The 20-year-old Huguenot High School graduate first gained local attention with "Giving Back: The Inner City Tour" of area city high schools. "We tried to give out the right message stay in school, pursue your dreams," Tenille says. That positive appeal, combined with her approachable personality, gained her glowing reviews from educators and the local press. At the same time the shows provided some on stage experience for the relatively unseasoned singer.
The strategy is the brainchild of Tenille's manager Patrick Mamou. Once co-leader of innovative hip-hop group Jazz Poets Society, he had formed One Soul Entertainment and was on the prowl for new talent when he spotted the diminutive singer in a crowd, and asked her if she could sing.
"They approached me. But I was always interested in performing, and I sang in church," Tenille says. "After I graduated and started working I kept looking for people to help me, but most of them led nowhere until One Soul."
Mamou and company, building on their previous contacts in the music scene, worked fast. "We met in April of 2001, and two months later we were in the studio," Tenille says. "There was a demo recording in December, and then my first performance at Bogart's on Valentine's Day."
Mamou sees in Tenille the perfect blend needed for success. "Our target demographic is primarily the 12-to-27-year-old age group, but she also appeals to an older, more mature audience," he says. "Men are drawn because she's attractive, but older women won't be threatened. She humble: confident but not flashy; sexy but not provocative. She has what we call a 'soul-phisticated' feel. Adults will want to share her with their kids."
One Soul is playing every angle; it's no coincidence that the title of her first single shares the name of her day job employer, the mall, youth fashion store Up Against The Wall. There is even a Web site (www.tenilleonline.com) with animated glamour graphics and downloadable songs. But Mamou's cunning seems unmixed with cynicism. "Marketing is important, but it's not everything," says Mamou. "God made her the way she is, with her energy and ideas."
Tenille writes her own songs, with lyrics about the conflicts of romance and independence. She consciously steers clear of the themes of dominance, boasting and revenge typical of pop music. Her delivery contrasts sensuality with sweetness, Janet Jackson funk with Minnie Ripperton vocal athletics.
Her upcoming tour will blend more school performances, Up Against the Wall in-store appearances and club and college gigs, and, hopefully, continued interest from major labels.
"She's from Richmond but she's not just a Richmond artist," says Mamou. "We've had calls from everywhere from New York to Atlanta. But we would like local people to come out and support her. When [neo-soul star] D'Angelo was here he didn't get the love and support he needed, and he had to move."
For Tenille the goal is not success but self-definition. "You have to dare to be different," she says. "To step out and do something your parents may have never had the chance to do. This is a big opportunity for me; I don't want to spend my life wondering if I could do this. If you invest in your talents you will find your true self." S
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