05/09/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
Her mother taught cosmetology, but soulful pop singer Toni Braxton, 26, couldn't sample the goodies till age 15, when her strict Pentecostal parents let her slide lip gloss around her klieglight smile. In the past year, those lips (and those pipes) have set the music world on its ear. Her eponymous album hit No. 1 and resulted in a slew of awards, including Grammys for Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal (shutting out Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson
). "When she sings, her voice cuts like a knife," says Antonio Reid, co-owner of the LaFace label for which she records. "Her charm is that she's an earthy, simple person."
She keeps grooming simple too. The Severn, Md., native has her distinctive short hair trimmed every two weeks, brushes her teeth in the shower ("I like the water squishing in and out of my mouth") and uses lots of Carmex lip balm. "One of the first boys I kissed," she says, "had chapped lips, and I vowed I would never have them." That no doubt pleases LaFace record producer Bryant Reid, the "wonderful, very handsome" guy Braxton's dating at home in Atlanta. He obviously meets her standards: "I judge all men by how they treat their mothers, but they can't be mama's boys," she cautions. And "I like nice hands. Don't come say hi to me with dirty fingernails!"