Portrait of the Young Diva

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The goal when you're a diva-in-training is to be known eventually to the public at large by your first name alone. Surnames are for the little people--you know, people like McCartney and Dylan and whatnot. Divas--Aretha, Mariah, Whitney, Sisqo--have no need of surnames. So up-and-coming R.-and-B. singer Mya (much like one of her contemporaries, Aaliyah) is already a bit ahead of the game. She doesn't use her last name, Harrison, professionally. Yes, she's on her way to divadom.

You meet Mya at Hot 97, an influential New York City radio station, and then you head off with her into a waiting black limousine that pulls into midday traffic. The choice of interview venue--a limo--seems to indicate that Mya is getting this diva thing down, and rather well, thank you. In fact, with the release of her sweetly entertaining new CD, Fear of Flying, Mya's diva training wheels may be ready to come off.

Mya, who was born in Washington but grew up in various towns in Maryland, was just 18 when her first album, Mya, was released. After the modest success of that album, a follow-up single, Ghetto Supastar (on which she performed alongside Pras of the hip-hop group the Fugees), from the sound track to the Warren Beatty movie Bulworth, landed her in near constant rotation on MTV.

Now 20 years old, Mya says she's taken more control over her sound and her image (she co-wrote several of the songs on Fear of Flying). "This album was an opportunity and a test," she says. Mya was assisted by a stellar group of producers, including Swizz Beatz, Wyclef Jean (of the Fugees) and Rodney Jerkins (who worked on Toni Braxton's sultry new CD, The Heat). On her previous album Mya was a lovestruck teen; on her new album she's a woman coming face to face with romantic entanglements. But, let's face it, the lyrics aren't really what matter here. What's important is that many of the tracks on this album manage that rare thing: to combine captivating beats with hummable melodies. This is hip-hop soul with plenty of pop appeal.

In person, Mya is rather shy--she smiles at the floor of the limo a lot and speaks in a voice softer than cotton. So how did such a demure singer come to title her PG-rated album after Erica Jong's sex-charged 1973 novel? The answer is, Mya hadn't read the book until after she came up with her album name. "There are similarities between the album and the book," says Mya, "one being that you should make decisions based on how you feel, not on other things around you." If Mya really wants to continue on her journey of personal and artistic growth, here's a title suggestion for her next CD: Tropic of Capricorn. But one bit of advice: she may want to read it first.