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To date, they haven't witnessed the proverbial pushy stage mom or bullying dad, but Marcello allows, "I've seen some funny managers. I've seen people act like they've already made it big. No humility, without having a reason to."
But there's every reason to believe, all humility aside, that Ashlee could be really big, if handled right. In just a few short months, she's enrolled enough disciples for the cause to make her "Supa Nova Taking Ova Now" mantra a formidable rallying cry. But first, she had to convince her dad and mom she could "loozit" and win.
It's hard to reconcile this mellow kid shyly sipping through a straw with Supa Nova Sta, a performing juggernaut who tore up the stage at the Glendale Arena last month with all the poise and confident choreography of an Aaliyah or a Missy Elliot. Backed by five dancers and clearly holding her own, she could easily pass for a young lady of 17 or maybe even 20. But even at 13, she has a history of hamming it up that extends further back than the day she spied a poster in her science class and decided to name herself after a massive star explosion that outshines its galaxy.
"I've got some videos, boy," Marcello says with a laugh. "She hit the ground running, when she was 4."
"You know that Missy Elliot video of 'I Can't Stand the Rain?'" Tegra asks. "She was so fascinated by that whole video, she memorized the whole thing. She's got the trash bag on, doing the whole dance."
"And she was such a perfectionist," Marcello adds. "She kept saying, 'Dad, you're messin' around. Record it right,' if I didn't get the exact camera angles."
While Marcello may have fostered her persistence and love of rap music, Ashlee's inherent technical understanding of music and choreography comes from her mother, a singer in the church choir and a former dancer for the Phoenix Suns.
"That was when Charles Barkley was playing," Tegra says proudly. "During the time when it was a lot of fun and I got to the finals. When you didn't get to the finals, the season was over too quick."
After some prodding, Tegra admits to rapping when she was 16, then endures a little good-natured ribbing from her husband before retorting with mock indignation, "I was never freestyling! I came up in church, through the choir. So yes, Ashlee has some roots."
So when opportunity met experience, Ashlee was ready. She auditioned for and easily secured a spot for herself in the Gimme the Music Concert and Artist Expo, a two-day event with multiple performers that took place at the Glendale Arena over this past Labor Day weekend.
"She came in, did her audition, and everyone was, like, 'Wow! The kid's 13?'"
So says Larry "Tank" Jones, the show's organizer and an important early mentor for many young Valley performers. A motivational speaker, as well as an actor and musician, Jones started a nonprofit program, the Choices Education Empowerment Program, to teach kids to "set goals, know where you wanna go, and make a plan to help you get there." Jones saw in Ashlee a perfect embodiment of the program's positive message, which was lost on many of the other hip-hop hopefuls who signed up to audition but failed to follow through.
"Of the 20 acts that made the final show, a third were hip-hop. We had probably around 40 hip-hop acts registered to audition [that] didn't show up. It was kind of a running joke, almost. Unfortunately, a lot of them didn't see the opportunity that was presented to them because you have a lot of hip-hop acts out there that believe they've got to use four-letter words to get their point across. They couldn't tone it down."
Jones' patronage for the 20 acts that did appear continues. October 20-22, he's bringing back Ashlee and other standout performers such as the rock band We Are They to appear at the 2006 Arizona Goodyear Balloon & Air Spectacular at Goodyear Airport.
With such high-profile shows, Supa Nova Sta was going to need a choreographer, some dancers, and, most importantly, merch. That's when the manufacturing arm of Mateas Enterprises really went into hyperdrive with photos, tee shirts, posters, and CDs. As for an image, Ashlee was able to come up with something that was both hip and wholesome without too much prodding. Says Tegra, "She's already got a strong idea of how she wants to dress. And that's also without being suggestive. Ashlee's modest. She doesn't want to expose a lot of skin like most hip-hop girls do. And she doesn't have to."
No less a hip-hop authority than Kanye West said it when Ashlee's parents took her backstage to meet him at his last Valley appearance. According to Marcello, West said of Ashlee, "Hey, she's got some style on her."
Capturing that style on disc was trickier. On that count, they needed an objective set of fresh ears, like those of Jamison Weddle, an engineer at Chaton Studios who recently set up his own studio in the Valley called Studiocat Productions. "Ashlee came in with one song ["Jus Looz It"] which she recorded in her studio, which we mixed here. And then we did another song here ["Club Hoppin"] from scratch," Weddle says.