At only 4’ 11”, Paris Bennett may be pint-sized. But she definitely packs a wallop when it comes to singing. The national television audience got a taste of what she can deliver when Bennett auditioned and later became one of the 24 contestants on the fifth season of the hugely popular reality series “American Idol.” Early into the sing-off, the Rockford, Illinois-born singer was a standout, capturing the audience’s and voters’ hearts with her natural, full-bodied voice. But even though Bennett’s elimination in round five precluded her from donning the Idol crown, the singer is polishing her lucky charm—a princess tiara—as she prepares for the April 2007 release of her first solo album, “Princess P.”
Being distributed by TVT Records and released through 306 Entertainment, a label founded by Bennett’s manager Paul Jones, the album deftly showcases the multiple personalities that comprise Bennett the singer. “This album is a little bit of everything, like what I did on ‘Idol,’” says Bennett. “I don’t like being put in one category, one genre. I’m into pop, jazz, R&B, gospel … you may even hear me do a rap thing or a country version of something.”
The album’s lead single, “Ordinary Love,” is indicative of Bennett’s quest to not be pigeonholed. It’s rock-flavored R&B, complete with electric guitars and topped off by Bennett’s retro, gut-driven vocals. Like the other songs on the album, “Ordinary Love” stems from Bennett’s experiences as a young lady on the precipice between teenage and womanhood.
“This album is about experiences I went through before and after ‘American Idol,’ like not having a dad while I was growing up,” explains Bennett. “It’s about different aspects of life that people can relate to.”
In the case of “Ordinary Love,” produced by Jon Jon Traxx, Bennett is singing about being in love with her soul mate. “Dreamin’,” as its title implies, embraces Bennett’s hopes as pushes forward post-Idol. This particular song, in fact, doubles as the theme song to an upcoming reality show on a major cable channel. The show centers on another group of young hopefuls, high school students from New Orleans, who are competing for roles in a live-stage multimedia tribute to the Tony Award-winning play and Golden Globe-winning film “Dreamgirls.”
Bennett comes by her mesmerizing voice honestly. She comes from a musical family that includes her voice-training mother Jamecia Bennett and grandmother Ann Nesby. Devoted music fans will recall that Nesby’s own remarkable voice fronted the ‘90s R&B/gospel group Sounds of Blackness. “Every day I get a new tactic from my grandmother about my career,” notes Bennett. “But mainly she’s told me to just be me and never change who I am.”
Bennett began forging her singing alter ego at the age of four, working out at her great grandfather’s church in Fayetteville, Georgia, Macedonia Baptist Church. From there it was on to local talent shows before securing her first big performance: singing the Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis-penned song “Welcome” during the TK Olympics in Atlanta.
Bennett—who currently divides her time between residing in Minnesota and Georgia—cites India.Arie, Maroon 5, Coldplay and the Dixie Chicks as favorites. However, the 18-year-old draws a lot of her inspiration from the old school. We’re talking such R&B and jazz masters as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Petty Lee, Sarah Vaughan and Nat King Cole.
At one point Bennett considered putting her singing aside to be a normal senior high student and go on to college. Her career course changed when “American Idol” switched audition sites to nearby Greensboro, North Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Winning the audition, she ended up completing high school while appearing on the show. Bennett describes that busy period as a valuable learning experience that signaled more than just the end of the road in her unfolding Cinderella story.
“I wasn’t taught to give up,” she declares. “If you’re able to hang in, you’re still No. 1. And I rediscovered that music is indeed my soul mate. Singing for me is about love, happiness and the connection you make with yourself. It’s helped me find out who I am.”