With her composed demeanor, illuminating smile and beauty, and stunning voice, singer LaToya London captivated the country throughout the thrilling third season of the TV talent show, American Idol (2004). Even after coming in fourth place-belting out a bold farewell with the heart-piercingly apropos “Don’t Rain on My Parade” to a teary-eyed audience-LaToya knew that she was a champion at heart. Always had been, always would be.
One listen to the amazing breadth of her Peak Records debut, Love & Life, reveals a remarkably assured new artist who has only begun to show the world what she is made of. Where American Idol introduced millions to a warm and spirited young lady with gospel-hewn vocal power to burn, her first album reveals the flesh and blood woman behind “the voice.”
“I live my life by two mottos,” the emotionally centered LaToya shares: “`Nothing in life is guaranteed’ and `Everything happens for a reason.’ I never set myself up to get let down. When Idol came to an end for me, I was on to the next thing!” Initially, `Plan B’ for LaToya was to record and sell a CD on her own. “I knew at the very least the Bay Area had my back,” the spunky San Franciscan states. However, Peak Records President Andi Howard had something much richer in mind for Ms. London. “LaToya stood out to me the very first time I saw her on Idol,” she says. “Her talent, her style, and her command of the stage set her apart. It was apparent that she had all the makings of a superstar. When she was voted off, I was hopeful that we’d have a shot at bringing her into our family. I am thrilled that it has become a reality.”
Dually delighted about the new partnership, London and Howard began hand-selecting the producers and repertoire that would make her debut album a memorable, hit-laden one. The singer’s future was shrewdly placed into the hands of three highly seasoned professionals-Narada Michael Walden (Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Barbra Streisand, and Diana Ross), Barry J. Eastmond (Nancy Wilson, Aretha Franklin, and Anita Baker), and Rex Rideout (Lalah Hathaway, Angie Stone, and Angela Bofill)-and then rounded out with several hot, up-and-coming R&B producers, including Omar Edwards (Jill Scott, The Roots, and Common) and Bradley Spalter (Babyface & K.C, and JoJo).
Given LaToya’s powerful and stunning vocal talent, the 14-track debut is loaded with love songs, from smooth urban AC groovers like “Every Part of Me” and “More” (the latter of which LaToya co-wrote with Rideout) to the dynamic pop balladry of “Learn to Breathe” and “State of My Heart” (an epic R&B heartbreak ballad co-penned by powerhouses David Foster, Carole Bayer Sager, and Linda Thompson). There’s also a refreshingly mature look at the 50/50 effort required to make a relationship work titled “Meet Me Halfway” and the giddily sweet “Practice Makes Perfect,” co-written by producer Reed Vertelney (who co-wrote Luther Vandross’ “Your Secret Love”) and Robbie Nevill. LaToya also showcases her pristinely jazzy side with the evocative gem “How I Love the Rain” and the dreamy “I Can’t Hide (What’s In My Heart),” an emotional ballad of internal turmoil about a lover who can no longer keep her ardor a secret.
On Love & Life, however, LaToya sets out to prove that she is more than just a master of delivering showstopping ballads. Her explosive first single (created by B-RAD Productions) is the youthful, crossover-bound “Appreciate”-a most welcome song about lifting young men up instead of tearing them down. “I appreciate the role men play in the lives of women,” co-writer LaToya explains, “so I’m giving them props! We have to step back and tell them `Thank you for being who you are and sticking by us.”‘ The track features rap by
Black Thought from The Roots. As appreciative as Ms. London is for her man, she still made sure to include one song for her sisters-in-the-struggle that draws a bull’s-eye on the behinds of men who take a good thing for granted: the hip hop-spiked “None-a-Whatcha-Do (Being),” which she also fearlessly co-wrote.
Love & Life takes a steamy turn with two eyebrow-raising tracks. The first is “Scandalous,” a club groove reminiscent of vintage Tom Tom Club and Toni Braxton’s coquettish vibe that’s all about a lover’s games and foreplay. LaToya opens the song saying, “I’ve got a question for you / Did you like the way it felt last night?” The super spicy “Anything” is a song that will have Janet Jackson bobbing her head in approval. LaToya flew to Philadelphia’s Axis Studios to collaborate with Omar Edwards for this. Over a seductive sound bed dripping in deep bass, jazzy electric piano, and teasing guitar licks, the singer runs down a list of things she will do for her man to make him wildly faithful that is earlobe-scorching.
Altogether, LaToya had a hand in writing five of the tracks on Love & Life, but none was more special than the creation of “Waiting for You,” a reassuring song of inspiration that is very much reflective of her own career endeavors and milestones. The powerful performance builds to a glorious, gospel-tinged finish with guest vocals by sister group, Perri. “I did `Waiting for You’ with Barry Eastmond,” LaToya shares. “All he knew was I wanted us to work together on one song totally from scratch. He was at the piano working out some chords as I was telling him what I wanted to write about. It was amazing how we built this beautiful masterpiece from nothing. When I listen to it, I can’t believe I was a co-writer.” The album comes to a poignant close with a slice of pop history that LaToya has practically rechristened as her own: Eric Carmen’s epic 1975 power-ballad “All by Myself.” “That song got me into the Top 12 on American Idol,” she states, “It’s a beautiful piece that really challenges your vocal range.”
LaToya London was born in San Francisco and raised in Oakland, CA. It was her mother’s roommate who discovered 4-year-old LaToya wailing on Whitney Houston’s “You Give Good Love.” Naturally, her proud mom had her singing in front of anybody who’d sit still long enough. “My first real gig [at 7] was singing `The Greatest Love of All’ at my mom’s wedding reception,” LaToya reveals. “Then she put me in talent shows, friends and family would hire me for events, and I was in all the church choirs. From 9th grade and all through high school, I was also a member of the Oakland Youth Chorus. We sang a cappella, classical, Latin, and African music, which broadened both my ear and my vocal training.” LaToya also sang with the gospel choir at Skyline High School where she also studied dance (jazz, ballet, and hip-hop).
LaToya sensed very early on that singing was a special part of her life. At 12-inspired by her favorite artists Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Anita Baker, and Faith Evans-she began singing professional song demos for up-and-coming producers at Bay Area studios. A year later, she wrote her very first song. “It was about my first boyfriend,” she laughs. Upon graduating high school, LaToya went to live with her father in Richmond, California where she sang more demos and started writing her own songs in earnest. Tragedy struck, however, when her father passed away in October of 2000. Determined to get her career on track, LaToya moved down to Los Angeles to attend Musician’s Institute (MI).
As fate would have it, American Idol tryouts were the same weekend she was moving. She tried out, nailed a beautiful rendition of Regina Belle’s “If I Could,” and made the first round. The rest, as they say, is history. LaToya’s well-documented Idol story took her from initial auditions of thousands to “The Final Four.” It was a lot of fun-including sharing the stage with Elton John, Donna Summer, and Barry Manilow-but a lot of hard work. “We were pretty much in a bubble,” she shares, “being in this competition week after week. We were so busy that we barely talked to our families. It was like boot camp!”
Being on national television for several weeks may have given ardent Idol viewers the feeling that they know who the real LaToya London is, but the lady has news for them. “I’m a lot spunkier than I appeared to be on TV,” she decisively declares. “Yes, it’s true that I have a classy, quieter side that could make you think I’m, like, this `angel.’ What they don’t know is once you kick it with me I’m very down to earth. I’m cool peeps, you know what I’m sayin’? Now with Idol behind her as a serendipitous launching pad for bigger and brighter days ahead, LaToya London is anxious to showcase the versatility and song craft of Love & Life, a CD that no doubt establish her as a bona fide American star.