At the start of her recent tour, it had been nearly ten years since Toni Braxton has been in concert. She had a new album and plenty to talk about — but the first thing she mentioned was how fans at her first show in Atlantic City, N.J., almost got more of her than they bargained for.
Braxton said she left the stage for a quickie costume change. But in the eight seconds allotted to swap outfits, she forgot something: her panties. She was about to head back on stage wearing “just pantyhose and a top” when an alert member of the stage crew caught the faux pas.
The incident, and the fact that she seems comfortable telling on herself within the first minute of an interview, gives one the sense that Braxton is, quite literally, comfortable in her skin.
She acknowledges the days are long gone when she can pose nearly nude for Vibe magazine or wear the kind of dress she did at the 2001 Grammys (with a deep, plunging neckline and top half strategically held up by double-sided tape). But at age 38, she’s still not shy about wearing clothes that offer a glimpse of thigh here or a little cleavage there — even with her family in the audience.
Braxton is now married to Keri Lewis (former keyboardist for Mint Condition, her current opening act) and they have two children, Denim, 5, and Diezel, 2. Two of her sisters, Tamar and Trina, are working as backup singers and dancers.
What’s it like juggling family and stardom?
“Challenging,” Braxton says. “It’s been hard, I can’t deny it, ’cause I’m a real hands-on mom, really involved with my kids and their day-to-day activities.”
Now that she’s on the road, she laments she “can’t be as involved.”
High-tech motheringDon’t tell that to Denim. Braxton and her husband installed cameras in all the rooms of their house, so she can monitor the kids on the Internet when she’s away. Sometimes she catches Denim letting the family dog out of its cage and calls him on the phone to tell him to stop. Because of her surveillance skills, she jokingly says of her son: “He definitely believes in God.”
Braxton knows that with many of today’s stars at least a decade younger than her, she has to tour to maintain her career. She’s known for hits like “Breathe Again,” “Seven Whole Days” and “Love Shoulda Brought You Home.” But while her fans love her songs, she has mixed emotions about some — like “Seven Whole Days.”
“Hated it!” says Braxton. In fact, she says of the sigh after the lyric “seven whole nights”: “I did that to be smart.” On the other hand, she says while she loved “Another Sad Love Song,” Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds “only thought it was OK” and considered it album filler until it became one of her first hits.
Braxton says she doesn’t feel pressure to keep up with the crop of younger singers who have come along since 1992, when she first hit the scene. While she’s added a pinch or two of hip-hop flavor to her music over the years, her style usually appeals to adult contemporary audiences.
Sometimes, a little too much.
"Not a good sound"Braxton says she’s often asked to sing at weddings of friends and family members. She usually tells them: “You don’t want me to sing at your wedding,” because her big hits are what she calls “happy-sad love songs.” As she put it, desperate-for-love ballads like “Un-break My Heart” and “Breathe Again” are “not a good sound for your wedding.”
Even in “You Mean The World To Me,” she notes, she tells her man to give her one good reason to believe all his lies. She credits Babyface with writing lyrics that make heartbreak songs sound almost like the kind you might want to hear at your own wedding.
While a master at singing about broken hearts, it was a physical problem with her heart that gave her a scare recently. Just after her second child was born, she returned to work on the Broadway show “Aida.” She came down with a case of pericarditis, an inflammation of the heart caused by a virus. Though she now dismisses the scare as just “a big ol’ mess,” she says when she heard the problem involved her heart, she thought about the movie “Beaches” — and feared she’d be like the Barbara Hershey character, who dies.
Now she paces herself while on tour. Every once and again she might feel a little flutter, but she declares herself “100 percent fine.”