— by Chris Harris, with additional reporting by Vanessa Whitewolf
It was Megan Rochell's determined drive that inspired her to gamble with fate and pursue a lifelong dream of signing that record deal's dotted line. But the rest of the 20-year-old R&B songstress' career has been propelled by a series of fortunate accidents — and a single, very unfortunate one.
When Rochell was 11, she was asked to perform on "It's Showtime at the Apollo," tackling Monica's "Before You Walk Out of My Life." She'd been singing since age 7, as a soloist in her grandmother's church's choir, and she walked away from the Apollo's amateur night a winner five times. But when she was auditioning for the program, with the prospect of having her image funneled into the homes of viewers nationwide, Rochell's nerves got the best of her.
"I was so nervous that I literally pee-peed on myself, that's how nervous I was," recalled the singer, who cites the likes of Brandy, Faith Evans, Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Aretha Franklin as influences. "It was so embarrassing, it really was. But things happen."
And things did happen for Rochell, who, upon turning 17, tugged up her roots, kissed the grandmother who'd raised her and encouraged her to nurture her passion for singing, and left her native Brooklyn for Philadelphia. There, she stumbled across the son of soul legend and session pianist Leon Huff, who, after one audition, agreed to produce her debut album.
"I was walking down the street, [and] I just bumped into him and I just so happened to ask him, 'Do you have anything to do with music?,' because he looked like he was somebody involved in music," she recalled. "He's like, '[I] have a studio right around the corner,' and I told him I would love to sing for him, that he needed to listen to me just for a few minutes and he'd like what he heard. So I sang for him and he was like, 'You weren't lying, girlfriend — you've got it.' "
It wasn't long after that chance meeting that Rochell happened upon the man who would, in time, start overseeing her future: Boyz II Men's Nathan Morris.
"I was leaving my producer's house, and Nate was driving down the street and calling out to me: 'Yo — what's up?' I look back, and I'm like, 'Wow, this is the guy from Boyz II Men,' " Rochell remembered. "I walk up to the car and he asked, 'What do you do?' I told him I sing and he was like, 'Well, come to my studio later and sing something for me.' I went down there, sang something for him, and it was, 'You've got to let me manage you,' straight off the bat."
Morris used his connections to get Rochell a little face time with former Def Jam CEO L.A. Reid. Rochell was overwhelmed and couldn't believe the speed with which things were happening.
"This is someone that I've always admired in music," she said of Reid. "He's jumpstarted so many careers, from Usher to TLC, Toni Braxton, Ciara, and to be in front of this man, who is a visionary, it was an honor. It took everything within me to make sure that I just sang my heart out, and when I opened my mouth and those notes came out ... after the song was done, he just stopped and looked at me for like two minutes and was like, 'You can sing, you've got it.' I walked out of the building and he calls [Morris] and says, 'We want to do the deal.' And that moment right there just changed my entire life."
Fast forward a few years and Rochell's debut LP, You, Me & the Radio, is set to hit record stores next month. The singer explained that the album is a "diary into a young woman's mind."
"The songs are all experiences that I've gone through or have seen someone else my age go through," she said. "So it's kind of like, it makes so much sense, and it's so relatable. A lot of young girls can relate to the music because it's real life, it's real situations, so it's definitely a diary because I've been through it — some of the weirdest experiences — and each song talks about something different."
Rochell worked with producer Rodney Jerkins (Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears) on the album's first single, "The One You Need," which features guest vocals by Fabolous. Other collaborators on the album included Ne-Yo, the Corner Boyz and the Underdogs. Plus she's fresh off a string of tour dates, including six dates on Chris Brown's most recent trek.
"I couldn't have asked for a better tour, this being my first tour," she said. "And all of the venues sold out. It is a blessing. I'm a new artist, I'm the only female on the tour, so it's like, when I first come out, it's an all-female audience. They're like, 'Who is this girl? We don't know her yet. Where's Chris Brown?' It's so fun working with Chris, and he and I are becoming real familiar with each other. We call each other and say what's up from time to time. He's an amazing artist, and an amazing person."
Even though she's relatively new to the game, Rochell's playing it like a seasoned veteran. She realizes she needs to stay focused on her career, because "a lot of times, artists get caught up thinking that this person and that person is your friend, but at the end of the day, you're in it to do what you have to do, whether it be because you're doing it for your money, or because you're doing it for the love," she said. "For me, it's definitely for the love, because this is something that I've always dreamt about doing since I was a baby.
"If I die tomorrow, I want people to know that Megan Rochell is a singer," she continued. "If anybody says my name, I want them to say, 'Yo, that girl can blow like she was doing her thing,' because dancing and entertaining, and trying to win a crowd over, I want people to know that my vocals were tight and I'm a real person at heart."
What do you think of this story? You Tell Us...
E-Mail this story to a friend