[From Express & Star]
that ultimate dream
Rising star Zena McNally has come a long way since she started out as a backing dancer for Wolverhampton soul diva Beverley Knight and left chart-topping garage group Mis-Teeq.
Now the 22-year-old, who first met Beverley when she was 16, looks set to become the hottest new R&B solo act and has the backing of another soul diva - none other than Whitney Houston.
Three years after leaving the girl group she's ready to make her comeback with a new single and album, proving she was destined for success.
"I was a dancer for Beverley when she was just starting out," says the Birmingham-born singer. "It was great fun and she was such a lovely person. We had so much fun, I used to practise all the moves in my back yard."
Zena is now ready to launch her solo career and has been working with top producers from the US, which is how she came to meet Whitney.
"While I was recording in LA with Bobby Brown, Whitney just turned up to the studio to tell me how much she liked my material.
"She also said she thought I was going to be a massive star," says Zena, who's from Newtown, Birmingham. "It was the ultimate compliment. Bobby had been taking tapes home and playing them to her."
Not many music fans remember that there was a fourth member of Mis-Teeq, but Zena can be spotted in the video for the group's first hit Why?
But why exactly did she leave?
"I didn't want to be in a garage group and that was the direction Mis-Teeq were taking," she says. "I am an R&B artist and that's the type of music I want to produce.
"Leaving the band was a massive decision for me. I had fun with the girls but in the end I had to go. There were no hard feelings between us and sometimes I see them around. We have a good little gossip.
"People thought I was mad to leave, I knew they were going to be successful but I had to take the risk. I wanted to have more say over the music."
And since leaving she has definitely taken control of her career. Signed to Mercury Records, the singer has busily been recording her debut solo album, working with top producers including Dr Dre.
"I've been jetting over to the US quite a lot and have collaborated with some brilliant musicians."
And the proof of Zena's hard work is her single, released next week and called Let's Get this Party Started, which she performed in Birmingham recently at a special Red Room Coca-Cola session at the Hippodrome, held to showcase new talent.
"It's great coming back to Birmingham and performing in front of local people. I don't think you can beat being on stage in your own city," says Zena who regularly comes back to the West Midlands to visit her family.
Despite rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous, Zena hasn't forgotten her roots and is backing the anti-violence campaign that Beverley Knight and Miss Dynamite have both been so vocal about.
"I grew up listening to gunshots outside my home," she adds. "My family still live in Newtown and I know exactly what it is like. I worry for my sisters and what could happen. What happened to Letitia Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis was terrible. Gangs have been roaming the streets of Newtown for years but it is only when something like this happens that police take notice.
"It angers me then to hear people saying music is the cause. I still feel like not enough is being done, though.
"Hopefully with success I can do something about it. There is nothing for youths to do and then they turn to violence. Money needs to be spent in that area."
And after Zena's found success in the UK she says she definitely intends to crack the US market - something which many British artists find very difficult to do.
"It's something I am aiming to do. I have worked with so many great American producers."
Zena will be concentrating on breaking into the UK music scene for now and will feature on T4's Sunday morning show Popworld, as well as the BBC's Liquid News.
She says: "I'm really enjoying myself at the moment and even though it is hard work it just doesn't feel like it because I'm working to achieve my ultimate dream."
7 JULY 2003
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