But when the 24-year-old Atlanta native's single "Crush" became the No. 1 most requested song on L.A.'s KIIS-FM, even Paige admits that the speed of the song's success caught her by surprise. "It doesn't seem real; I'm a bit like a deer in the headlights," she says with a soft southern accent and wry laugh. "I'm stunned and excited at the same time."
Now, as the "Crush" phenomenon spreads nationwide, Edel America Records/Hollywood Records is releasing Paige's self-titled album debut. Working with producer/songwriter Andy Goldmark (known for his hit-making work with Elton John, All 4 One, Natalie Cole, Patti LaBelle, Michael Bolton, and Bryan White), she reveals a startlingly pure and honest approach to music and life in general.
That approach links all 11 tracks on Jennifer Paige, from the gently compelling groove of "Just to Have You" to the yearning appeal of the stark, acoustic-guitar-driven "Questions" to the spacious ballads "Between You and Me" and "Always You."
Paige's songwriting on "Questions" lends an especially personal viewpoint: "These are the questions I keep asking myself as some of my childhood dreams have actually begun to come true. It's both exhilarating and overwhelming," she says with a smile.
And of course there's the breakthrough hit "Crush," written by Andy Goldmark and Mark Muller, with lyrics directly inspired by Paige's own experiences and observations. As soon as "Crush" hit the airwaves, listener response was overwhelming, and critics took notice: "Paige succeeds in the nearly impossible task of oozing smoldering sensuality without resorting to typical groans and moans," declared Billboard. "Instead, she uses her notably flexible vocal range to convey the emotion of the tune. ...As a result, she breathes a refreshing intensity into the song."
When asked why "Crush" has made such an immediate impact, Paige offers a characteristically direct, good-natured answer: "It's just deep enough, and just light enough. It's silly, but not too silly. It strikes a good balance and doesn't take itself too seriously. And I think the world needs a few more songs like that."
Led by "Crush," Jennifer Paige marks the arrival of an artist who believes that sincerity and simplicity provide the key to conveying emotion. "Some people take singing to this theatrical level. I want to sing to the best of my ability, but I also don't want to lose the subtlety of the song. The big, belty thing works for live shows, but on record you can convey passion and emotion by keeping things real. I can prove myself as a vocalist without being flashy or forcing it down people's throats."
Born and raised just outside of Atlanta, Paige grew up surrounded by music. "Gospel is my first influence," she admits, "especially groups like the Clark Sisters. Where I'm from, you can go to a barbecue joint and hear a bunch of great singers in a really free, natural, uninhibited setting. That's what I love most about gospel and some types of country music -- they're so real, with an honesty, freedom, and depth of emotion. I grew up with that, and that's what I'm searching for in my own music."
By age eight she was already singing duets with her older brother, performing at local coffeehouses and restaurants. She began playing piano at 10, while her musical tastes kept expanding to include rock and pop.
Paige linked up with producer Andy Goldmark in mid-1996, shortly after moving to Los Angeles. Their work together caught the attention of German indie label Edel Records. Now inked to a deal with Edel America Records/Hollywood Records, Paige is set to share her distinctive take on pop music.
"I love songs that evoke a strong emotion -- sadness, longing, happiness, doubt -- but I'm not a jaded woman," Paige explains. "I've got a great family, a great life, and I've learned and grown from positive as well as negative experiences. You don't necessarily need tragedy and disaster to move forward. I think the record reflects the notion that you can treasure the good, simple, essential things that life has to offer and grow from them."
The runaway success of "Crush" attests to her vision. Paige makes music with staying power by emphasizing the classic elements of great pop: clarity, catchiness, and confidence. Everything happens for a reason, and Jennifer Paige's emergence has happened for all the right ones.