NEW YORK (Billboard) - It’s not every day that the president of a major record label refuses to let an untested artist leave an audition without a contract being signed.
But that’s exactly what happened to up-and-comer Kat DeLuna, whose first single, the infectious booty-shaker “Whine Up,” is currently No. 56 on the Hot 100 after debuting two weeks ago at No. 91.
In this case it was Epic Records’ Charlie Walk who was an instant believer. When the 19-year-old singer/dancer went in to do an audition — an a capella performance of a Whitney Houston song and an original dance — DeLuna says Walk told her, “I know people usually get signed because they have the music, the hits, but we believe in stars, and we have a star here. We’ll make the hits later.”
DeLuna was ready. Singing since she was a toddler, she’d already been working on her big break for years, competing on Spanish television talent shows, performing at sporting events, entering festivals and the like. “I really started to get noticed when I was about six,” she recalls. “My mom was hanging out on the porch outside our apartment and she came in to get a glass of water. She heard what she thought was the radio and said, “Kat, what is that song? I like that.’ But it was me singing.”
Things got more serious when, as a freshman at the New Jersey School of Performing Arts, DeLuna decided to start an R&B/hip-hop-style group with “two other Spanish girls. I had put up posters all over the school, looking for girls to audition, and I finally decided on these two,” she explains. “I realized there were no all-girl Spanish R&B groups around, and I thought this would be perfect.”
But whenever the three would appear at auditions, the feedback was always the same: DeLuna was advised to go solo.
Although she says she “believed in the group and didn’t want to break it up,” she finally made the move with the help of her manager, Tyrone Redmond, who convinced her she would go further on her own.
“When we made the decision, we started brainstorming about what to do next and we started to record a little demo,” says Deluna. “I wanted to have all the things I was into show up in the music. I studied opera in high school and I wanted to capture that. I also wanted to get in my Dominican roots — bachata especially. But also dancehall and pop. All that was in there.”
DeLuna was signed to Epic in November 2006 and hit the studio in January. Her album, called “9 Lives” comes out August 7, and DeLuna says she plans to do a lot of free shows at neighborhood parks, “teaching people how to do the ‘Whine-Up Dance.”‘ She’s also appearing on “Live With Regis and Kelly” on July 9, and will do a concert at Minnesota’s Mall of America the weekend before the album release.
Epic’s VP of marketing, Karim Karmi, says Deluna is a “triple threat. She’s a classically trained opera singer, a dancer, and she’s bilingual. So it will be a multifaceted rollout. A Spanish version of ‘Whine Up’ is being pushed to Spanish radio and we’ll do that with several songs from the album.”
The Bronx, N.Y.-born and Dominican Republic/New Jersey-raised DeLuna says she’s “poised to become the first-ever Dominican crossover artist. And I want to make sure I represent my culture. But this isn’t only a Dominican thing. I want my music to be international — to speak to fans everywhere.”