Byline: Elena Romero

NEW YORK -- At an age when most kids were involved only in kindergarten, young Joy Enriquez was telling herself that she would one day sing to the world.
"I've been singing since age four," recalled the energetic, 20-year-old Mexican-American, whose self-titled debut album will hit stores in April. "We were raised as a musical family. Although Mom never sang professionally, we would always sing together in the car and at church. My [older] sister played the piano."
Enriquez's mom, Elena, helped develop her daughter's ability through talent shows and summer workshops, where Enriquez played small parts in productions such as "Charlie Brown," "Annie" and "My Fair Lady." Elena booked the jobs, and her father, Randy, served as manager, in addition to running an interior design business, called Creations.
"I would lose year after year," Enriquez said of the talent shows. "I'd+watch the videotape and realize why I lost. My mom taught us that you can't always win, but it doesn't mean you lose. The experience just gives you courage to do better. Who knows when the next door will be opening for you?"
All the effort is finally paying off with the upcoming debut of her album, which could give an added boost to her blossoming career. Enriquez has already made a name by working with well-known singers and co-wrote her album's first commercial release, "Tell Me How You Feel," with producers Soulshock and Karlin.
In 1997, Enriquez lent background vocals to the single "When You Believe," which paired Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey for the soundtrack of the animated motion picture "The Prince of Egypt." In 1999, she recorded the ballad "How Could I Not Love You?" for the soundtrack of the film "Anna and the King," starring Jodie Foster, which was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards.
Enriquez also gave a televised performance of "Tell Me How You Feel" for 88,000 football fans attending the Pittsburgh Steelers-Indianapolis Colts football game held in August 1999 at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
Most recently, Enriquez shot a video with Latin heartthrob Carlos Ponce for their duet entitled, "Bella Notte," featured in the upcoming Disney direct-to-video release of "Lady and the Tramp II," both due out in mid-February.
As for the development of her fashion style, Enriquez noted that her past restaurant gigs, which eventually broadened to include weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs, had financed her clothes buying. "I love fashion," said Enriquez. "I'm into anything vintage and unique."
"One day," she continued, "I told my dad I would work at a clothing store. I thought it would be a good idea -- a good way to make money and get a [clothing] discount -- and I could save all the money I made singing."
At 16, Enriquez went to work at an Old Navy in her hometown. The experience lasted only four days.
"I was a great seller, but+I couldn't handle it. I wanted to be the one shopping." Years later, Enriquez's fashion zeal would lead her to her to a big break.
In the interim, Enriquez auditioned at the Glendale Galleria for the Miami-based talent show "Star Search.
"I found out that 'Star Search' was holding auditions in a mall, and there had to be at least 1,200 kids," she said. "It was a two-day audition, and we only had 30 seconds. I wore palazzo pants and a hat backwards and sang the bridge to one of my favorite Barbra Streisand songs."
Although Enriquez didn't get a call-back, "Star Search" was in her destiny. She was window-shopping two years later at a boutique in Los Angeles, when her big break came.
"I said to Mom that a certain hat would be a cute hat to perform in," said Enriquez. "The owner said, 'You sing? Let me hear you.' She loved it, grabbed my arm and took me into Tattou of Beverly Hills."
An on-the-spot audition for the restaurant owner led to her singing at the Mondrian, the popular Los Angeles hotel, where Enriquez would have her second "Star Search" encounter.
"One night, I was singing there and a 'Star Search' rep was there," said Enriquez. "I later auditioned in L.A. and made it."
In 1995, she appeared in the "Star Search" series, winning in the female vocalist category for 11 consecutive weeks. She took home $25,000, but took her time before signing her first recording deal.
Though she was actually auditioning to be part of a singing group, at age 17, the rhythm & blues singer ended up with a solo deal with LaFace Records/Arista, whose artists include Outkast, Donell Jones, Usher, Sarah McLachlan and Aretha Franklin.
Her debut album had been three years in the making, as Enriquez developed her recording and songwriting skills in a studio, with the help of experienced music executives.
Enriquez's sense of fashion independence has accompanied her through her odyssey.
"You have to have a good pair of jeans that fit well and go with anything," said Enriquez. "That can go with an old V-neck that belongs to your brother [for instance]."
"She would wear jeans seven days a week if she could," her sister Tiffany added. Enriquez accounted for this preference: "I always want to make it seem like I have long legs." The singer also makes wide use of accessories to complete her looks both on- and offstage.
"I love vintage hats, the ones Mom used to have that have feathers in the side. I also love scarves, especially Gucci and vintage ones," she said.
Enriquez prefers earth tones and colors such as burgundy, brown, camel and gold. As for footwear, she opts for leather boots and heels.
"I love sling-back shoes and sexy open-toe shoes for the summer," she said.
Among her favorite retailers are Curve in Los Angeles, as well as boutiques in Harajuko, Japan, and Cannes, France.
Enriquez's debut album combines romantic ballads and bouncy dance songs, with some tracks produced by such well-known industry personalities as Babyface, Rodney Jerkins, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and Ian Prince.
"I'm excited; it's me 100 percent," Enriquez concluded. "I've taken my time on it while I was learning and enjoyed the process. It will put you in the right mood at the right time".

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