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Of Love and Natalise 

She dreams of being the next Janet Jackson, but she's just a Stanford grad who sings syrupy pop, looks absolutely fab, and makes local teens swoon.

Which, come to think of it, may be enough, for everyone involved.

Wednesday, Jul 9 2003

Page 4 of 4

White Menace: No! No!

Elvis: You know, she's one of those people who is better looking in person. Just like me.

Natalise doesn't hear about the conversation until a friend tells her later, but she isn't disturbed. "That's just what they do," she says. "I just kind of expect it." On the 888 Records Web site shortly afterward, a picture pops up of her posing with the crew, everybody smiling politely.

Natalise clearly relishes her small degree of fame. She recounts stories of being tracked down in her dance class by high school students, of random people who found out her instant-messaging screen name and started sending her messages, and of the admirer who offered to be president of her fan club.

Though she claims to desire international fame on the level of Janet Jackson or Brian McKnight, she almost seems satisfied as a Bay Area semi-star. She never talks about the exotic animals she wants to get rich enough to buy, or the jet setters she wants to hobnob with. In these days of a million and one reality shows, it may seem like a silly question, but why does she want to be famous? Her Stanford degree has made her marketable, after all, and shouldn't someone of her intellect have better things to do than be stalked by fans and lusted over on raunchy morning shows?

"I would say it's the validation that you know you've succeeded in making your music. You know that it's appreciated by other people than your mom and your friends, that you've actually touched a large number of people.

"I feel like I've been fortunate in my life. My parents have worked hard, so I don't have to worry about money. It's not my only motivation to get rich, to me it's more about succeeding at what I'm doing."

Could it be possible, then, that she's already achieved her dream? She performs about three shows a week, and is already a household name in some school lunchrooms. At her gym, people are constantly recognizing her and coming up to chat, and she has even hooked up with a guy who approximates her degree of local celebrity. Chris Labrum co-hosts the "Daily Mixx," a five-minute news and entertainment update that runs twice daily on WB stations here and in Detroit. An aspiring actor, he is short and good-looking, with his curly blond hair sometimes hidden by a pulled-down knit beanie. Though nearly everyone else says otherwise, Natalise refuses publicly to say he is her boyfriend. And it's sometimes obvious why, such as when he rattled off this digression as MC of one of her concerts:

"Wanna let you know about a Web site called"

The crowd cheers.

"Anybody dig chicks out there?"

Yes! they scream.

"Any of you chicks dig chicks out there?"

Confused yells.

"I dig chicks which dig chicks ... which dig chicks ... which dig chicks," he says, his voice fading.

Does Natalise like this kind of thing? Maybe she digs cheesy guys with low IQs, I theorize, and maybe that explains what she's really like, deep down at her core.

Then I find out that Chris went to Stanford, too.

"Infusion," a benefit to help offset budget cuts in George Washington High School's arts programs, is to be one of Natalise's biggest headlining concerts; tickets are $10 for students, $15 for general admission, and the auditorium holds 1,200. Tani T. and Natalise's friends have been promoting it for weeks. I've noticed posters on bus stops in the Richmond and in bubble teashops in the Sunset. But now, just 15 minutes before the show begins, Tani T. is nervous. "It's still pretty mellow out there," he says of the crowd. "Lowell and Wallenberg have proms tonight."

The opening act is the school's show choir, which perform songs from Little Shop of Horrors. Next is a sort of hip hop/B-girl group whose members wear school colors and bounce onstage in skimpy outfits to abbreviated versions of popular jams. Only 400 or 500 people have come out, but the group seems more hyperactive than the sum of its parts. Much of the predominantly Asian-American crowd stands, cheering and dancing. It may be because I'm no longer in high school, but I'm at a loss to understand why everyone's so pumped.

But by the time the peppy beats of "Wonderful" come on, I understand. The crowd is full of wannabe Natalises. The girls want pink, glossy tickets issued for their benefit concerts with their pictures in silhouette, hands thrown ecstatically over their heads. They want homemade, graffiti-style signs draped over the stage bearing their names. They want Natalise's calculatingly ripped white T-shirt, bangle bracelets, and green eye makeup. They want her backup dancers, Charity and Stacy.

The boys want to be the one picked to come onstage to have Natalise perform a romantic song to him. Although others will try to ruin it by chanting "Lap dance, lap dance!" and "Give her a twenty!" the chosen boy will blush amber-red when Natalise gives him a kiss on the cheek at the end of the song.

"She's an inspiration to all the young teenagers out there. She tells about life and love, and that's what people go through every day," says Aspacia Tripousis, 15. "She, just, influences my life every day."

Natalise will stay late after the concert, giving out hugs and autographs, showing that their love for her is returned. The more love-rays the kids shoot out, in fact, the darker her golden-brown glow seems to become. How could I ever have thought her manipulative? I wonder. An audience full of young fans with their hearts on their sleeves is all she needs. She may never have her picture taped up in the locker of a junior high boy in, say, Lincoln, Nebraska, but as long as she's got a room full of believers right here to perform for, she will shine on, and on, and on.

About The Author

Ben Westhoff


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