Too often, the public witnesses celebrities in one field attempt to double-up and make it big in another career, with somewhat limited success. Recall, for example, Michael Jordan’s stint with the White Sox or Shaq’s acting career. When the reknowned actress Tatyana Ali released an album a full two years after her only claim to fame (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) ended, with only a series of small movie parts and sitcom guest spots in between, many people doubtlessly pronounced a similar, not so optimistic fate.
Tatyana Ali’s debut single, “Daydreamin'”, however, has been a resounding success, and if it is any indication of the potential of her career, she is likely to be as successful in having dual careers as the similarly positioned Brandy Norwood or her mentor Will Smith. The single was certified Gold within weeks of its release and quickly shot up into the Billboard Hot 100 Singles, where it peaked at number six for two weeks. Her album has received positive reviews and it is likely to experience more upward chart movement as more singles are released (many of her die-hard fans believe that “Daydreamin'” is one of the weaker songs on the album).
Ali, who was born January 24, 1979 in Brooklyn to Sonia (a nurse from Panama) and Sheriff Ali (a retired New York police detective of Trinidad East Indian descent), grew up in Long Island and starting singing when she was four years old. Ali even appeared on Star Search twice when she has seven years old, winning both times, and receiving the full four stars the second.
Ali’s talent received much more wide spread recognition as a result of playing Ashley Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She sang on several episodes, the most important two being her renditiion of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and the performance of an original song, “Make up Your Mind”. Her vocal mastery was so impressive that she was approached by co-star Will Smith who asked, “Have you ever thought about doing this for real?”.
During the last season of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Ali began preparing for her music career. She began vocal training, recorded demos, and performed publically on television and live in various informal concerts. Meanwhile, the folks who had heard Ashley sing “Make up Your Mind” were clamoring for more. Says Ali, “Fans in the street would say, `Girl, I heard you had an album coming out…when’s it coming out?'”
One of the things which is so impressive about Ali is that she has quite literally never received a big break. It’s as if her entire career has been calculated from her birth, and that she is simply working to fulfill what she knows she will achieve. Her acting debut came at the age of four when she she began on Sesame Street. She saw an ad on television for auditions and begged her mother to bring her. “I was very persistent and a bit of a brat”, Ali recalls. She performed in a myriad of productions in her native New York at an early age, including the Broadway show Fences with James Earl Jones and later Billy Dee Williams and the off-Broadway show Orfeo del Campo. She also had roles in major movies such as Crocodile Dundee II and Eddie Murphy Raw. At the age of eleven in 1990, she finally moved with her family to Hollywood to pursue The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
While doing the show, she also had several small side projects, including playing guest roles in television shows such as The Cosby Show, Mickey Mouse Club, Kino’s Storytime, and Are You Afraid of the Dark. She also appeared in the TV movie Mr. Foster’s Field Trip.
Since doing the show, she has had large roles in two movies, Fall into Darkness, a TV movie which she did with her boyfriend at the time, Jonathon Brandis, and Fakin da Funk a feature film from 1997. She has also guest starred in several sitcoms including In the House and had a cameo in the film Kiss the Girls.
For almost three years, Ali had a much publicized relationship with Jonathon Brandis (who is known for his role in Seaquest), but that came to a mutually decided end in Spring 1998 as Ali’s time because increasingly committed her music career, the realization that she would be going away for college soon. The two are still good friends. Ali is currently single as she explains, “Probably now I would make a horrible girlfriend because I’m always travelling, so I’d never do that to anyone”.
In September 1998 Ali began as a freshman at Harvard University. She is majoring in anthropology. While becoming a full time unviersity student right at the rise of a new career seems impossible and perhaps even unwise, Ali disagrees. “For me, college is a chance to expand myself”, Ali explains. “I don’t want to mentally be where I am right now in five years”. Considering she went to high school while performing in a weekly sitcom, she probably will be able to handle it.
Tatyana Ali has proven herself to be the real thing. She is one of the hardest working and most ambitious of the young stars on the market, and there is no doubt that we haven’t even begun to see the peak of her career. It will be exciting to watch where she brings her music, and what other fields she decides to expand into.