Samantha Mumba thinks she has what it takes to stand out in the teen pop league. One thing’s for sure: This 17 year old black, Irish R&B singer — whose debut ”Gotta Tell You” has been a staple of Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart since October — has never been on ”The Mickey Mouse Club.” Likewise, Mumba prides herself on her — gasp! — serious stage training and unique singing voice.
But that doesn’t mean Mumba shies away from skimpy attire or savvy cross branding. She has an eye on acting and modeling (à la Mandy Moore) and has already turned down a role in Will Smith’s much buzzed about boxing biography, ”Ali.” EW.com recently caught up with Mumba, who’s hard at work promoting her follow up single, ”Baby Come On Over,” on both sides of the Atlantic. The chronically jet lagged teen talked about how she got started and what she hopes will set her apart from the rest.
Your father’s a Zambian aircraft engineer and your mother’s an Irish homemaker — how did you get started in the music biz?
I’ve been performing professionally since I was 3. I’ve done dancing, a lot of theater, a lot of Irish telly. I started getting lead roles in shows like ”The Mikado” and other theater productions that went on in Ireland, and that got me a lot of press, because I was only 15 at the time and it was an adult kind of production.
Is that how Louis Walsh, [manager of Irish boy band Westlife] found you?
I was at a club. I was supposed to go out with the cast of [”Mikado”], and we were in the VIP room and he was there and he recognized me.
Walsh has called you a cross between Britney Spears and Janet Jackson. What do you think of that?
I prefer to be compared to Janet Jackson. I think she’s fantastic. Britney Spears is too new for me to be compared to. You know what I mean? I can’t look at somebody as a role model if they’re the same age as me.
Are you able to work and attend school at the same time?
No, I left school a year and half early. When I was recording the album, I’d do it for a few weeks, then I’d have a break for a few weeks. But if I’d tried then to go back to school, I’d miss a few weeks, then I’d be trying to catch up and just as I was catching up, I’d be gone again. So, I was just chasing my own tail. It wasn’t happening at all.
You’re so young. Do you ever any problems with the skimpy clothes you wear when you perform?
No, I heard it’s like a big deal to show your midriff in America. That’s not an issue in Ireland. It’s not like my record company is trying to style me or I’m told to wear these things. I mean I love clothes, full stop. If I like something, I wear it.
What’s more important, your look or your music?
Everything. I don’t want [my audience] to say, ”Oh yeah, crap song, but she’s pretty.” Or: ”Great song, but she’s a dog.” ”Crap dancing, but she dresses well.”
If you could duet with anyone, who would it be?
Enrique Iglesias. I mean, have you seen him in person? Six feet tall, beautiful bright eyes! And Lenny Kravitz — he’s gorgeous.
What about movies. Now that ”Ali” is a no go, what do you want to do?
I want to be a bad girl in an action film. I really do.