-- by Tonya Pendleton, BET.com Music Editor
WASHINGTON, D.C. Alicia Keys walks confidently into WHUR-FM in Washington, D.C., located on the Howard University campus. Though she's with a small group from her record label, it's not immediately apparent that she's the star. She looks much more like a college student reporting to her internship than someone who's getting ready to be showcased on the radio.
This may mark one of the last few times that Keys gets to walk around unnoticed. Her debut album, Songs in A Minor, is one of the first major releases by Clive Davis' new J Records, and her first single, "Fallin'," hit #1 on BET's "106 & Park" countdown show a spot held down by male rappers for the past few months. She's already secured appearances on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" bookings that veteran performers fight for. Her showcases in several cities as well as appearances at Davis' famed pre-Grammy event have gotten a buzz going so loud it's drowning out just about everyone else's releases this year.
Why all the hype? Because the 20-year-old biracial New Yorker has that rarest of combinations: talent and charisma. A piano virtuoso, she can sing and play old-school Donny Hathaway songs as well as Biggie's "One More Chance." Her debut is filled with music usually associated with what's often labeled "neo-soul," but she's made records with Kandi Burruss
and Jermaine Dupri. If the music made by other artists her age is any indication, her sound is definitely beyond her years.
"Everyone says, 'You don't look like you sound. I thought you were going to be a lot older,' " Keys says with a smile before her showcase. "Me being an only child [by my mother], I spent a lot of time alone and it [inspired my imagination]. I guess it's just the way I internalize things. I see a certain thing and I write about it, and that's just how it comes out."