Moving away from the pop scene, singer Amanda Latona rocks on with her first solo single.By Julee Greenberg

NEW YORK — If there was ever anyone poised for stardom, it’s Amanda Latona.

The latest rocker to come out of J Records, Latona’s first single, "Can’t Take It Back," just hit the airwaves and she already has a large fan base that has carried over since she left Innocence, the band that jump-started her career.

Innocence, a group of five girls that originally included Britney Spears, was put together by Lou Pearlman, the mastermind behind the Backstreet Boys, ’NSYNC and O-Town. The band of girls began at a time when the Spice Girls were the hottest girl group around, and Pearlman’s idea was to introduce five sweet, talented and pretty girls, who were not quite as spicy as the Spice Girls. They were the opposite of spice: They were "innocent."

After two years, Latona left the band in 1999 to pursue a solo career. Almost immediately after her departure from the group, she met with Clive Davis, founder of J Records, and was signed to the label in a matter of hours.

While Innocence introduced Latona to the pop scene in a big way, it wasn’t her first venture in the music business. At age 15, Latona moved from Philadelphia to Orlando, which has quickly become a pop star breeding ground. Latona knew she wanted to be an entertainer. She tried out for The Mickey Mouse Club, but was beat out by Christina Aguilera. So, she moved on and began a job at Disney World, playing the parts of characters like Snow White and Ariel from "The Little Mermaid."

While attending high school, she met Joey Fatone (not yet an ’NSYNC member) who introduced her to Lynn Harless (Justin Timberlake’s mother), who was looking to cast the Innocence clan. She would be their manager, and liked what she saw in Latona. She began performing with the other four girls.

While in the group, Latona met Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean and began a more than two-year relationship with him. The Backstreet Boys’ fans liked Latona. Before the Boys would hit the stage for a performance, Latona would run out to the audience and hand out autographs from the band. By doing this, Latona gained even more fans.Now a 23-year-old with a free spirit and outgoing attitude, it’s hard to tell she was once a shy child. Her confidence is evident as she dances around a photo shoot singing to Pink playing loudly in the stereo. She is clearly a rocker.

"I really find myself moving away from pop, I’m not sure if it’s because I really love rock music, or if it’s because that’s the way music is going these days," she said. "When I perform, it’s very important for me to have a live band. To me, that’s music."

It’s not just her fans who keep in close touch with her. The New York Times Magazine recognized Latona in a cover story last month, speaking of the young singer as a project put together by Davis and his J Records. While Latona called the story "the highlight of my career so far," she didn’t completely agree with the way the article portrayed her.

"It sort of made it sound like I don’t make my own decisions," she said. "That is so not true. One of the things that I love the most about J is that Clive really does give me say. He is involved in my career every step of the way, but before I was signed I told him what music I liked and what I was looking to do with my career. I told him I wanted to be a female Lenny Kravitz, Gwen Stefani-like but solo. He encourages me to be myself and never approves anything until I say that I like it.

"It was a such great story, such great exposure for me and I loved all the comments made by Clive and my manager, but I felt like they made me seem like a puppet. It’s not like that at all. But hey, I had the cover of The New York Times Magazine. I think that’s amazing."

So, making music is Latona’s first love, but she said there’s always time for fashion. A denim lover, Latona’s jeans collection ranges from Diesel and D&G to Seven and Henry Duarte."I always wear jeans. I seriously never wear anything else," she said. "I have at least 200 pair. Every single pair of pants I own are jeans. I know, it’s insane."

Maybe, but Latona knows how to keep them under control.

"When my brother moved out of the house, I turned his room into my closet," she said. "I needed the room for my jeans. I mean, I have basic jeans, vintage jeans, designer jeans. I even have jeans with flags on them. What is that about?"

While Latona insists that labels are not important to her, she said she is a big fan of Henry Duarte.

"I only have two pair because they are really expensive," she said.

So what does she wear with all those jeans? Latona said she prefers a simple look: a tank top and jeans with a big belt and boots. She likes to personalize her clothes by ripping sleeves of shirts and tearing up jeans to make them look worn. Latona admits that since she is a role model, she really doesn’t feel comfortable showing too much skin.

"I see kids that are 15 who dress like they are 25," she said. "I really think they should reconsider their clothes sometimes. They need to know that they can still be sexy without showing too much skin."

She likes to accessorize with silver and turquoise jewelry, but her favorite accessory is the nine tattoos she has collected over the years.

"I love every single one of my tattoos. They each mean something different about a certain time in my life," she said, pointing to her midsection, which features two Chinese words: one meaning "beautiful" and the other "bold." She also has a panda (McLean’s nickname for her when they were together) holding a guitar on her arm, a flower and a butterfly (representing new beginnings) on her lower back, the Innocence logo on her upper back and a line of music notes on her other arm.

"You should never get a tattoo that doesn’t mean anything," she said. "I don’t regret any of mine, since they all have meaning. I want to get one more someday."

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