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The best kept secret in music


"Toya Participates In TheHal Jackson's Talented Teens"

Motown recording artist Brian Mcknight has been named chairperson for the 31st annual Hal Jackson's Talented Teens International Scholarship Competition, which will be held Saturday, July 28, 2001 at Aaron Davis Hall in New York City, New York. Over 30 contestants ranging in ages from 13 to 17, from the continental United States as well as Canada, Bermuda, Hawaii, the Caribbean and Nigeria will vie for the international crown, and win prizes which include college scholarships, and culturally enhancing trips abroad.

Hal Jackson, Group Chairman of Inner City Broadcasting, who founded the competition in 1971, celebrates his 62 years in broadcasting not only with the annual talent competition but with the publication of his autobiography, "The House That Jack Built," which was released earlier this year by Harper Collins. Mr. Jackson was recently recognized by the Smithsonian Institution as a "national treasure" during their Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C.

Jackson looks forward to his role as Executive Producer and states, "I enjoy seeing the talent develop into beautiful shining stars." Among the many stars who first stepped upon a stage and were discovered by Hal Jackson's Talented Teens are Jade Pinkett Smith, Vanessa L. Williams, Ce Ce Peniston, ingenue Arista
recording artist Toya and Sheryl Lee Ralph.

Originally known as Miss Black Teenage America in the 1970's, the competition Was renamed Hal Jackson's a Talented Teens International (HJTTI) and is open to all races but targets teens of color from around the world with performing talents and high academic achievements.

During the week the young ladies and their chaperones will tour New York City, experience the cultural enrichment of Harlem as well as attend a Broadway play, and visit 107.5 WBLS, the station on which Hal Jackson has broadcast the Sunday Classics for over 17 years. The contestants will be honored at several of New York City's famous restaurants, attend seminars in addition to meeting celebrities and prominent political officials. One of the week's highlights for the contestants is meeting Brian McKnight whose music transcends many musical boundaries.

Hal Jackson's Talented Teens falls under the auspices of the Youth Development Foundation, Inc. (YDF) a tax-exempt not for profit organization, which is a support system that introduces and nurtures emerging talent from around the world while providing training and educational scholarship opportunities for young women of color. HJTTI/YDF is an organization whose activities are dedicated to youth, education and community involvement. HJTTI/YDF assists in preventing drug abuse and pregnancy among youth by developing self-esteem and confidence, which is essential for success in all aspects of their lives.

The HJTTI preliminary competition will be held on Friday, July 27 in the ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel at 7:00 p.m. where the top 10 finalists will be chosen. On Saturday night the 31st annual HJTTI finals will be hosted by WBLS air personality JC Jordan, taking place at Aaron Davis Hall on the campus of City College at 7:00 p.m.

- Cynthia Horner

"Webster Groves R&B Sensation Toya Prepares For The Big-Time"

It's been a very good year for Toya, the 18-year-old R&B sensation from Webster Groves whose single "I Do!" earned the "Greatest Gainer/Sales" designation in Billboard this week when it jumped from No. 41 to No. 27 in the "Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles" category. (Just two weeks ago, it was at 99.) Last year, the Mary Institute grad was taking business courses at St. Louis University, working part-time as a restaurant hostess and, like so many other teenage girls, dreaming of stardom. Here's where it gets all Cinderella-ish: One day she goes to visit a friend at a local studio, where Nelly happens to be recording. She meets his manager, Tony Davis; performs an off-the-cuff, a cappella rendition of a gospel song for him; knocks his socks off; records a demo; and, in a few short weeks, signs a contract with Arista. Before she has time to blink her beautiful almond-shaped eyes, she has a hit single and is touring with Nelly and the St. Lunatics ("It was great," she gushes. "They all treated me like their kid sister or something!")
"It's all happened so fast. I still can't believe it," she marvels, as she picks daintily at her breadstick. Toya's just finished doing a television interview with TV reporter Al Wiman at the St. Louis Bread Co. on Delmar, and she has about an hour to kill with Radar Station before heading down the street to do an in-store autograph signing at Streetside Records. Caveat lector: Radar Station is horribly starstruck. Try as we might to maintain our critical objectivity, the requisite Radar Station froideur, Toya manages to melt our tiny little rock-hard heart about two seconds into the interview. She conscientiously answers all our dumb questions. She giggles politely at our lame jokes. She acquiesces sweetly to the sadistic demands of our photographer. She gives us a big hug. Lester Bangs rolls in his grave and pukes in protest as we simper idiotically, completely besotted with the girl despite her perfectly flat stomach, her blindingly white teeth and her relentless sincerity -- qualities that usually make us nauseated if not outright hostile.

Thing is, Toya doesn't act like the type who gets the full-on glamour-puss treatment in Vibe, whose billboards are plastered all over the city, whose video airs on BET, The Box and MTV every few minutes. To quote Radar Station's grandmother, she's not just pretty, she's got pretty ways. It's impossible not to like her, watching her open doors for people, autograph a baby's diaper (ewwww!), smile at the asshole who, instead of standing patiently in line inside the record store like the rest of the people, hunts her down outside and demands that she either sign his bank envelope or sell him a copy of her single right there on the street (does she look like she's hiding a CD in those skinny white hip-huggers, dumb-ass?). "They're always having to pull me away, 'cause I could sign autographs for fans all day long," Toya admits. "I mean, I remember what it was like to be a fan. I'm still a fan! I just love Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Inda.Arie, 'N Sync -- I'd get their autographs in a second!" But she's got to draw the line somewhere: "I had to tell my mom to quit giving my cell-phone number out to fans. People are calling all the time! It's nice, but I'm gonna have to change the number."

If she sounds uncannily poised for an 18-year-old, it's probably at least partly due to her middle-class, suburban, religious upbringing. Born on an Air Force base in North Dakota, Toya moved with her family to Webster Groves when she was 4. Soon she began singing at a Baptist church on Martin Luther King Drive, where her grandfather serves as pastor. "I always had to be the center of everything," she says ruefully. "My mom says we'd be at the Galleria, and she'd turn around and there I'd be, performing for people." In high school, she hooked up with Harold Guy (her business manager and the co-writer of "I Do!") through a modeling agency, where he was the VP of public relations. "We became good friends, were hangin' out all the time, and then six months after we first met, we found out we were cousins! Then I met Shené (King) and DT (Dawntanya Smith) -- they got a management company together -- and then when everything started happening, I thought, 'Who else could better represent me than people who already know me, who'd been helping me out from the beginning anyway,' you know?"

According to the billboards plastered all over Delmar, Toya "represents the softer side of St. Louis." When asked what the hell that's all about, Toya shrugs. "I really don't know what it means, but I kinda like it." Is it a tie-in with Nelly, who presumably represents the "harder" side of St. Louis? "Yeah, maybe, but Nelly's got a softer side, too. He's a real sweetie," she giggles confidentially. We'll find out for ourselves next week, when the multiplatinum pinup finally grants Radar Station the interview we've been begging for.

- Rene' Spencer Salles


Debut Album Titled: Toya
1st Single: I DO
2nd Single: No Matter What



The popularity of Dirty South-style rap artists has helped put St. Louis on the musical map, especially following the huge success of Nelly's Country Grammar album. The city's true musical style lies somewhere between the South and the Midwest, though, with a diverse collection of artists who draw as much inspiration from Chicago as Atlanta.

Born and raised in St. Louis, Toya (born Toya Rodriguez) was mentored by the same people who helped Nelly achieve fame, but used that help to produce an album in her own unique style. After a childhood spent singing in church and school, Toya was attending St. Louis University on scholarship, working two jobs, and writing songs and recording demos in her spare time when she made arrangements to sing for Nelly's managers, Tony Davis and Courtney Benson.

She sang a gospel song, "I Won't Complain," on a Friday, and the pair were so impressed that they asked her to give them two new songs by the end of the weekend. Despite having to work that weekend, Toya put two songs together with the help of her longtime friend and manager, Harold Guy, and a professional songwriter. The songs were played for L.A. Reid of Arista Records and he liked them so much that he flew her to New York to audition.

That audition led to a recording contract and the release of her self-titled debut album in the summer of 2001. With its first single, "I Do," the album made an impressive impact amidst a sea of releases from other baby divas, in part because of the stylistic diversity of its songs that ranged from hip-hop influenced R&B numbers to jazzy ballads and dance tunes. Guest appearances by Murphy Lee of the St. Lunatics and Penelope also helped give the album a unique St. Louis flavor.
Stacia Proefrock, All Music Guide
Written by Stacia Proefrock