HOLLYWOOD — Ashanti won't have to pretend to have something in common with the girl playing her best friend in the upcoming "Coach Carter." Fellow R&B singer Adrienne Bailon of 3LW has been cast in the role.
Not that her voice had anything to do with landing the part. "This is the first movie I've done that doesn't involve singing or dancing, so it's kinda cool to get that credibility," Bailon, who played a singer in the Disney Channel's "Cheetah Girls" movie, said at the recent "You Got Served" premiere (see "B2K Members Deny Hiring Brandy's Brother To Replace Omarion").
Along with Ashanti, who makes her big-screen debut in the movie (see "Ashanti Lands First Big-Screen Acting Role"), "Coach Carter" stars Samuel L. Jackson as the title character. The film is based on real-life Bay Area high school basketball coach Ken Carter, who favored academics over athletics when he benched his undefeated basketball team for poor classroom performance in 1998.
"Where you thought the school and community would've rallied around the coach for doing such a thing, they didn't," director Brian Robbins ("Varsity Blues," "The Perfect Score") said recently. "It went the opposite, and there was an outcry to see these kids play ball."
Ashanti plays a pregnant teenager dating one of the team's stars. "Although she's so in love with her boyfriend, they're not really ready for a child," Bailon added. "That's something we can all relate to. I know several people who have gone through that. It's definitely a strong message to send out to teen girls — that it's not easy, it's a struggle, and if you choose to make a decision, it's OK."
Bailon is excited to act alongside another musician, but she's even more honored to share the screen with Jackson.
"I walked into hair and makeup the first day and Samuel L. Jackson was sitting there getting his head shaved bald and I was like, 'Oh my God! My parents are gonna freak.' Like, my dad's the biggest Samuel L. Jackson fan," Bailon recalled. "I keep on saying 'Samuel L. Jackson.' It's one of those names you can't say part of. You gotta say the whole thing."
Bailon said her 3LW groupmates, Kiely Williams and Jessica Benson, are also pursuing acting gigs, though their planned "Cheetah Girls" sitcom has been delayed (see "3LW Bringing 'Cheetah Girls' To TV, May Get Real In Atlanta").
"It's because of Raven," Bailon said of "Cheetah Girls" movie co-star Raven-Symone, of "The Cosby Show" fame. "Her sitcom ['That's So Raven'] is doing so well, ABC executives are trying to figure out where they wanna go with the Cheetahs. But it's definitely still in the works. And you'll see much more 'Cheetah Girls' stuff coming up. Maybe even a clothing line."
As for 3LW's music plans, the group recently recorded several tracks with Jermaine Dupri, who will release their third album on his So So Def label (see "3LW Sign To So So Def, Ask 50 Cent To Get 'Gangsta' With Them"). The project, titled Phoenix Rising, is due in August, with the first single scheduled to hit airwaves in June.
The single has yet to be determined, but Bailon knows what her favorite song is so far. "We did this song called 'Things You Never Hear,' a ballad produced by St. Nick, one of Jermaine's producers," Bailon said. "It's basically a song about all the things you never hear a girl say, the things that drive us crazy. It talks about what it's like to be a lady and all the things you need to know to be part of a girl's world."
3LW hope to get another Atlanta native, Ludacris, to contribute to the album but are more than satisfied with how it sounds now.
"JD was just amazing," Bailon said. "It's really cool to see a true musical genius. He's very quiet, really laid-back. And we're so different than that. He thinks we're absolutely crazy. He's like, 'Oh my God, these girls are just all over the place.' But he loves us. He's like, 'You guys are hilarious.' So we talked about the project and he definitely saw a lot of energy around us, and that's what the album's gonna have, a whole lot of energy, a lot of party songs. It's gonna be a fun album you can listen to. It's gonna be for all ages, so we're excited about that, too."