Tarralyn Ramsey Biography
“I’ve always been the kind of girl who likes to sit in her room and read and write and listen to my CDs, and stand in front of the mirror with the hairbrush and practice singing my songs – and actually make believe, I guess, that I’m onstage in front of thousands of people singing.”
What are pop music dreams made of? For 22-year old Tarralyn Ramsey – the first artist signed to Tommy Mottola’s Casablanca/Universal Records label, her first prize for winning this year’s VH1 “Born To Diva” competition – dreams are the stuff of everyday life: Love, faith, understanding, getting along in the world on your own. Tarralyn’s independent spirit arrives at a time when the world is reaching out for honesty and signs of soulful sincerity. Ironically, the women who’ve been singled out as today’s pop music divas, from Mahalia and Aretha and Whitney, to Mariah and Celine – all of whom count among Tarralyn’s influences –earned their titles because of the deep and lasting personal bonds they established with their audiences, in contrast to the distant celebrity of the original divas more than a century ago.
This element of soul – as sung by a young woman who has been there and back, and is no stranger to heartbreak and joy, disappointment and deliverance – is found in bountiful richness on Tarralyn’s self-titled debut album for the new label. “Going Crazy” and “Dolo,” each ripping apart the thin façade of romantic infatuation and phony one-way friendships, are songs that were handcrafted for her by producer-songwriter Cory Rooney. His track record with Jennifer Lopez, Amerie, Destiny’s Child, Marc Anthony, Jessica Simpson and so many others (as well as being one of the creators and executive producers of “Born To Diva”) makes Rooney one of the most observant talent scouts in the industry.
“She’s got the type of voice that seriously personalizes everything she sings,” Rooney says. “It’s really hard for her to sing anything about another character, or being someone other than her own character. She’s just got one of those voices, a lot like Whitney Houston actually, who sang songs that you could always just relate to.” Tarralyn’s ability to connect on what Rooney describes as a “gut-wrenching” ballad like “Made For You,” or the showstopping love song entitled “Remedy,” marks the arrival of an artist in a class reserved for, well, a born diva.
Nowhere is the force of Tarralyn’s commitment to her life’s dream put forth with stronger emotion than on the album’s first single (and opening track), “Up Against All Odds,” the song that swept the final VH1 competition and won America’s votes. “Oh, dreams come, dreams go,” she sings, “only if you don’t believe/ if we ever stop to think that we could come so far, through it all we will go on.” Blessed with a voice that projects her beguiling optimism, Tarralyn soars into the chorus:
“Up against all odds, we were standing up against all odds
Trusting and believing in the miracles of love
Even if it seems to be so hard to reach for the dream that is so far
Never lose your faith in love when you’re up against all odds.”
It comes as no surprise to learn that Tarralyn, like many of the singers she emulates, developed her gift through the tug of war exerted by the church and secular (that is, pop) music. Born in the Atlantic coastal town of Melbourne in central Florida, she sang her first solo at age three, on “You Don’t Know Me Yet,” at the Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in neighboring Palm Bay. Her mother (a schoolteacher) and father (in the construction trade) encouraged their daughter, and teachers at school could recognize her vocalizing as she walked through the halls. There are tapes of her singing “God Bless America” over the p.a. system during morning announcements in elementary school.
She’ll tell you that Whitney was the first album she owned, and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” was the first song that obsessed her as a 6-year old. At the same time, Tarralyn’s grandmother, a preacher herself, drew the child’s attention to Clara Ward, Mahalia Jackson, and Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace album, with “Never Grow Old” and the medley of “Precious Lord/You’ve Got a Friend.” An underage Tarralyn was allowed to audition for a community choir, Youth United For Christ, and gained exposure as the group’s youngest soloist, as they traveled far and wide opening for the biggest gospel acts.
In 1990, Mariah sang “Love takes time to heal,” and Tarralyn tried out the song at the next school talent show. When Whitney sang the National Anthem at the Superbowl in 1991, Tarralyn was on it the next morning in school. Soon she was the first call singer at ball games, pep rallies, weddings and funerals. By the time she was in junior high, “I knew for sure that music was what I wanted to do.”
Gradually pulling away from the community choir, Tarralyn’s career took shape at gospel shows, jazz festivals, package tours and concerts across the country. Opening gigs for the teenager ranged from Ray Charles, Yolanda Adams, and Kirk Franklin, to John P. Kee and the New Life Community Choir, Fred Hammond and others. Tarralyn withdrew from formal high school and entered an adult education program in which she earned an accelerated degree. (A straight-A student, she has not given up the idea of studying to become an entertainment attorney or a doctor, an ob-gyn in particular!) When Tarralyn turned 18, she moved north to Jacksonville as her first tracks, including “O Holy Night” and “I Believe In Miracles,” began to appear on various multi-artist Christmas compilations.
Some of Tarralyn’s recorded tracks were featured on the best-selling collections WOW Gospel 2000 (“Unconditional Love”) and WOW Gospel 2001 (“Tell It”). But Tarralyn was ready to move on to secular pastures, a decision that met with resistance from everyone around her. Nevertheless, she slowly became liberated. A fast break came when she hooked into a gig as a singer with Magic Johnson artist Avant, opening on tour with Mary J. Blige. Tarralyn was on the bus alright – criss-crossing the country, making money and connections, meeting the industry’s top players – but the big reward was eluding her.
It was early 2003 when Tarralyn first noticed the VH1 television spots announcing auditions for the “Born To Diva” competition and joked to her godmother, “They need me singing up there!” By sheer fate, the week after the auditions in Miami, Tarralyn happened to check the Internet one day and discovered the next auditions were to be held in Atlanta at 8 a.m. the very next morning. She was determined to go.
Borrowing $100 from her father, and corralling her best friend to accompany her, Tarralyn took the wheel of her brand new Eclipse in the middle of the night and sped off from Jacksonville. She made the trip in record time, pulling off on Peachtree at 6:30 a.m., only to see 1,000 girls already on line. Forced to change her clothes quickly in the freezing parking lot, Tarralyn must’ve had a guardian angel. Acing out the rounds of callbacks required to reach the final televised competition in Atlanta was only partly hinted-at in the “Born To Diva” episodes.
From Atlanta, contestants were taken to Diva Boot Camp at the W Court Hotel in New York City, in preparation for the next competition broadcast. Finalists were all recorded by Cory Rooney at the Hit Factory, where Tarralyn first met Tommy Mottola. Las Vegas was the site for the final competition, where America got the chance to vote – and Tarralyn’s rendition of “Up Against All Odds” carried the night.
“Truly true,” says Tarralyn, “truly true. I am up against all odds.” Well aware of what lies ahead, she accepts the ultimate challenge – transcending categories of Gospel, R&B, or pop, and being recognized for her own unique artistry. With that in mind, “10,000 Thank You’s” is a song “from my heart to God,” she says, “to let him know that I’m really thankful and appreciative for all the doors that he’s opened for me, the things that he’s seen me through, and the things that he’s going to do with my life. I wanted to tell him thank you.”
The song was co-written by Tarralyn and two music writers from Rooney’s crew, a production team known as Dynamic Duo. “This is her way of saying thank you for putting me in this situation,” reiterates the producer, echoing Tarralyn’s thoughts. “ ‘Basically I’m not going to let you down. I’m going to stick to my promise I’m not gonna go against that.’ I think the future’s in her hands. There’s a million great talents that come and go, but so long as she takes it all in and filters it the right way – then there is no limit to what she’s going to do with her career. If I had to bet on it I think she’s just gonna go down in history as one of the great voices like Aretha and Whitney. But it’s all in her hands, its all what she makes of it at this point. Because she’s definitely got the opportunity.”