Brandy

Starry-Eyed

UPDATED 06/08/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/08/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT

As the sassy title character on the popular sitcom Moesha, Brandy turns confidence into an art form. But the singer-actress is a braided ball of insecurity as she plops onto a chair in her all-brown bedroom to preview the final cut of her latest video, "The Boy Is Mine," a duet with pop's other teen princess, Monica. Transfixed by the image of herself strutting through the clip, Brandy, 19, glances over at a visiting girlfriend stretched out on a chocolate-colored rug. "I like this part best," she says, referring to one of her glam close-ups. But she seems troubled when the video is over. "I'm really nervous," she says. "Do you think people will like it? Do you think they'll buy it?"

By the truckload, most likely. Since her new single, "The Boy Is Mine," was released in May, it has become a radio and MTV staple. Meantime, Brandy's second album, Never Say Never, a collection of girl-loves-boy ballads and sultry mid-tempo R&B, is expected to sell well into the millions. Of course there's also her weekly TV gig on the UPN network's most-watched comedy. As Moesha Mitchell, an ultrahip high schooler, Brandy has become a teen role model—and also a fashion plate, thanks, in part, to her flowing braids, which are styled every three weeks during eight-hour salon sessions.

Last fall, she added TV trailblazer to her résumé, clearing racial barriers by playing the title character in Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella. More than 30 million viewers made the fairy tale ABC's highest-rated program of the week. "She is Cinderella," says friend and mentor Whitney Houston, an executive producer of the TV movie and a costar as the fairy godmother. "Brandy knows what she wants, and she goes for it, just like Cinderella."

The only thing missing is Prince Charming. Not that there weren't close calls. Two years ago, Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant, now 19, invited the teenager to his senior prom at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pa. "It was so different for me to be around my peers, because I didn't go to high school," says Brandy, who had a private tutor from 10th grade on. "We had a wonderful time." But, she adds, a more enduring relationship "didn't really happen, because he was so busy and I was so busy."

She didn't fare any better with Boyz II Men singer Wanya Morris, 24, with whom she became friends in 1994. "He was like a brother at first," she says. "Then I got goo-goo-eyed." The two began dating shortly before she turned 18, but the romance burned out after a year and a half. "We were always not together," says Brandy. "It was hard.... We figured it was better for us to be friends." Still, she hopes that someday she'll get it right. "I'm a human," she says. "I want somebody to hug me and say, 'Brandy, you're cute, and I'm glad you're in my life, and I love you' and all that. But it's hard to find that person."

Performing, at least, comes easy. Her parents—church choir director and vocal coach Willie Norwood, 49, and his wife Sonja, 47, Brandy's manager and tourmate—groomed their daughter and their son, singer-actor Willie Jr., 17, for showbiz. When Brandy was 4, her parents moved the family from McComb, Miss., to L.A. to give fate a nudge. "I knew Brandy was going to be a star the day she was born," says Sonja. "I told the doctor that he had just delivered a star and that she was going to be something one day."

Sonja's enthusiasm, however, wasn't universal. As a freshman at the Hollywood High Performing Arts Center, Brandy Norwood had trouble persuading a teacher to send her on auditions like other students. "One day I asked, 'Why aren't you sending me out on calls?' and she said, 'Because you're not drop-dead gorgeous,' " Brandy recalls. "My heart just dropped." Undaunted, she carried on, entering talent shows and eventually performing as a backup singer for the R&B group Immature. In 1993, she landed the role of Danesha on the ABC sitcom Thea and was also signed to a solo contract by Atlantic Records after auditioning for the label. Recalls Darryl Williams, then Atlantic's director of A&AR: "Brandy stood out. She was just energetic and had an incredible voice for a 14-year-old." The following year her self-titled debut album sold more than 4 million copies and produced three Top 10 hits.

At the two-story Mediterranean-style San Fernando Valley home where she lives with her parents and brother as well as her Labrador Labby and her shih tzu Feather, there is ample evidence of her success—and passion for shopping—beginning with a closet full of Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren designer duds and a fully equipped 1997 Range Rover. But, says her mother, "she is not Brandy-the-artist with us. She's just a regular kid. She gets talked to when she misses her [2 a.m.] curfew, and we tell her she always has to be polite to people." No fan of Hollywood nightlife, she enjoys in-line skating regularly and still wolfs down jelly-and-fried-egg sandwiches, a childhood favorite. She's also in no rush to move out on her own. "When you live alone you have to do everything yourself," she reasons. "I don't want the full responsibility of taking out the trash, and if I'm hungry, I can just call my dad, 'Dad, go get me something to eat.' "

Although she talks of returning this fall to Pepperdine University, which she attended in 1996, school may have to wait. There's a role next fall in the sequel to last year's fright flick I Know What You Did Last Summer, a fourth season of Moesha and a possible tour next year. And after that? "I want to produce. I want to direct," Brandy says. "I want success. I want it all. If I die today, I want people to talk about me on every channel."

Jeremy Helligar
Ulrica Wihlborg in Los Angeles

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