Miranda Brooke doesn’t want to be considered a singer. “Calling myself a singer limits me,” she says. “I’m a performer. I can sing, I can dance, and I can rap.” It’s true: she has talent that goes well beyond her ability to sing, and referring to her as a performer is technically more accurate. But it’s still not right. It’s far too pedestrian, and even if she never becomes famous, Miranda Brooke’s a star.
When people meet Miranda, they respond. Decisively. Her manager signed her within hours of being introduced. Bu Thiam, SVP of A&R at Def Jam, put Miranda’s label deal in motion the night she auditioned for him. Barry Weiss, Def Jam’s CEO, blessed the deal as soon as he heard Miranda sing. Pharrell Williams and Jermaine Dupri came across Miranda on YouTube, separately, and immediately reached out. Unfortunately, they were reaching out to an imposter. That says it all: Miranda wasn’t any kind of famous, yet she inspired someone to create a fake YouTube page in order to impersonate her.
The YouTube issue’s been sorted out. Miranda’s channel is up and running and packed with proof of her prodigious skill, including a gorgeous version of Mary J’s “Not Gon Cry,” a hilariously precise cover of “They Want Efx” and a chipmunk karaoke rendition of the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow.” Miranda and Pharrell connected, and JD not only got in touch, he’s now working with Miranda, producing tracks for her soon-to-be-released Def Jam debut.
She’s only 19, but when the record is released, it’ll mark the official start of a career that Miranda’s been working towards for 15 years. “I knew I wanted to be a performer the first time I sang in public,” Miranda says. That would have been when she was four, singing at her church in her hometown of Chattanooga.
Back then, Miranda was living a less-than-storybook life. Her biological father took off just after she was born, and her mother, Roma, was on her own. She couldn’t move in with her parents – they were both deaf, and because they’d had limited opportunity, money was tight. There simply wasn’t any room. Roma moved in with friends – people who could watch Miranda overnight -- and while Miranda was asleep, Roma worked third shift gigs, from 11:00 pm to 7:00 am. When Miranda woke up, Roma would be home, and when Miranda went to school, Roma did too. “Being a single mother was tough,” Roma says. “I was always exhausted, and it seemed like no matter how hard I worked, I could barely make ends meet.”
“There were a couple of Salvation Army Christmases,” Miranda remembers. “I got things like socks and underwear for my birthday. But I was grateful!”
Miranda discovered music early. She started mimicking songs on the radio as soon as she started to talk.. She loved hip hop and r&b, particularly TLC, Xscape, Aaliyah, and Missy Elliott, and in elementary school, she and her friends would pretend to be Destiny’s Child. (Miranda, of course, was Beyonce.) She’d perform whenever and wherever she could: in her school choir and at her church, and, once word of her talent got around, at local events.
Miranda was 10 when Darren Thomas first heard about her. He’d had significant success as a promoter, working primarily with rappers, but he was ready to take it up a notch. He was getting ready to launch a management company and record label, and he was looking for the right artist. When he met Miranda, he knew that he’d found who he was looking for. “I was knocked out by her voice,” he says. “But it wasn’t just that she could sing. She was a little kid but she had this huge personality and presence. It was clear to me right away that Miranda had everything it took to be a star.” Roma and Darren had a conversation, and by the next day Miranda was at work in Darren’s studio.
Miranda, Darren and Roma were together pretty much every day from there on in. It wasn’t like Roma had to drag her: Miranda was into it. “I learned when I was really young that in order to succeed I had to work hard,” she says.
“Miranda was born talented,” Darren says. “But she needed to develop. She had an incredible gift -- my job was to teach her how to use it.”
By the end of the first year they’d worked together, Miranda had become a local celebrity. A song she recorded, “He’s My Boyfriend” became a local hit. More importantly, Roma and Darren had fallen in love, and Darren had taken on another role in Miranda’s life. He wasn’t just her manager – he was becaming her Dad.
In 2003 Miranda did the Jackson Five’s “I’ll be Loving You” on “Showtime at the Apollo (Apollo Kids).” Miranda studied the original Jackson Five performance footage, mimicking some of Michael’s moves and adding some of her own. It was the first time she was on television, and it was the first time she entered a competition. Needless to say, she won.
That summer, Darren and Roma made it official. They blended their families and moved to Atlanta. “I was not only in a different state, attending a different middle school, and making new friends, I had a drastic change in my family,” Miranda says. “For ten years, it was just me and my mom. I went from being an only child to being the older sister to six kids. It was a crazy adjustment! But I loved it.”
When they moved to Atlanta, Miranda’s career started to happen for real. Miranda and Darren were surrounded by new opportunities, and they were fierce in taking advantage of them. Darren launched his label, World Affiliated, negotiating a distribution deal with FYE/Transworld. Miranda recorded two singles, “So Fresh” and “Rep Ur School,” and Darren landed her high profile gigs opening for Nivea, Chris Brown, Neyo, TI, and Young Jeezy, among others. And, even though she was playing real shows in front of thousands of people, in the deep heat of the Atlanta summer, Miranda would gather up her friends – who happened to be her dancers – and she’d go perform at Six Flags. Not on the stage, mind you: she’d park near the entrance, crank up her single on the car radio, and do shows in the parking lot.
By the time she was 16, Miranda was a legitimate success. She had a buzz, and all 3 of her World Affiliated singles hit the #1 position on Billboard’s Hip Hop chart. It wasn’t a big surprise when the major labels started showing up.
“I met with Atlantic, Universal, and a few others,” Darren says. “But they were talking about singles deals. I wouldn’t even consider it -- I wasn’t going to sign Miranda to anything less than what she deserved, and I was willing to wait.”
“I was disappointed at first,” Miranda says. “But I trusted my Dad. If he didn’t think it was the right move for me at the time, I knew it probably wasn’t. I didn’t dwell on it. I just kept pushing.”
Miranda had just finished high school, and as much as they believed in her as a performer, Darren and Roma were adamant that she continue her education. “I enjoyed being a student – I always have – but I hadn’t thought about college. I had no idea what I wanted to study,” she says. “I enrolled at Georgia State, but I was basically just taking the core classes. I’d always planned on pursuing music. I didn’t have a plan B.”
She started at Georgia State in the fall of 2010. Ironically, that’s exactly when Bu Thiam first heard about her. It’s also where he ended up tracking her down. He showed up on campus one morning, and he’d tracked her down by mid-day. Miranda’s college career lasted less than a semester.
Miranda’s back to music, full time, surrounded by producers and songwriters who could together take credit for the last twenty years of r&b, pop, and hip hop hits. There’s JD (Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, Xscape, Mariah, Janet Jackson), Sean Garrett (Usher, Beyonce, Fergie, Gwen Stefani), Hit-Boy (Sham (Rihanna, Kanye, Jay Z), Bryan Michael Cox, amongst others. Bu’s been around (he’s worked with Akon and X) and – of course - Darren’s been there every step of the way.
A lesser artist might have been intimidated, but Miranda was good to go. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the studio, so it wasn’t like I had to learn my way around,” Miranda says. “My dad was near me for support, and the producers and songwriters I’ve been working with believe in me and understand my vision.”
The album’s first single, “Hater,” was produced by Sham (Sak Pase), who Miranda’s been working with for nearly a year. “Hater” was a bold choice. “It’s a song about ugly feelings,” she says. “It’s about jealousy, insecurity, and weakness, but it’s honest.” It’s a song that people will relate to, and that’s important to Miranda. “I want my music to be about things that people my age go through,” Miranda says. “I want it to be real.”