It’s no secret that Texas is a hotbed for musical talent, home to the likes of Buddy Holly, Willie Nelson, and ZZ Top. But while these names stand synonymous with Texas, the Longhorn-laden roots of many young MTV and VH1 starlets are often overlooked. Their songs may not be as quintessentially Texan as Willie’s rendition of “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” but these fresh female faces know how to send a hit to the top of the charts just as well as any of the good ol’ boys—and they know how to do it in heels.
Beyoncé Giselle Knowles was born in Houston in the fall of 1981, the eldest child of Mathew and Tina Knowles. Early on Mathew (then a corporate salesman) and Tina (then a beautician and makeup rep) noticed how shy their daughter was, so they placed her in dance classes hoping to help her make friends. When the instructor heard Beyoncé’s voice, she asked the Knowles’ permission to enter their daughter in a school talent show. Making her Texas debut, Beyoncé charmed the audience, won the contest, and went on to win a citywide Sammy Davis Jr. award with a convincing performance of “Home,” from the musical The Wiz.
This was the first of many Houston stages Beyoncé would grace, as a member of Girls Tyme and later as part of the group Destiny’s Child. Both of Beyoncé’s parents devoted themselves to her career. By 1995, Mathew had left his job selling medical equipment to be her manager. Tina compensated by working extra hours at her salon, Headliners, which at the time was one of the largest in Houston.
In 1997 the Knowles’ devotion paid off—Destiny’s Child got an audition with Columbia A&R in New York and got a deal. Since then, Destiny’s Child has been immensely successful, selling 33 million albums worldwide by 2002. Beyoncé went on to release her debut solo album, Dangerously in Love, in June 2003 and has now gained status as an internationally recognized star.
Although she looks quite at home in her oh-so-familiar mansion, Jessica Ann Simpson was born worlds away from Los Angeles and all of its trappings. The Newlyweds star was actually born in Dallas on July 10, 1980, and from an early age, she exercised her vocal chops around the Christian community in the Dallas suburb of Richardson, where her father was a youth minister. Ready to expand her horizons, Simpson went to Orlando when she was twelve to try out for the Mickey Mouse Club. But the final audition went poorly, and Simpson returned to Texas—and to singing (after a little coaxing from her father).
Things began to look up for Simpson when at the age of fourteen she attended a church camp in Dallas and impressed gospel music producer Buster Soaries with a rendition of “Amazing Grace.” The performance led to a contract with Soaries’ new label, Proclaim Records. While working on the record, Simpson attended Pearce High School in Richardson, where she was elected homecoming queen two years in a row and starred in a school production of A Chorus Line.
When Proclaim Records folded in 1996, Simpson’s grandmother paid $10,000 to press, mix, and release Simpson’s album. A Columbia Records A&R rep in Dallas heard the demo and accompanied Simpson to New York to meet Tommy Mottola, the head of Sony Music. Mottola was sold. Simpson signed a contract, dropped out of high school, and along with the rest of her family, moved to Los Angeles to work on her Columbia debut.
Although the move took Simpson away from Texas, her connection with the state remained. When Simpson married Nick Lachey, in 2002, the wedding was not in the Hollywood Hills, but rather in the Hill Country at Austin’s Riverbend Church.
Before she was an American idol, Kelly Clarkson was an everyday citizen of Burleson. But unlike many of her fellow female superstars, Clarkson didn’t test drive her vocal chords until relatively late in the game. When she was in seventh grade a teacher overheard Clarkson singing in the halls of Pauline Hughes Middle School and asked her to join the choir.
Performing came naturally to Clarkson (yes, growing up she did spend a lot of time belting out tunes at home), and soon she was singing in state and regional competitions while moving from job to job, working at a pharmacy, a movie theater, and even a zoo. Like many aspiring starlets, Clarkson set out for Los Angeles after graduating from high school, but she found little to no success. A few days after her apartment burned down, she decided to head back to Texas, driving nonstop for 24 hours.
Clarkson’s big break came shortly after she arrived home. The mother of one of her friend’s suggested she try out for the reality-television show American Idol. Clarkson charmed audiences in living rooms across the nation, winning the hearts and minds of judges and the top prize in the 2002 competition. Since her Idol win, Clarkson has managed to demonstrate the staying power of her celebrity. Her debut album, Thankful, featured hits such as “Miss Independent” and “Beautiful Disaster,” and her latest release, Breakaway, has been all over the airwaves with both the title track and “Since U Been Gone.” Surely her Texas fans are thrilled about her upcoming performances in Houston (May 9) and Grand Prairie (May 10).
A true Southerner, LeAnn Rimes was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and was raised in the Dallas suburb of Garland. From the beginning Rimes was the epitome of a child star: She was able to sing on pitch at a mere eighteen months, and she performed in front of a live audience at the age of five, singing “Getting to Know You” at a talent show in Mississippi. Looking for greater musical opportunities in Texas, the family moved to the Dallas area when Rimes was six. The following year Rimes was performing at weekend Opry shows and handing out CDs in Mesquite, Garland, Greenville, and Grapevine.
By 1995, after disc jockey Bill Mack took Rimes under his wing, she had become somewhat of a local favorite. Mack encouraged her to record a song that he had written titled “Blue,” which would propel her into stardom. In 1996 Rimes signed with Curb Records and released her debut album by the same name. “Blue” garnered the teen queen a whopping five Billboard music awards, some Academy of Country Music awards, and a Grammy for the best new artist of the year. Rimes had made her mark on the music industry at the ripe age of thirteen.
Rimes has released a barrage of albums, including Unchained Melody: The Early Years (1997), You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs (1997), Sittin’ on Top of the World (1998), and I Need You (2001). Her two most recent releases demonstrate the push and pull of Texas’s influence on the performer. Twisted Angel (2002) is undeniably poppy, but the country sound of This Woman (2005) represents a sort of homecoming for Rimes.
Ashlee Simpson seems to have been born under a lucky star—her sister, Jessica. In actuality she was born in Waco on October 3, 1984, and raised in Dallas. Simpson went to Prairie Creek Elementary School and discovered a passion for dance at an early age, spending much of her time studying ballet and modern. At eleven she became the youngest student admitted to the summer program at the School of American Ballet, the official ballet school of the New York City Ballet.
Simpson’s time in Texas was cut short by her sister’s burgeoning career. When she was fourteen Simpson moved with her sister and parents to Los Angeles, where she pursued acting, dancing, and music. Now, with her own MTV reality show and an album, Simpson is well on her way to stepping out of the shadows and following Jessica’s footsteps toward fame and fortune. She will be back in Texas for a few concert dates: Houston (April 17), Austin (April 19), and Grand Prairie (April 20).