Beauty and the Beat

Nikka Costa has a big, funky voice and a great butt. Which will you notice first?

While Costa isn't trying to resurrect the '70s funk sound, she is certainly paying homage on cuts like the title track, as well as on "Hope It Felt Good" and "Some Kind of Beautiful." After all, this is the woman who, in her girlhood, came home one afternoon to find Sly Stone (who guests in her record's horn section) sitting at the family piano.

Stone isn't the only musical celebrity Nikka hung around with as a child. Her father was Rat Pack composer Don Costa, who worked with Frank Sinatra, Quincy Jones and Sammy Davis Jr. He remained Sinatra's producer into the '70s, and when Nikka was born in New York in 1972, Ol' Blue Eyes himself was named her godfather. While Sinatra never made Ms. Costa a professional offer (although it would certainly have been interesting to hear her on one of Sinatra's Duets records), he and his peers probably gave her a solid foundation in show business.

Costa's career was launched when she was 5 and paired up with Don Ho for one of her father's Christmas releases. By the age of 12, she was retired. In between, she made a few albums overseas and opened for the Police in Chile at age 8. Her father passed away when she was 10, and she gave up performing soon afterward. The early retirement strategy -- along with the fact that her fame didn't spread to American shores -- is what Costa reckons kept her from living up to the stereotype of Child Star as Fucked-Up Washout.

Nikka Costa: Raised on the Rat Pack and vintage soul.
Nikka Costa: Raised on the Rat Pack and vintage soul.

"When I was famous as a kid, I was only famous in Europe and South America," she says. "So when I came back to America to go to school, I was like a totally normal kid. I would go to school and be like everyone else, and then I'd go on tour and have this other weird kind of life. And I also took a lot of breaks. I stopped for a few years, then went back into it, stopped again. I kept making sure that I was digging the situation, and any time I wasn't, I left it, and I think that kept me sane."

When, as an adult, Costa decided to give it another go, she took the unorthodox route of honing her talent in Australia (husband Stanley is Australian). There she lived and gigged relentlessly for about five years, facing picky punters night after night and earning success the hard way. It culminated in an ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Awards) nomination for best new artist; then she scrapped it all and came back to the States.

"If you spend four or five years being the most successful thing in Australia, when you come to America, nobody cares. You have to start all over again. So I was at a starting-from-scratch point, so I figured I'd start from scratch in America." Fortunately for her marriage, Stanley was ready to start over again in the States, too.

Which brings us back to the conception and release of Everybody Got Their Something, which, in its half-year of life (it came out on May 22), has had tracks featured in a Tommy Hilfiger commercial and the film Blow, and has earned Costa tours with the Black Eyed Peas and a spot on the Coachella Music Festival roster. Now she's headlining a tour -- supported by another charming newcomer, Miranda Lee Richards -- which would seem to indicate that Virgin is impressed and has a lot of faith in her as a performer. Everybody is a strong American debut from an equally strong rising star. Still, one wonders if we'd be hearing so much about Nikka Costa if we weren't seeing so much of her.

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