By Nicki Escudero
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By Brian Palmer
By Chris Parker
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By Lauren Wise
By Lauren Wise
Kiana Brown is in a quandary. Two days before departing for two weeks of intensive rehearsals for her first Kidz Bop extravaganza, followed immediately by a 23-city tour, Brown can't decide which shoes to bring. Despite a limited luggage allowance, her first packing attempt is heavily weighted toward shoes, about 20 pairs.
"I have about 40 outfits in a backpack, a couple performance outfits, and definitely tons of shoes," she says with the bright smile and easygoing comfort of a seasoned performer — attributes not typically found in your average 15-year-old.
But Brown, a native Phoenician and Mountain Pointe High School sophomore who beat out 50,000 other aspiring teens and tweens to win the Kidz Bop Kidz Star USA Talent Search contest, practically has been on stage her whole life.
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"I've been singing since I was 16 months and got my first karaoke machine when I was 3," she says.
Fittingly, Brown began by singing Britney Spears songs.
"I was obsessed. I would dance like Britney Spears and do the hair flips and everything," she says.
"Walking through the mall, she'd be singing her ABCs, but she'd be belting them — and singing on key," Brown's mother, Shakira Matherly, laughingly recalls. "So she really showed her energy and talent at a young age."
A regular diet of school plays, beauty pageants, voice lessons, piano study (but not guitar — yet: "I was like that crazy wildfire child and I couldn't sit down and learn"), and a general desire to be a star led Brown to her Kidz Bop victory.
"She's prepared her whole life for this," Matherly says, noting that she regularly searched online for outlets to show off Brown's talents before finding Kidz Bop, a website for kids to upload and share videos of themselves performing. When she discovered the Talent Search prize list included an RCA recording contract, "we were really into it," Brown says.
"I was really just trying to find something that would break my career," Brown adds. "Obviously, I've been waiting for this for a really long time."
Matherly uploaded a video of Brown performing an original number on the piano.
"The contest was about to end," Matherly says. "We didn't really think about it, only that it would be cool if she got [selected], but there were, like, 50,000 entries . . . When you're talking in those numbers, you have no idea."
Finalists were selected based on online peer voting and a panel of celebrity and music industry judges. Like other reality shows, this makes the outcome somewhat uncertain no matter how talented the performer.
"Kids obviously vote for these kids, but we were happy they were voting for someone who merited attention," Kidz Bop co-founder Cliff Chenfeld says. "You've got to keep your eyes out for the kids that stand out. And she absolutely did."
Brown made the Top 10 and then sang Adele's "Someone Like You," which catapulted her into the final four. She was flown to New York for a final sing-off and took home top honors with her rendition of Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love." She garnered over 2 million votes.
Brown's victory — announced during a surprise Mountain Pointe school assembly by American Idol winner and Talent Search judge Kris Allen — landed her the lead in the "Kidz Bop 21" music video and TV commercial, plus a recording contract with RCA. Brown's inclusion on the Kidz Bop tour wasn't part of the prize package, just a happy addition when another performer dropped out.
Brown will be featured in practically every performance, including a solo spotlight in which she'll sing her debut single, "Hey Chica."
Discussions with RCA on songs for her debut album are forthcoming.
"I really would love to write my own songs to make an album," she says. "I've done some demos."
Back home, the flurry around packing continues. Eventually, a pile of schoolwork for the honors student and student council member will be included.
"School's never going to be in the way — school's very important," Matherly, a teacher, asserts.
If Matherly is at all worried about her daughter succumbing to the temptations of fame and pulling a Lindsay Lohan, she isn't showing it. In fact, she's hardly giving it a second thought.
"Everything she's done up to this point has shown me that she'll make the right decisions," Matherly says. "I have confidence that she's going to grow up to be an amazing artist and keep a good head on her shoulders."
"Different celebrities take it in different ways, but I want to be the normal star," Brown says. "I want to be the girl that sets a proper example for lots of teenagers and kids, and I want to treat fans like they are normal people because [laughs] I'm a normal person — I really am!"