Dondria Nicole Fields never had to send a demo tape to an A&R. She never stood in line to audition for “American Idol,” nor has she ever joined a girl group to get her foot in the door. Nope. Dondria, So So Def’s newest R&B singer with a stunning voice, got her big break in the music biz with the help of a $15 webcam and YouTube, the popular video-sharing website. But if you ask her, all of this – her online discovery, record deal and newfound music career – happened simply by accident.
“Before 2006, I had never heard of YouTube,” says the Texas native, who was introduced to the site by a friend. “I went up there to watch a fight that had happened at my school. I didn’t know people were singing on it.”
On a whim, Dondria bought a webcam and decided to upload a singing video of her own. Her choice: an a cappella version of Musiq Soulchild’s “Love.” Within two weeks, the video earned over 1,000 views and garnered tons of encouragement from visitors. Inspired, Dondria began searching for instrumentals that she could videotape herself singing along to. At the request of her rapidly growing online fan base, she posted various clips of herself covering songs from “Diary” by Alicia Keys to Rihanna’s “Unfaithful.”
However, it was her stirring rendition of Ciara’s “Promise” – which received over a million views – that took the budding singer from homebound diva to a complete Internet sensation.
“I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I really have something here,’” remembers Dondria of the overwhelming response to the video. “I didn’t get on YouTube to get a record deal. I was just having fun. But when I saw the feedback I was getting, I realized that a lot of people really liked my voice.”
One of those people happened to be So So Def CEO Jermaine Dupri, who tried for several weeks to connect with Dondria on both YouTube and MySpace. Thinking Dupri’s messages were from an impostor, Dondria initially ignored them. “I would get emails all the time from people claiming to be this or that. Most of the time, when I’d blow them off, they’d never hit back. But Jermaine persisted, so I called him up one day and the rest is history.”
Dupri flew the singer and her mom to Atlanta for what Dondria thought was a session with Jagged Edge to make a YouTube video. However, Dupri surprised the young artist by offering her a contract.
"JD was so extra cool,” she recalls. “He just walked over to me, and asked if I was ready. My answer was, ‘I was born ready.’" Officially signing with So So Def in 2007, Dondria, then 20 years old, had a record deal.
And to think, merely a year prior, the Southern songbird was just another small town girl from Sachse, Texas who got her start in music at the age of four by singing in church. “My entire family sang, but I didn’t get passionate about singing until middle school when my choir teacher suggested I take voice lessons.” Dondria took voice lessons, competed in talent shows and over the years studied the likes of Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and Etta James. She even spent a year at Tarleton State University as a music education major.
All of these experiences prepared Dondria for her long-awaited debut album Dondria vs. Phatfffat. Channeling her natural talent and years of training, Dondria pours her heart and soul into her first single, “You’re the One.” Written and produced by Dupri and veteran songwriter/producer Bryan Michael Cox, “You’re the One” is a timeless throwback to classic R&B and the perfect track to showcase Dondria’s range and vocal maturity.
"Dondria is like a young Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey or Alicia Keys," says Dupri. "There is nothing that the girl can't sing."
Longtime Dupri collaborator and singer/songwriter Johnta Austin also sings her praises. "Dondria has a soulfulness that is just crazy," says Austin, who recorded a duet with Dondria entitled “Crazy About Your Love.” “There hasn't been a voice like hers since SWV. When we were working together, I was impressed by how natural she was.”
Due out in Spring 2010, Dondria vs Phatfffat – (“Phatfffat” is a nickname she picked up in college as a contrast between her skinny physique and ravenous appetite for food) – features a diverse mix of soulful ballads, real R&B and straight up dance records.
“I’m so in love with this album,” Dondria gushes. “You can play it from start to finish without stopping. I can’t wait for my fans to finally hear it.”
Still, you don’t have to wait for the release of Dondria vs. Phatfffat to hear the chanteuse in action. She updates a number of online pages daily with content – from a cappellas to covers to silly behind-the-scenes moments – and really leverages the power of the Internet to maintain her relevance and grow her million-plus fan base.
Subsequently, Dondria’s keen understanding of social networking coupled with her raw talent and charisma set her apart in the music industry and is a sure sign that this rising star will be around for a long time.
“As an artist, you need to utilize every aspect of putting yourself out there,” says Dondria. “YouTube made it so easy. It allowed me to show the world the ‘real me’ – my real voice, pitch and presence. Now, with So So Def, I have the opportunity to become a real R&B artist and live a dream. And I’m loving every minute of it.”
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Dondria vs. Phatfffat
CD - 9.95