph (Express, August 23, 2007)