Deborah Cox fans can hear her two ways. The singer is working on a pair of albums — one catering to her big-voice R&B stylings, the other a high-energy release aimed at the dance floor.
Cox acknowledges that "not everybody wants to hear the R&B stuff and not everybody wants to hear the dance stuff. I aim to please with two separate projects."
She has been working on the albums since January. The dance album will include remixes and new songs; the R&B album will be made up of songs she has compiled in the past couple of years.
Throughout much of her career, Cox, 38, has teetered between R&B and dance. The Toronto native started out as a soul singer with her self-titled 1995 debut, featuring the hit Sentimental. Her real breakthrough came with Nobody's Supposed to Be Here, from her 1998 album One Wish.
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Nobody's Supposed to Be Here was everything a new singer could want in a hit, remaining at the top of the R&B charts for a record-breaking 14 weeks. She says the song resonated with people and was a nice switch at the time from songs featuring hot rappers.
But the song also created a problem for Cox: Everyone wanted her to do another one just like it.
"It was like, 'We gotta do it again; we gotta do it again,'" she says. "But I never got caught up in that hype. I kept level-headed about everything. While that song was huge, I made sure I stayed in the moment and was able to relish the success of it. I had been working so hard 10 years prior to that song."
When it came to following up One Wish with The Morning After in 2002, Cox had other things on her mind. She wanted to start a family.
"I wanted to be happy on the personal side," she says.
Cox was pregnant by the time the first single from The Morning After was released, and she negotiated an out from her contract with label head Clive Davis.
Meanwhile, she'd already made her name in dance-music circles and was able to work regularly there, including at Pride events across the country.
Who Do You Love from Cox's first album had been remixed into a dance song and was a hit internationally, followed by dance remixes of many of her other R&B hits, including Nobody's Supposed to Be Here. The albums Ultimate Deborah Cox (2004) and Remixed (2003) were full of dance interpretations of her work.
One of her biggest songs, Absolutely Not, started out on the soundtrack to Eddie Murphy's Dr. Dolittle 2 but wound up on Queer as Folk.
Recording dance remixes became a prerequisite for Cox, a favorite with female impersonators.
"Absolutely Not was the turning point," she says. "People felt it was my statement to not be dictated by what is popular or not feel bullied by any image maker. It's about creating my own path.
"I can do R&B, dance remixes, and I can also do jazz," says Cox, who released a Dinah Washington tribute album, Destination Moon, in 2007.
More jazz tribute albums are coming.
"I took the reins, ran with it and didn't look back," Cox says.
This fall, she will star with Constantine Maroulis in Jekyll & Hyde on a national tour and on Broadway next year. (She previously starred on Broadway in the title role of Aida.)
Last weekend, she performed at St. Louis' PrideFest, she's at Pride in St. Petersburg, Fla., this weekend, and she'll be at an international Pride event in London next weekend.
"Having a dance audience includes having a large gay audience, and I love that and pride myself in that," she says. "The gay audiences are the trendsetters, the ones who are most critical when it comes to their divas, and the ones that really mean a lot to me. I don't take that lightly at all."