Thara, as her name professes, is well on her way to becoming a star in her own right and on her own terms. Set to release her debut album early this summer, I had the opportunity to chat with this multitalented rising star about her aspirations in forging a career in music, acting and modeling.
Having already collaborated with urban music heavyweights such as John Legend, Fabolous and Joe Buddens, there is already a buzz about her upcoming album. A prodigy of New York’s The Orange Factory, in just two short years Thara has managed to also land a track on DJ Clue’s recent album The Professional 3 alongside Mary J Blige and JayZ.
Thara was recently seen as Sean Paul’s love interest in his video for ‘Ever Blazing‘ and is the only South Asian artist to have ever made the Top 20 list on one of New York’s hottest radio stations Hot 97.
Her acting career has been equally dynamic with roles on daytime soaps One Life To Live and Guiding Light, as well as in features such as the Spike Lee pilot Miracle’s Boys and Rishi Kapoor’s much anticipated crossover film Sambar Salsa. She has also appeared in commercials for American Eagle Outfitters and Verizon Wireless.
In this exclusive ANOKHI interview, Thara explains the mindset behind why she wants to be the next multibranded superstar and once you hear what she has to say, you’ll have no doubt that this star is on her way to the top.
For someone who hasn’t even released her debut album as yet, you’ve sure put together a solid resume of accomplishments in a short span of time. There’s no doubt that you’ve been planning the ‘big time’ for a while now. When did you decide that you wanted to give up a university education in exchange for a career in showbiz?
Honestly I really didn’t decide to do this professionally until two years ago. It was a dream that I had since I was in third grade but I never thought it was attainable. I didn’t know how a person would approach getting into this business since I didn’t know anyone who actually had. I was about 17 when I started going into city auditions and realizing that I am around all these entertainment types. That kind of hit me. On the flip side, I had a full scholarship to Fordham University in the Bronx to study as a premed biology major.
Yes. Hard to believe looking at me now isn’t it? When I reached college, I got really depressed and unhappy. I realized then that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do and I knew I had to take probably the biggest risk of my life so far. I had to walk away from everything that, up until that point, was normal for me and give my dream 100% to see if I could make something happen.
That’s pretty huge because you’re going from a full scholarship in an area that is basically carving your life in stone versus the alternative which is where you are now, wrought with so many uncertainties.
One thing is that I don’t want to have regrets. I don’t want to look back and think that I could have, especially in light of the fact that some opportunities were presenting themselves to me.
What were they?
I was meeting all these producers but I couldn’t work with them because I had to go to school. So they would see me and then I would disappear. This is when I started not doing well at school because my focus had started shifting and I wasn’t giving my all to anything anymore. Everything was kind of suffering. I wasn’t booking jobs and I wasn’t being a good student anymore.
So at what point did you shift gears to where you are today?
When I returned to school after Thanksgiving break in the first semester of my first year, I woke up the Monday morning, literally looked around the room and realized that I didn’t want to be here anymore. It hit me like a tonne of bricks and I said to myself right there and then that I’m done. I decided to finish the semester and after Christmas, never come back. Nobody believed me; my parents were like “ok sure!” It wasn’t until the day that classes started in January and that I didn’t go back that it finally hit them that I wasn’t gonna go back.
So what did you do from that point forward?
First I had to basically do the whole ‘sit down with my parents’ thing.
What was that like?
It was awful! (Pause) My father is Indian and my mother came from a family that worked very hard to get where they are today, to give me all that I had.
So how did you handle it?
I typed out four pages where I explained what I would do with my time, my schedule and what I could be getting done if I didn’t have to go to school [while] also explaining my feelings as I was very emotional and I cried whilst doing this. It was so hard for me to make this decision but I had to. My mom was very adamant that I go back to school and I finish. My dad said, “I’m not going to fight your mother for you, but I am going to say that you should follow your heart.” You see when my dad was in Guyana, he played cricket and got asked to go to Trinidad to be on the national team. His mom didn’t let him go and till today, he holds that regret that he didn’t go.
Kind of like the Bend it like Beckham scenario.
He didn’t want to be part of the reason that I didn’t follow my dream.
So you had a thing or two to prove not only to yourself but also to your parents. Tall order. So you gave up school; now what? How did you go from this point to the point where you actually felt that things were starting to happen for you?
First of all, I didn’t think of having to prove anything to anyone. I simply just do what I do, love it and that’s it, end of story. I’m pursuing my dream and as corny as this may sound, my heart is completely happy.
What is your dream?
To reach people with my music and my words. To touch people and to get myself to a higher place so I can do even more for the community and people around me because my voice will be heard.
Who is your community?
The world at large. When you’re in a place of being known, ‘famous’, people suddenly care about what you have to say and give you opportunities to change things in society that need to be changed. My ultimate endoftheday goal is not about being famous but about being able to help people. (Pause) My aunt heard one of my songs the other day and started crying and that’s the best feeling in the world, to know that she heard my voice and heard what I had to say and it touched her. That’s my job done.
And that’s the core of why you do what you do?
So in hindsight, you made the right decision?
Oh my gosh, absolutely! I’ve been very blessed to do all that I’ve done in three years.
Before we talk about all that you’ve done, I’d like to ask you what you did to put things into play?
My first step was to get my first set of pictures done to show around the circuit. Then I started taking acting classes. My first ever acting teacher got me in touch with my first ever manager. My manager then sent me on auditions and that’s kind of how it all played out.
You went on to land jobs on One Life to Live and Guiding Light, how did all of that come about?
Literally, I sent packages to…casting directors. I used to mail directly to them, usually a mass mailing to about 15 agents and directors at a time, and then from there I’d get called in for an audition. It was very strange to be on those shows and to meet those people that I had been watching whilst growing up.
When you’re in a room full of other hopefuls who are vying for the same job you are, how do you focus your energy on not getting intimidated?
I say God’s name three times before I even walk in. That helps me focus and bring myself into me. I then tell myself to not get caught up in the whole “she’s prettier than me” or “oh her hair is nicer than mine” frame of mind. That’s crippling and the reason why people get intimidated. There’s no way that there is any girl who is the same as me. We’re all different so we’re not competing; we’re all doing our own thing. No one is on that stage when you are. That is your moment and it’s up to you to shine in that moment.
Most people find one career path to carve in stone and be known for by the public before they venture in to diversifying their skill sets. You seem to be doing things the other way round by pursuing both an acting and a musical career before being really well known. Is this a deliberate strategic move on your behalf or on the part of your management team?
Okay, talk to me about that.
It really is exactly like that! That movie reminds me of my family so much. Ok well, if you look at the industry today people get bored very quickly. We tend to want that instant gratification and there’s no difference with people who want fame. They shoot up to stardom very quickly and get knocked off the pedestal just as quickly. I feel that if I do a little bit of everything, like Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce who have their hands in everything, I have a stronger chance of sustaining success. For me, it’s about a career; it’s not about a moment in time.
So let’s talk a little about all the different things that you’re juggling right now. You’re modeling, singing and acting. Tell me a little about each.
Well in terms of the music, the album is close to being completed. I haven’t rushed with my album; I have really taken my time with it as I wanted it to be right. I haven’t let anybody put time constraints on me because you only get one shot to prove your worth. I don’t want to mess with that.
So with the musical Thara, is singing the focus of your skill set?
One of them. I’ve written and cowritten everything on my album. I’m very involved in the whole process. I’ve done a lot of collaborations with other artists as well.
I did a record with Fat Man Scoop for his album. It’s going to be his second single. I also did a record with Fabulous that was on his last album, called Ghetto. I also have a duet on my album cowritten and featuring John Legend called Maybe.
That’s great for you in light of his enormous success right now.
I’m so happy for him, it’s really great. He’s such a nice guy so it’s nice to see someone you know who is nice and who has great energy, doing so well. It’s reassuring to know you can be nice and still do well.
Absolutely it seems to be quite rare now but its good to know that it’s still out there.
Considering the varied styles of the collaborators you have worked with, how have you directed the feel of your own album, bearing in mind that we are all influenced by others in all aspects of our lives. How have you directed the feel of your own musical style?
Thara’s a multidimensional individual and this factors over to my musical eclecticism. I’m Guyanese, Indian, Black and I also have Irish in me. All of this comes out in my album.
So if we were to define the Thara sound?
The Thara sound is definitely a mix of Aaliyah and Janet. It’s definitely poprn’b.
You’ve had two prealbum singles make the play list. The first was in heavy rotation in the U.S. and the second broke ground in the European market. So now you’re getting geared up for the release of your debut album.
As you know, there are many wellknown, multitalented singer/songwriters in the South Asian scene like Raghav, Rishi Rich etc., who have had a certain degree of success in their own right, but none have really broken and sustained a career on the mainstream world market. What makes you believe that you will be any different?
Well because even without an album under my belt, I have achieved a unique position. I was the first Indian to have a record on Hot 97 (one of New York’s premier radio stations). I already did it [and] nobody can take that away from me so I can only go up from there.
So why do you think you’ve been able to do that and they haven’t? I mean I don’t think it’s a talent thing.
Absolutely not. In this industry, unfortunately, it’s who you know. DJ Clue has connections on Hot 97 and he’s a friend of mine. I’m also great friends with [VJ] Lala from MTV. Lala played my record for the very first time on Hot 97, [during] a ladies night.
So the connections will help to a certain degree, but what about the long haul. What do you think will help you grow and sustain in such a highly competitive market?
I think it’s the fact that I can do everything that I sing, act, model and dance. I have that whole package which seems to be what everybody is looking for nowadays. I feel that most of the Indian singers haven’t focused so much on the package the way I have. I’ve come this far prepared. No one is lucky. The person who makes it is the one who is ready when the opportunity comes knocking. It’s got nothing to do with luck because even if the opportunity came and you weren’t prepared you’d still be screwed. So I think that’s what sets me apart and gives me my edge.
How connected are you with your Indian heritage?
Now, I’m very connected. It wasn’t until I was 19 years old that I could say I was Indian and not feel uncomfortable about it because prior to that, it was something I was made fun of for. I did whatever I could to hide it and I have no problem admitting that because a lot of people I know can agree with me and relate to it. You know [like] the fact that my house smells like curry so when I had friends coming over, I would ask my parents not to cook curry and to close my door when cooking [because] I [didn’t] want my room to smell. I would completely cover myself with perfume before I went out and I didn’t want my friends to see me in my Indian clothes. All of that has only recently changed.
So how did you get to that point of comfort with being Indian?
Three years ago when I came into my own on many levels, one was being Indian. It was a natural thing for me because there’s no getting away from all the aspects that make you you.
So tell me in terms of the urban music scene, do people feel “who is this little Indian girl coming along and trying to do our music?”?
I don’t have to prove to anyone that I am Indian I just am Indian. So when people ask me why aren’t you doing this or that or be more Indian, I tell them because I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. (Pause) But sometimes I do feel like I get confused, but then I just remind myself that I didn’t grow up in India or Guyana, I grew up here, this is who I am an Indian girl in an American society.
When shall we expect the release of your debut album?
Probably in the summer.
And where is this going to be available? Just in NorthAmerica or are you looking into the European market and beyond?
It’s going to be a global project. It would be silly for us to just market it here. We would be missing out on huge overseas potential if we were to limit the release to the U.S. alone.
Does it feel surreal?
Oh absolutely. I’ve just gotten used to the fact that this is what I do now. The other day, I went to JayZ’s birthday party and saw Beyonce there. When I told my cousins and friends, they were like, “Oh my Gosh!” But to me, slowly it’s not that big of a deal anymore.
What was it like for you the first time you were in that kind of environment?
The first video I ever had to do was a JayZ and Pharell video. But I wasn’t too star struck because it’s not really in my personality to be that way. For me, it was more the honour to work with them as opposed to feeling like oh my gosh, I’m so star struck. I felt honoured that this was my first job and I’m getting to work with these people so early on in my career. (Pause) It’s funny, one minute you’re just a girl from the streets and the next, you’re getting hit on by huge stars.
So how do you deal with that?
Well it’s hard because there are the ones who are rude about it and others who are polite about it. It’s hard when they’re famous because you don’t want to be rude to anybody, but at the same time, you also need to respect yourself. Also, to have the courage [to] be able to say, “Okay, you know you can’t touch me like that!” can be quite difficult, but it’s necessary.
So who’s hit on you girl?
Sorry I can’t say Raj. It’s not something I want to share with the whole world. I had to walk off a video set once because I wasn’t comfortable in the clothes that they expected me to wear and the way I was being looked at by the guys there. It was like they weren’t checking me out but instead they were looking through me like I was naked.. So, I was gone. For some people, it is okay to do these things, and that’s fine for them. But for me, I always have to remember that I have much bigger goals in mind, and I don’t want to do anything to screw that up.
What’s happening in terms of your acting career in 2006?
Well I have the new Rishi Kapoor movie coming out.
What’s your role in the movie?
I did the title song with Taz (of Stereo Nation).
When is that movie coming out?
It will probably come out in April/May.
So what’s happening with your modeling career right now?
Well, I just finished my campaign with Verizon. It was awesome to see my face in ads all over the place. For my dad and mom, it was a big realization that I was doing the right thing for me because I was actually succeeding in what I had chosen to leave school to do.
How do you keep all the craziness in perspective so that you can keep focused and productive?
One thing I do, for example, to try and keep focused is to do normal things. I hold onto what is normal for me so as to keep things in perspective. That’s work and this is not. Who am I at work and who am I when I’m not working? Figuring that out is the key, I believe, to being able to handle yourself and not lose sight of the fact that there are far more dimensions to being you than [just] your work.
So what do you do?
Last night I came home to watch Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy. So for those two hours, I was the normal me. I enjoy that, I look forward to that, and otherwise I’d go crazy.
That’s all you do? You don’t have a man in your life right now?
No there’s no man in my life.
Why is that? You know there are other ways, other than watching the box to decompress you know!
(Laughs) Well, for me right now, I don’t really have the time to support a relationship as I have to stay focused on me.
So let’s get back to your down time. Where is home for you?
I have an apartment in New York City.
What’s it like?
Well there [are] a lot of candles everywhere. I love candles. I like to keep things simple and minimal. I don’t have any curtains in my place.
What? How do you have sex?
Thara does NOT have sex.
What! Are Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy that satisfying?
(Laughs hysterically) No, but it does last longer!
Touché! Never miss a little cuddle every now and again?
I have a dog who sleeps with me.
Good choice, more loyal. Just kidding! And what else do you do when you’re not working?
As you know, I like to watch TV. I love Martha Stewart. I love to cook as well. It’s very satisfying for me when I cook for my loved ones and to see them enjoy the food. That’s a really good feeling for me.
Run through a day where you’re working and a day where you’re not working?
On a working day, I get up between seven to nine to have breakfast. I usually have eggs or oatmeal or brown rice and milk I always have my carbs early in the day so I can burn them off. Then, I’ll go to the gym, come home and get ready to go to an audition. I take the train everywhere if I can. Then, I tend to go to the studio where I may have an interview with a journalist [and go straight] to recording. A typical recording session could run from six to 12 hours. So, they’re very long and intense.
You’re telling me you do all of that in one day? Girl, you need to get some sex.
I told you, Thara does NOT have sex!
What do you think about in your moments of solitude?
I try to remind myself of all that I have to be thankful for. Another big thing for me is affirmation affirming to myself how special I am. I’m in a position where I am being constantly scrutinized. It can get confusing at times, which is why I have to keep checking myself.
On those days when nothing seems to be going your way, what do you do to not feel overwhelmed or become negative?
I have to talk about it. I have to let it out that’s the first thing for me. I wouldn’t say I’m confrontational but if something or someone hurt me, I have to tell you I can’t keep it to myself. I would much rather tell you how you make me feel than hold it in. That would make me crazy. Another thing I do is cry. I have no problem in admitting that I cry. For me, it’s good because it’s another way of getting it all out. I guess that’s why I also write.
It’s therapeutic for me.
In your eyes, what has been your greatest achievement so far?
Well an emotional time for me was when I heard You Wanna on the radio. I literally started crying in my car; it was so weird to hear my voice coming through the speakers. I don’t think that feeling will ever go away.
When will you know that you’ve made it?
I guess a big thing for me is when I’m able to do things for my family the people that have believed in me. Also, when I receive my first Grammy and have the opportunity in front of the entire world to thank all those people that got me there that’s my ultimate dream.
What does your crystal ball see for you in the next three to five years?
Well, at least a couple multiplatinum albums with a lot of no.1 hits plus no.1 movies! At the same time, a clothing line and an opportunity to work with kids.
Your personal words of wisdom are:
To follow your heart and do what makes you happy. Know that sometimes what makes us happy may not be the easiest thing in the world to achieve. It will be worth more if you work for it.
Is there anything that you would like to say to the ANOKHI readers worldwide?
I would just like the ANOKHI readers to know who I am, and to the ones who are in support of me, a heartfelt thank you. For the ones who don’t know me or who are interested in getting to know me, I want to say, “you won’t regret it, I promise you”. I also want all to know that no comment or message that any fan sends me goes unnoticed. They all mean something to me, so please keep them coming. Without that, I feel so unconnected with you all, and I don’t ever want that to happen. Stay close, as I will to you. God Bless!
First published in Spring 2006 issue, www.AnokhiMagazine.com.
Coordinator: Shivani Kumar
Stylist: Valissa Voe
Photography by: Shilo Crawford
Hair & Makeup: Betsy Reyes & Elisa Tallerico
Jewelry: Isik Jewelry Center, NJ
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