Dondria Nicole Fields was born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma on January 6, 1987.
Though it is not everyday that an artist is discovered by simply singing in her bedroom, Dondria Nicole is the exception. Much like a the classic scenario where a small-time actress is discovered at a lunch counter and is soon transformed into a major star, Dondria’s world has changed considerably since her homemade videos caught the attention of Jermaine Dupri and Island/So So Def Records.
“When I first started posting the videos, it was just about me having something to do,” the 21-year-old Texas native says with a giggle in her voice. “I wasn’t trying to get signed, I was just messing around.”
Yet, two years, and over a million views later, the bubbly performer is singing a different tune on her debut album Dondria vs Phatfffat.
Having traded her boudoir for a real recording studio, Dondria’s hypnotic first single “Can’t Stop” is standing on the verge of being a summertime smash. With a lush girl group groove that puts one in mind of Motown diva Diana Ross, producers Jermaine Dupri and Bryan Michael Cox (Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Keyshia Cole) have constructed the perfect peppy pop introduction for the bold newcomer.
“Dondria is a young woman who has a very playful side to her, so we made a very fun record,” Dupri explains excitedly. Co-written by label-mate Chrisette Michele, another artist that Dondria once covered when she was still making Youtube videos, “Can’t Stop” is a rousing record that is sure to take both fans and critics by surprise.
“I loved working with Chrisette because the songs she writes really bring out my personality,” says Dordria. “And, we both share a love for harmonies that can be heard all over the record.”
Injecting a much-needed shot of excitement into the R&B scene, Dondria has made an enchanting, yet eclectic disc that runs the gamut from the scorching dance floor anthem of “Gassin'” to teenage romance of “Still Be With Me” to the soulful swoon “Kissed By the Sun.” Recording the entire project in a month, Jermaine and the So So Def team worked overtime to make this project something special.
“Truthfully, I think she sounds like a new Whitney Houston,” Dupri says. “There is nothing that the girl can’t sing.” Having worked with a roster of talented artists that includes Da Brat, Usher, TLC, Xscape, Monica, Jagged Edge, Bow Wow and Mariah Carey, its obvious JD knows what he’s talking about. “Dondria is a natural.”
Dupri collaborator, singer/songwriter Johnta Austin, who recorded the duet “Crazy About Your Love” with Dordria, was also truly impressed.
“Dordria has a soulfulness that is just crazy,” Johnta says. “There hasn’t been a voice like hers since SWV. When we were working together, I was impressed by how natural she was. Truthfully, I think Dondria is going to be one of the biggest names of ’08.”
Although Dondria was discovered on Youtube, one shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking of her as a novelty act. “In the world of so many new technologies, I think Youtube is a viable place to discover new talent,” Jermaine reveals. “It’s kind of unique when an artist already has a fan-base before putting out her first record. It’s a different world, and we’re ready to do things in a different way.”
Still, it wasn’t that long ago when Dondria was just another small town girl in Sachse, Texas looking for fun on the internet. “Really, I didn’t know that much about Youtube until I had gone on there to watch a fight that had happened at my school,” Dondria recalls. Yet, after searching the site and enjoying other singers she had discovered, the budding talent decided to post her own versions of popular songs.
Investing $15.00 in a webcam at Wal-Mart, Dondria’s first posted video was an acapella version of Music Soulchild’s “Love” when she was 19.
Laughing at the memory, Dondria recalls, “Though I didn’t really think I was doing my best, I got a lot of encouragement from people I didn’t even know. The feedback was crazy, so I decided to make a few more.”
A fan of everything from gospel to pop to rock, Dordria started singing in her church when she was four-years-old. “My entire family was involved in the choirs,” she says. “But, I didn’t really start getting passionate about singing until I was in middle school.” Taking voice lessons and entering into local talent competitions, Dondria was as familiar with Etta James and The Wiz soundtrack as she was with Journey or CeCe Winans.
Still, becoming a sensation on Youtube was the last thing Dondria had expected. “People started sending me requests and messages,” Dondria says. “I was getting so much mail I couldn’t even read it all.” Though Dupri counted himself as a fan, it was more than just her outstanding voice that attracted him.
“There are a lot of good singers on Youtube, but Dondria also had this really cool personality that came through. From the first time I saw her, I was convinced that she would be a big star.” Yet, after sending her a few messages via Youtube and Myspace, the veteran producer was shocked that Dondria didn’t reply right away.
“I thought it was somebody playing a joke on me,” Dondria admits.
After the super producer literally chased her down, Dondria and JD finally connected over the phone. Flying to his home base of Atlanta with the assumption that she was simply making a video with Jagged Edge, the young singer was shocked when Dupri offered her a contract.
“JD was so extra cool. He just walked over to me, and asked if I was ready. My answer was, I was born ready.”
Knocking out five songs in the first two weeks, Dordria got her first words of advice from collaborator Johnta Austin. “He simply told me to, ‘Put some stank on it.’ Which means, put a little attitude and emotion into the songs. It didn’t take long for me to get into the groove.”
While Dondria and JD’s time together went smoothly, they did have one disagreement–what should be the name the album was released under.
“Phatfffat is a nickname my college roommate gave me because I was so skinny, but I love to eat,” confesses Dondria. “And, that was the name Jermaine wanted me to use.”
Nevertheless, instead of arguing about it, JD decided to let the fans choose. “Her Youtube fans are devoted, so I figured it would be best if they made the decision,” JD says. “To me, Dondria and Phatfffat are two different sides of the same person.”
Currently filming a Youtube movie tentatively titled Dondria Goes to Hollywood, she will be giving her public a first-hand peek into her ever-changing world. From wardrobe fittings and red carpets to after-parties, all will be documented for her fans. Jokes Jermaine, “So far she’s unfazed by her rising fame, but we’ll see how long that lasts.”
With a joyful exuberance and passion emanating from Dondria vs Phatffat, Jermaine Dupri has hand delivered yet another rhythmic winner.