Enchanette James felt so intimidated when she went to audition for Detroit producer-songwriter Michael J. Powell four years ago that she was literally shaking. After all, who was she compared to all the great singers Powell had produced, Anita Baker, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, and Regina Belle among them?
Enchanette, who uses only her first name professionally, didn't even pass the audition. It wasn't that Powell wasn't impressed, but that the members of the vocal group she hoped to join decided to hire a friend instead. The group proved short-lived, however, and Powell called her several months later about joining another he was putting together. Without requiring a second audition, he placed her in City Girls and recorded them singing a hip-hop-spiced song titled "Let's Ride," which he issued in 1996 on the D-Town Records compilation D-Town Party Jams.
City Girls didn't stick together long, either. "I was kind of getting fed up with this girl-group thing," Powell recalls. "They were young and very fickle and not really taking it very seriously, but Enchanette seemed to be the most serious of the girls about her career." Powell, who signed Enchanette as a solo artist, immediately put her at ease in the studio. "He's real down to earth, and he made me feel comfortable with my talent and what I could do," she says. "He didn't compare me to Anita Baker or Aretha Franklin or all these other people he's worked with. I didn't feel like I had to compete with anyone. Some producers are like, 'You're gonna sing it like this because I wrote it and produced it. You're gonna do it my way or no way.' Working with Michael Powell is more of a collaboration of ideas. He allows me to use my creativity. He's very patient. Many a night I was in the studio till three o'clock in the morning and had to get up the next day at six to go to work, but I knew that if he was willing to give me his time, energy, and resources, then I owed him that much to give everything that I have."
Can You Feel Me? on Volt Records is the striking result of the talented singer's collaboration with Powell, whose past productions have accounted for over 25 million in record sales. From the hip-hop flavors of such selections as "I Like the Way (You Make Me Feel)" (the album's first single), "U Said," and a remake of City Girls' "Let's Ride" to the soul-searing ballads "Waitin'," "Don't Tell Me It's Over," and the title track, Enchanette and Powell create a distinctive mix of classic and contemporary R&B ingredients. Save for Enchanette's deeply soulful treatment of Carole King's "It's Too Late," Powell had a hand in writing all of the songs. Enchanette, who Powell says is "real quick with lyrics," collaborated with him in composing "Somethin' 'Bout Cha" and "I Want You," the disc's two opening tracks.
"She's like a hip-hop soul," Powell says. "She's got the new thing, but there's like an old-soul kind of thing going on too. It's not real teenybopper. The stuff she's singing about has a lot of depth to it lyrically. She's a real soulful singer. She'll do things with her voice that you might hear somebody like Aretha do—a little growl and stuff like that—which you don't hear the young singers doing. She brings a little of the old school to the new school. It's a perfect marriage."
"What I'm trying to do," the producer adds, "is have the hip-hop stuff on the bottom in the bass and the drums, but on top make it musical so that the songs have some kind of longevity. You don't want it to sound like everything else on the radio. It needs to stand alone by itself and still be good—not just this year, but next year also.
"By the time Enchanette was born, in Detroit on April 9, 1978, Motown Records had long since pulled up stakes and moved to Southern California. When she was eight, her mother took her to the Motown Museum. "We rode the bus down there and we stayed for seven hours--all day," the singer remembers. "It was so amazing to me, because I didn't know at the time that so many people had come from the area. The history lives here."
Enchanette grew up singing at Detroit's New Hope Tabernacle, where she still does occasional duets with her mother, and in her elementary school choir. In 1996, she was a member of the first graduating class of the city's innovative High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, where she studied vocal music, dance, and drama. "It was just like the TV show Fame," she says. "People were dancing and singing up and down the hallways."
The singer is a graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy, where she majored in English and communications and pursued certification to be an elementary school teacher. "I've always been good in English, and since I'm a songwriter, it helps me write better," she says. "I decided to make it a double major and take communications. Music is a form of communication, so as I get deeper into communications, I transfer that into my music."
Music remains Enchanette's primary passion. Can You Feel Me? serves as a stunning showcase for her soaring soprano voice, her views on romantic relationships, and her philosophy of life: "Don't let anyone stop you from being you."
Vocally and visually, Enchanette is a class act, and with Can You Feel Me?, hitmaker Michael J. Powell and Volt Records have given her the opportunity to prove it.