Paris Bennett

Paris Bennett says, "Singing is in my blood, and I'm blessed to have it that way."

Breaking & Entering: Paris Bennett

Paris Bennett says, "Singing is in my blood, and I'm blessed to have it that way."

The fifth season American Idol finalist, who grew up in Minnesota, definitely has an enviable pedigree. Her grandmother is Ann Nesby, the former lead singer of the Sounds Of Blackness, and her mother is Jamecia Bennett, the former soprano vocalist of that respected ensemble.

But the value of Bennett's roots goes beyond inheriting impressive pipes. The 18-year-old singer has also received "tons of encouragement all throughout" from her tight-knit clan.

It was Bennett's grandfather that convinced her to audition for "American Idol." It was her grandmother and her mother that trained her, from age 6, as a singer. It is her uncle that signed her to his record label, 306 Entertainment, after her Idol experience had wrapped. And all of that support has proved invaluable: Bennett's first album, "Princess P," debuted in the No. 1 spot on the Top Heatseekers chart this week.

"It was a long process getting here, but I grew up singing," Bennett says. "Singing at home, singing in the church. I always knew it was something I could do, because my grandma and my mama had done it."

Bennett's uncle, Paul Jones, says he always believed Paris would be on his label. "We got started as a street promotions company and changed over to a record label around the time Paris was 14 or 15. At that point, I thought her album would be our first release. I knew she had the talent."

Bennett's run on "American Idol" meant 306 had to sit back for a bit, and the label ended up releasing two other albums in the interim, but as soon as Paris was finished in Hollywood, "I got a phone call from her," Jones recalls. "She said was coming home to do her record."

Interestingly, Bennett says she didn't plan on a career in music. "I wanted to be an OB/GYN, actually," she remarks. "I wasn't even going to try out for 'Idol.' It was only because my grandpa encouraged me."

But Bennett is quite happy things worked out the way they did. "'Idol' was a great experience. It was like gaining a whole new family. I really learned a lot."

One of her "Idol" costars, Kevin Covais, even turns up on "Princess P" and in the liner notes, Bennett shouts out several of her AI pals, including Kellie Pickler and Katharine McPhee, saying "I trust and love you all."

But in the end it all comes back to her first family. Mom and grandma grace the album's touching final number, "Best Friends," and her uncle co-wrote a majority of the tracks, including first single "Ordinary Love," which Bennett also helped pen.

"I co-wrote a bunch of the songs," says Bennett. "I had written a lot in my journals growing up and all through Idol and I wanted the songs to reflect my experiences. I wanted them to be about real-life situations."

"Ordinary Love" was produced by Jon Jon Traxx, who has worked extensively with Beyonce. Perhaps not surprisingly then, the song has a Beyonce-style bounce, as do several of the disc's other tracks. But Jones points out that "Princess P" covers a lot of ground, illustrating Bennett's wide range of tastes. "It goes from dance, to some fun songs, a little rapping, to some mature songs, where we get more of a Mary J. Blige or Jodeci feel," he says. "We didn't want to compromise on anything."

But even now Bennett says she still isn't sure music will be her ultimate path. "Theater has really been my first love, and I'm looking at doing a film this summer. I'm not sure which one I'll end up choosing -- acting or singing -- but I'll probably lean one way or the other." With a sweet, shy laugh she adds, "I guess I'll just see how it goes."