Cheryl Lynn's Hit Is Called 'Got to Be Real'; Her Rise from 'Gong Show to Gold Has Got to Be Unreal
Curiously, Lynn finished in a tie with a female juggler. But the next morning record contract offers started coming in, and producers lined up to cut her demo. She was on her way to the most unlikely of all pop music crossovers—from Gong to gold. Her debut single, Got to Be Real, has sold 1.5 million, been No. 1 on the R&B charts and Top Ten in pop, bumping her first LP over the half-million mark.
Yet Lynn is hardly overcome with her talent. She was "nervous" before the Gong show and thought she "would bomb." Later, she fell asleep during the signing of her deal with CBS Records. Then, after hiring Bob Dylan's former (and formative) producer, Bob Johnston, Lynn recalls that "the hardest part was finding material, because I really didn't know what I was all about. So I started fiddling around with tunes, but I didn't think much of them because they were coming from me." (One of those casual creations turned out to be the sexily soulful Real.)
"I had always thought you had to be a glamorous Diana Ross type," says Lynn (though she quit USC in 1976, 15½ credits short of a degree in speech pathology, to pursue her music career). "I never could see myself as that." She may soon get the hang of it. She has climbed onto the talk show circuit, taped The Midnight Special and Soul Train, released a new single, Star Love, and is already tuning up for her second LP.
She does have a star-like evasiveness about her age, which is in the early 20s. As for any romantic ties to her childhood pal, music mentor and current co-manager Delbert Langston, she smiles: "Let's just say we're close friends. He looks out for my best interests. I was never looking for a man to take care of me the rest of my life."
Lynn lives alone in a modest West Hollywood apartment, but spends much of her time at her mother's nearby Culver City home where Cheryl grew up, the oldest of four kids. (Her supportive father, a postal worker, died in 1975.) Lynn's first singing experience was in the choir of her family's Church of the Living God, where her mother, a children's-services administrator, was musical director. While she was at USC, Langston persuaded Cheryl to join his trio, Happy, Free & Easy. "Delbert has been the most instrumental in making me believe in myself," she says. "But I just never took it seriously. I would only go to singing jobs if I didn't have a lot of homework. That was always first."
Most of the way, at least. She quit because "I couldn't do anything with the degree and wasn't ready to go for the master's." ("Now I want my degree in music," she says, "and I will go back and get it.") She landed a job singing in the pit with The Wiz cast in L.A. and had been promoted to Wicked Witch of the West in the Chicago production before Langston secretly arranged her audition for The Gong Show.
Like many R&B stars whose hits sell because of massive radio and disco play, rather than nonstop barnstorming, Cheryl hasn't even developed a stage act yet. Later in the spring she hopes to "get my own band and my own sound together, tighten it up in Europe" and launch a maiden tour here. But cautiously. "You can throw yourself out there too soon, and that can hurt your career," she observes. When she does hit, Cheryl hopes it will be "with a bang," not a gong.