More Than a Woman: Toni Braxton
Ahead of her performance at the Dubai World Cup, singer, actress, businesswoman and reality TV star Toni Braxton tells tabloid! how she does it all — with a little help from her ‘big sister' Whitney Houston
When Whitney Houston died, the world lost a musical icon. Toni Braxton lost a friend, mentor and teacher.
According to the six-time Grammy Award-winner, Houston taught her more than even she really understood, much of which she's only discovering now.
Braxton credits Houston as being her sole motivation for wanting to be a recording artist, and says it's only now — since her "big sister's" untimely death — she comprehends and appreciates the things Houston was preparing her for in life.
"She came to see me in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway with her daughter and she kept saying, ‘Bobbi Kristina is a Braxton fan, she isn't a Houston fan,'" said Braxton in an interview in Dubai ahead of her performance at the Dubai World Cup on Saturday. "I didn't think much of it at the time but now, having to accept my own two boys love Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Chris Brown more than they love Mummy has been much easier," she said, laughing. "Maybe I would have taken offence," she added, having explained Denim, 10, and Diezel, 8, ask on a regular basis, "Why does Mummy sound like a dude?"
Reflecting on Houston, a sad-sounding Braxton said: "I got into the business because of her. I wanted to be just like Whitney Houston. When I finally got to meet her, I remember she told me, ‘You know Toni, some days you're not gonna wanna be a star. But you're always a star,'" she said recalling just one of many anecdotes. "She gave me these great words."
Having arrived at "Clive's" she said, referring to Clive Davis' pre-Grammy Award party, Braxton was hit with the news her friend and mentor lay dead upstairs.
"At first it was surreal, I felt like I was in a dream."
And before long Braxton found herself leaving a party she couldn't bear to be a part of, saying, "I was just a mess. I had to leave. I knew I couldn't last the night.
"She was the first girl in the business who you didn't see colour, you just saw talent. She was a superstar even before she started."‘She gave it to me'
Braxton would often question why Houston was telling her anything. "It didn't make any sense," she said. "She was such a big star. She picked me as the girl in the soundtrack for Boomerang, giving me the song Let it Flow, which then appeared on my album. She gave it to me. Me."
"She said, ‘That's a Toni Braxton song.' I definitely miss her. I feel like I'm gonna see her."
With a catalogue of eight albums — the first single from her latest out today in the US — Braxton has built a worldwide fan base since she first burst onto the music scene in 1991 with Love Shoulda Brought You Home.
Since becoming the "first lady of LaFace Records", Braxton's creative partnership with X Factor judge Antonio "L.A." Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, it's been a non-stop roller coaster of multi-platinum albums, most notably 1993's Toni Braxton and 1996's Secrets.
"I Heart You is out and I'm super excited," said Braxton from her Atlantis hotel room after arriving from the US for her concert here. Braxton says her shows are all about her fans but adds she'd also love to promote the new song. "It's classic Toni Braxton with a bit of 2012, because this song is actually a dance floor track."
Promotion or not, nobody can say Braxton doesn't prepare ahead of her international dates.
"The first thing I wanna know is what songs they love in the country I'm performing in," she said. "Certain songs will always be popular no matter where I am — Un-break My Heart, Breathe Again. But if I do my research I ensure my audience always have fun."
Lots of audience participation is paramount, according to Braxton — although that can also mean she's overshadowed somewhat.
"Un-Break My Heart is always good to perform at intimate shows because usually I never get to sing it until the end by myself because the fans are so loud," she joked. "It's great to hear them trying to emulate me. In the same way the horses get their adrenaline from the racing, I get mine from being on that stage. It's an amazing time and I cannot wait until Saturday."
Braxton's had hits including Another Sad Love Song, Breathe Again, Un-Break My Heart, You're Makin' Me High and He Wasn't Man Enough, picking up the Grammy Awards along the way.
Her story began at Bowie State University where the former choir singer was studying to become a teacher. It was here Reid and Babyface signed her as the first female artist on their then-newly formed LaFace Records. In just 12 months she was at the top of her game having sold more than 17 million albums from her first two albums.
However, while subsequent albums did well, nothing seemed to replicate the kind of early success she had enjoyed and after break-ups, fall-outs and filing for bankruptcy (twice), Braxton says things are back on track.Doing it her own way
"I can't say anything just yet because the papers aren't signed, but L.A. Reid and I..." She stops to think. "We are working on it. Some incredible meetings. He kinda got me started in the business so I'm really excited about the possibility of coming back together."
Heartstrings & Synagogue Vibes is the name of the new album and Braxton says it's the result of "lots of time in the fitting room".
"I think what has to be different is that you have to identify with your audience after this long," she said. "Music has to change this far down the line. I think music is a bit like fashion. You kind of try things on and say, ‘Well, that didn't work. That wasn't good. We shouldn't do that any more.' This album is me coming back to my core audience and what they expect from me. Originally, what I enjoy doing is indigenous for me."
In 2005, following the release of her fifth album, Libra, Braxton headlined her own show at the Flamingo Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, something she says she prefers to performing on Broadway.
"I get to do it my way when it's my show," she said, trying hard to not sound conceited but not succeeding entirely. "If I don't feel like performing a certain way or a certain song then that's my choice. When you're doing someone else's show you have to do it their way. Their interpretation, their lyrics. You have to remember the lyrics every night."
Every now and then I get a hint of Braxton's musical arrogance, and why not? She's worked hard, recorded the songs, done the shows, collected the Grammys. She deserves it.
Yet still, somewhere not too far from the surface is the humble girl who started out all those years ago.
"I get to perform in front of a live audience and that part I love," she positively countered about the two different elements of her performing life. "That part is incredible. When I'm doing a Toni show, then I'm the sergeant. I'm in charge. But when you're doing someone else's, I'm the deputy or the student. And you learn so much about yourself. That part is really nice as an artist. We can sometimes get lost in our own heads."‘Great advice'
In addition to the music there is Braxton Family Values, a reality series starring Braxton and her sisters, which premiered in 2011 and is now in its third season.
Advice from Kim Kardashian, who Braxton was competing alongside in Dancing With the Stars in 2008, and a game of Monopoly were to blame.
"It's a true story," she said over and over, sensing disbelief.
"I landed on Park Place and had to pay my sister so much cash. She said that if I do the reality show then I didn't have to pay. I thought, ‘Yeah, okay, whatever,' but what I didn't know is they already had a deal."
The show features the rambunctious, tight-knit Braxton sisters including Toni, Traci, Towanda, Trina and Tamar, as well as their headstrong mother, Evelyn. It offers an inside look at their lives in a similar way to Keeping up With the Kardashians.
"Kim was like, ‘Toni, it's so great but it can be so challenging and so hard. You guys just make sure you work it out and talk about things.' This was great advice and I'm glad I did it, because my sisters and I are having such a great time. It's wonderful working with my sisters."Really?
"I can't deny that sometimes it's too much and because we're always together and family arguments are displayed to the world. But one thing you find out is that no matter what creed, colour, financial status, families are all the same. That's our message and we just want to inspire people. In the end it's about family and we have to love each other and figure it out."
So with things going well for Braxton, including her health — in 2009 the singer was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease, which means the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue — it's just her love life which is an open book.
Having married singer and father of her children, Keri Lewis in 2001, Braxton announced their separation in 2009 to much media attention.
Luckily her "teacher from heaven" is always looking down. "I asked Whitney's advice about dating and she told me this: ‘Girls like us have to work harder, because we have to prove we are girl and businesswoman all at the same time.' That's hard for guys to distinguish, but with an angel in my head I'm gonna give it everything I've got."SOURCE