Most teenagers daydream about several career paths in life, but 19-year-old Kristinia of the R&B clan the DeBarges says there's only one thing she ever considered doing.
"I don't really know anything else besides singing," said the daughter of James DeBarge, the keyboardist of the 1980s Motown group DeBarge and ex-husband of Janet Jackson.
"I had a pretty normal life, except that my family just sang a lot. So I was always in the house and I was always hearing them on the piano or the drums or the guitar, or they were writing a song. My father always took me in the studio, with him or on tour ... and after a while it just became like second nature to me," said DeBarge (whose first name is pronounced kris-teh-NEE'-ah).
The group DeBarge — which featured five of the DeBarge siblings, with El as its lead singer — hit it big back in the 1980s with No. 1 hits like "Time Will Reveal" and "Rhythm of the Night." Their smooth grooves were given new life over the years thanks to artists like the Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac and Ashanti using the group's melodies as the main hooks for their songs.
But instead of singing the sultry soul and R&B her family members delivered years back, DeBarge is ready to take over the pop world with her debut CD, "Exposed," released this week. She's opening for the Britney Spears tour next month and her first single "Goodbye," which samples Steam's 1969 hit "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)," is a Top 40 hit on the Billboard pop chart.
The song has even drawn comparisons to Rihanna, but DeBarge says she doesn't mind since she is a fan of the singer.
"I love Rihanna — I think she has a lot of great music that she's come out with," she said.
Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, the Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and producer, signed DeBarge to his new label and oversaw the direction of her album. He also produced "Goodbye."
Edmonds said the comely singer is more than a pretty face: "She actually has a voice. She can really sing," he said in a phone interview.
"I think when you have a family history that's in music and that runs in their blood, sometimes what comes with that is a natural instinct in terms of performing," he said.
"Exposed" finds DeBarge working as a songwriter too; she co-wrote the track "Cried Me a River" and "It's Gotta Be Love," which samples LL Cool J's 1996 song, "I Need Love."
"Of course I'm not going to be able to write all the songs on the album this time," she said. But she added she has faith that she "can really write maybe my whole album one day."
While DeBarge tries to carve out her own space in the musical universe — like her family did almost three decades ago — she says she's never worried that her family's famous name will overshadow her.
"I'm more excited about it because I do have this last name and it is in my favor and I can use it to a great degree," she said. "So I look at it more as a blessing."