Keshia Chanté Handles Success Like A Veteran

Seated on the patio of a downtown hotel, Keshia Chanté could be any teenager you know. The fresh-faced R & B singer--who lists shopping as one of her chief hobbies--looks pretty much like every other bright, bubbly, fashion-obsessed high-school girl out there--except for the fact that, at 16, she has already accomplished what most can only hope to achieve during an entire career. Over the past year, Chanté has: recorded and released a self-titled debut; watched one of her singles, "Unpredictable", go gold and three others hit heavy rotation on radio stations across the country; snagged a collaboration with American rap icon Foxy Brown; had two videos directed by industry heavyweight Little X, one of which, "Bad Boy", hit number one on MuchMusic's top-30 chart; signed a modelling contract with Ford Models; and was nominated for a MuchMusic Video Award.

One has to wonder if this whirlwind of success has wreaked havoc on her personal life. Just how does someone so young deal with this sudden avalanche of attention? The answer is, in Chanté's case, pretty damn gracefully. Whereas Canada's other pop-music prodigy, Avril Lavigne, is insufferable--sullenly stomping across stages and screens, wearing her teen angst like a badge of honour--Chanté is more like a baby Beyoncé: talented, beautiful, and confident, yet still warm, down-to-earth, and likable. And, as was the case with Beyoncé's earlier work with Destiny's Child, Chanté's first outing shows enormous promise. Beneath the slickly produced, hip-hop--tinged, pop veneer of tracks like "Shook (The Answer)" lies an arresting voice, magnetic charisma, and driving ambition.

In person, Chanté--the only child of a Trinidadian father and a Portuguese mother (who manages her career under the handle "Momager")--is obviously willing to confront the challenges of fame. She has a ready answer to any question thrown her way. Are things uncomfortable at school now that she's a permanent fixture on MuchMusic? Well, she concedes, it was a bit strange after she left Ottawa, where kids had known her since kindergarten. "When I moved to Toronto, the first month was like a press conference," she explains. "I'd walk by in the hallway and they'd be like: 'Oh, my God,' freaking out. It was a really weird situation, because I was trying to get to class and they were trying to ask me, like, a bazillion questions. But by the end [of the school year], they got really cool."

What about being recognized in public? Does that bother her? "Some days you just don't get why they're looking at you," she admits with a laugh. "You're standing there and you're like, 'Why are they staring at me?' I feel so uncomfortable, and then I hear them whisper 'Keshia Chanté', and then I'm like 'Ohhhhh.'

"I always sign autographs," she's quick to add. "I know what it's like to be a die-hard fan, and I know what I expect from an artist. So I try to meet that expectation, even to exceed it."

The only topic that makes the budding star pause is her likeness to the late singer Aliyah, a startling resemblance that Aliyah's mentor, Missy Elliot, remarked on when she met her. "That's a really awkward compliment," Chanté replies carefully. "To be said that I look like her, that's a big compliment because she's beautiful. But it's very weird, because you don't know how to take that. You kind of want to get sad."

"She passed away," she continues. "What do I say? You can't say anything. It's hard. I'm me, my album is me, my look is me. Everything about me is me; I'm not fabricated. So it's hard for me to steer away from the Aliyah thing. I don't want to steer away, because that would be changing me, and I don't want to do that."