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That Michelle Williams titled her latest album “Unexpected” is no fluke.
The former Destiny’s Child songstress is in the mood to change things up, starting with her hair. Gone are her long, dark, straight tresses and in their place a choppy bob with blunt layers and highlighted streaks. Her girl-next-door look of tank tops and jeans has also been sacrificed. With the help of stylist Tammy Eckenswiller, the 29-year-old entertainer “basically emptied my wardrobe and started from scratch,” she says. “I’m not very good when it comes to dressing since I don’t really follow trends.”
Thankfully, she is better versed in music, and her latest release, out this fall on Music World/Columbia Records, is a departure too from the gospel tone of her previous two records. (It should be said that the change is not due to poor sales on her earlier albums. “Heart to Yours” was the biggest-selling gospel record of 2002, while “Do You Know” landed the number-two spot on the Top Gospel Albums Chart in 2004.)
“Gospel music was my first love,” she says. “Growing up my mother had us in church choir regardless of whether it was something we wanted to do or not.”
Her musical style wasn’t the only thing influenced by her strict, religious upbringing in Rockland, Ill. Sure, she was going to clubs at just 15, but her self-described “churchlike” attire wasn’t exactly the kind of sartorial look popular among her peers. “It was so embarrassing,” she recalls. “There was everyone walking around in their tight shirts and jeans, and there I was wearing my floral church dress looking like I was about to go to Easter Sunday service.”
But now, Williams’ look and work are catching up to her clubbing days. Roberto Cavalli and Zac Posen are among her preferred designers and for “Unexpected” she hired producer Jim Jonsin, who has worked with Beyoncé and Lil’ Wayne, and songwriter Wayne Wilkins, who has penned tracks for Leona Lewis and Natasha Bedingfield. The result is a new sound for the chanteuse, a mix of dance, pop and R&B.
“It probably would have been easier to [record more] mainstream [music] first,” she says, “but what’s harder is to get people to envision [the former Destiny’s Child members] as individual artists and not cast me as this church girl just because that’s the music I broke out with.”
Of course, she wouldn’t rule out a reunion with her former bandmates. “We’ve all been very fortunate to have been able to establish our own careers and I think that says something in itself,” said Williams. “I have always been humble and honored to come into a group that I was once such a big fan of.”