James DeBarge, the founding member and keyboardist of the chart-topping 80's R&B family group, DeBarge, took his daughter into his studio that night to work on a duet. "We recorded 'How I Feel Inside' until 4 am," says the younger DeBarge. "Before then, I didn't know the pros and cons of a music career. When we finished he asked me if I still wanted to do it, and I immediately said yes."
After recording the duet, the Kristinia DeBarge, now 19, participated in "American Juniors" in 2003, a spinoff of "American Idol," where she performed "Reflections" by Christina Aguilera. Although she did not win, she made it to the final 20.
Still, DeBarge continued honing her skills and gaining exposure, mainly by traveling with her father on his stateside tours. It was on one of these treks that she met the person who would later give the singer her big break. "I met Kenny [Babyface Edmonds] when I was 14. From that day on, he has been developing me all the way to now," she says about the singer/songwriter, who she's been working with for the past five years.
On the eve of her 19th birthday, all of DeBarge's hard work and patience paid off. She agreed to a meeting with Def Jam's Antonio "L.A." Reid and played him a few songs that she had recorded for her debut. A few hours later, DeBarge was signed to Edmond's own label Sodapop Music/Def Jam.
"Now that I'm 19 it's the best time for me to come out," she says. "I enjoyed my childhood and teen years but I will be 20 soon and this album defines who I am at the moment."
The first single off the as-yet-untitled debut album, slated for a summer release, is "Goodbye," which samples the 1969 #1 hit by Steam. Currently at No. 26 on the pop chart, "Goodbye," which was featured in a national Nivea television commercial early this year, is "about a happy girl," says DeBarge. "She's not tripping over this guy. She's saying she totally expected this from him and now she's got her single girl swag back." An accompanying video for the track was shot last week in Venice Beach, Calif.
Other songs on the album are more vulnerable, including "Cry Me A River," about a break up and "Sabotage," about the struggles of peer pressure.
"This album is about strength and power in women. It's supposed to be an inspiring album. I want women to feel like they're [going to be] okay," adds DeBarge. "You hear a lot of vulnerability in the songs but vulnerability can be to your advantage. It allows people to be more compassionate, open-minded… This album is for all girls—they can be 50-years-old or 13-years-old. It's here to tell them life goes on."
And while DeBarge, who will be going on a promotional tour starting June 4th, followed by stateside tour later this summer, recognizes her father has played a major role in her musical career, she also credits the likes of Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys and Aretha Franklin as well as rock and roll acts like Led Zeppelin, Guns n' Roses, and Alice in Chains as her inspirations.
"My music is similar to Led Zep lyrically, but vocally to Mariah," she explains. "Overall, there is also a lot of emotion and conviction in all of their songs, like in mine. Music is like religion – it all comes together in one place."