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‘WILLA WAS HERE,’ the dynamic Lava/Atlantic debut from 20-year-old Willa Ford, is as smart and sexy as the talented young singer whose name it bears. Urban-influenced dancepop tracks such as ‘Ooh Ooh’ or ‘Prince Charming’ reveal an artist with extraordinary confidence, not to mention an enormously soulful and strong singing voice. ‘I'm about to break all the rules,’ she sings on the brash first single, ‘I Wanna Be Bad,’ and with her self-assured lyrics and irresistibly up-front persona, it's abundantly clear that Willa Ford is going to live up to her promise.

‘I'm not a cheerleader,’ she announces with pride. ‘I'm not trying to pretend to be sweet and then come out and be bad. This is who I am.’

A native Floridian, Willa was the youngest child of four in her family, and with her big voice and even-bigger personality, she was quite naturally the center of attention. ‘Ever since I could talk, I wanted to be a performer,’ she recalls. ‘I'd be in the middle of the living room, singing, and dancing, and doing somersaults.’

At 8, Willa began singing with the Tampa Bay Children's Choir and by the time she was 11, she had started her professional career, enlisting with the Tampa-based children's performing arts troupe, Entertainment Revue. The group, comprised of 20 girls, aged five to 16, would put on variety shows throughout the region, performing at fairs and conventions, as well as at Walt Disney World and Busch Gardens.

‘It was an amazing alternative to voice lessons and dancing lessons,’ Willa says. ‘I was able to learn my craft on stage, and now being on stage is just like being at home.’

Remarkably, Willa maintained honor student status as she continued to work with Entertainment Revue, where she eventually moved from the chorus into the role of featured soloist. At 15, she parted ways with the group to become one quarter of the short-lived vocal foursome called FLA. However, that outfit didn't last long and Willa was soon striking out on her own as a solo act.

‘I wanted it more than any of the other girls, I think,’ she says. ‘It was obvious that only the ones who were willing to sacrifice everything were going to make it.’

Ford made her way to Los Angeles, where she began her career in earnest. In 1999 she first garnered public attention via a tour with the Backstreet Boys, as well as with a track on Atlantic's double-platinum ‘POKÉMON THE FIRST MOVIE - MUSIC FROM AND INSPIRED BY THE MOTION PICTURE.’

For her Lava/Atlantic debut, Willa teamed up with a diverse assortment of writers and producers, including labelmate DJ Skribble and his partner Anthony Acid, Travon Potts (Christina Aguilera, Public Announcement), KNS (Big Pun, Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz), Tim Kelley and Bob Robinson (Destiny's Child, Sisqo), Andy Marvel (Vitamin C, Celine Dion), Johnny Jam and Delgado (Ace of Base, Aqua), and renowned tunesmith Desmond Child (Aerosmith, Cher, Ricky Martin, Hanson). ‘It was great collaborating with these amazing people,’ Willa enthuses. ‘Like Desmond, who's just incredible! He sits there at the piano and you go back and forth, writing and exchanging ideas. The things I picked up from him!

‘With some of the other people, we would start with tracks,’ she continues. ‘They'd just give me a beat and I'd start singing melodies. Then I'd think of something that the music reminded me of or something I've gone through, and I'd start writing lyrics.’

Unlike many of her contemporaries, Willa is determined to pen most of her own lyrics, many of which exemplify her outspoken attitude. ‘I mostly come up with stories from my own life,’ she says, ‘but I also think about stuff my friends are going through. And sometimes I just make up a character that I want to be, like 'I Wanna Be Bad.'‘

That song - co-written with KNS, and produced by Brian & Josh - perfectly sums up Ford's tell-it-like-it-is worldview, though the songwriter is determined to insure that her words are not misunderstood. ‘People ask 'What kind of message are you sending?,'‘ Willa says, ‘and I'm only saying 'Be who you are.' It's not 'Go out and break things!' It's just screw what everybody else thinks. You can do your own thing, and tell people to shut up when they tell you you can't! It's really hard nowadays to be strong as a teenager, there's a lot going on, so I hope my song is an outlet for them.’

Willa's musical influences are as adventurous as she is, ranging from pop icons like Madonna and R&B favorites such as Boyz II Men, Jodeci, and Mary J. Blige, to jazz vocalists such as Basia. In addition, Willa credits a most-unlikely source as an important inspiration for her own eclectic music. ‘I love Radiohead,’ she enthuses. ‘They've influenced me in the weirdest way. The craziness of their music, and being able to be so left-field and yet find an audience, that's so amazing.’

Willa - who recently served as the spokesperson for Pantene Pro-V's ‘Pro-Voice’ campaign, as well as appeared on the nationally-syndicated in-concert cable special, Teensation! alongside Atlantic labelmates Debelah Morgan, Plus One, M2M, and Ashley Ballard - is now poised to step up to the plate and fulfill her musical destiny. With ‘WILLA WAS HERE,’ this exciting new star stakes her claim in a big, big way.

July 2001