King for a day

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Kelly King’s debut album is called “Live The Dream,” and the pop singer, hailing from Bedford-Stuyvesant via Nashville, seems to be doing just that.

Her single, “I Don’t Wanna Sing That Song,” is rising up the Adult Contemporary charts, and she has plans to begin touring in 2008 with an as-yet-unnamed “major” headliner. But like Whitney Houston and Beyonce, King’s path to the pop charts began closer to candlelight than the spotlight.

“I started singing because my mother was a singer in her church choir and every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday we were there,” said King in an exclusive interview with GO Brooklyn at the Roebling Tea Room. “From the time I could run around on my own two feet, I was always at the church and [my mother] was always singing.”

It wasn’t long before King herself took the mic. Before she was 3 years old, King was leading her mother’s choir in a rendition of “Silent Night,” and at age 6, she began performing professionally.

“I’ve been in bars and clubs as long as I can remember. My parents are very into music and the scene in Nashville is incredible,” said King, who counts Elvis Presley and Celine Dion among her influences. But unlike other showbiz kids who never left the club scene, King is all business when she’s at a venue.

“I’ve never had a drink, done drugs or smoked,” said King, who’s in her early 20s. “Maybe it’s because I was in the bar scene from such a young age that I never wanted to be like that.”

Even as her career in Nashville blossomed, working on Christian children’s records like “Kids Sing the Gospels,” King was sure that her hometown was a launching pad and not the final destination.

“I always wanted to be in New York, even from a very young age,” she said. “I had a dance space at home and had a fake Broadway street sign [hanging on the wall] — I was always Broadway bound.”

But while her talent was growing, King herself had stopped. At only 5-foot-2, finding work as a dancer would be a tall order.

“I realized my dream of being a Rockette was not coming true,” she said, “and that’s when I turned all of my energy towards singing.”

“I tried in Nashville, and they just didn’t get it. It’s mainly because I’m not country or contemporary Christian. I was told that I would have to go to New York or Los Angeles. I visited both places and hated the vibe in L.A. I visited New York and knew it was for me.”

Like most artists who take a chance on fame in New York, King had to start at the bottom. And while Madonna was a coat check girl at the Russian Tea Room in the 1980s, King managed to avoid the restaurant route and score a rather impressive first job on her first try.

“I was offered a contract to perform on a cruise ship that ported out of New York City each week. I figured that I would be on a ship for six months, and that 3,000 people were on each week, so there had to be a chance that someone in the music industry would take the cruise. I was the lead singer on the ship, so I knew that I would get a lot of attention,” recalled King. “I took the contract, and sure enough, in that six-month period of time, there was one person of significance in the music industry. And he’s my manager to this day.”

Since docking for good three years ago, King has made a home for herself in Brooklyn — and not singing on a boat cruising down the Gowanus. She’s settled, along with her two dogs, Storm and Cesar, in a house in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and she couldn’t be happier.

“The music history in my neighborhood is unreal,” said King. “Jay-Z and Lil’ Kim are from there. The culture and vibe really drive my energy. The music that goes on in the streets makes it very artistic and beautiful, and I’m proud to be a part of it. Even if I got all the money in the world, I wouldn’t move to Manhattan.”

With “I Don’t Wanna Sing That Song” hitting 23 on the charts, it’s now the biggest Adult Contemporary single from an independent release ever, King said.

But she still has a long road ahead of her. In addition to touring early next year — King will be opening for a big name, but couldn’t say who just yet — and making the rounds of Manhattan’s gay bar karaoke nights (“You’ve heard of Bathhouse Bette [Midler]? They call me Karaoke Kelly!”) to earn prize money, King is dealing with the day-to-day struggles of a rising, if not yet profitable, star.

“I live for being on stage and singing,” she said. “The amazing thing is that I’m the most successful I’ve ever been, and I’m also the poorest.”

Before long, we bet King will be royally flush.

The algo-rhythm

Kelly King might have the MTV-friendly look of your everyday pop tart, but she’s got a voice that growls and purrs like an old school blues belter. We know she’s got a soft spot for karaoke and wouldn’t be surprised if these ladies were some of her favorites. Listening to “Live the Dream” reminded us of all three.

King has the range and glass-shattering vocal ability of Mariah Carey, and as of now, she has none of the crazy. Add Mariah’s operatic talents to…

The dance beats of Aussie superstar Kylie Minogue’s hit record “Fever.” We just can’t get her out of our head, especially if you throw in a pinch of. …

Good old country music. King’s “I’m a Fool” could be Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight” for a new generation. Add ’em together, and you’ll get. …

Good old country music. King’s “I’m a Fool” could be Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight” for a new generation. Add ’em together, and you’ll get. …

Kelly King’s “Live the Dream.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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