Dreams soar above the NBA court

By Elysa Gardner

Straight up: Not since Paula Abdul strutted and squeaked her way to platinum sales has an NBA dancer/choreographer made as big a musical splash as Natalie. Though she hasn't yet officially quit her day job as "power dancer" for the Houston Rockets, the 25-year-old hit No. 1 on Billboard's singles chart last week with the wistful Goin' Crazy. Natalie will join Frankie J and Baby Bash on tour April 30 and will release her self-titled debut album May 17.

Growin' up: As a girl in Houston, Natalie Alvarado remembers "going crazy for Michael Jackson's Off the Wall" and listening to his sister Janet, Madonna "and even people like Kiss and Led Zeppelin." Abdul was another favorite: "I watched her videos and the ones she choreographed for Janet Jackson. I take it as a compliment when people compare (us)."

Branchin' out: After attending junior college in east Texas for a year on a dance scholarship, Natalie joined the Rockets squad. She soon started applying her rhythmic talents vocally as well, finding work at local recording sessions. "I started out as a freestyle rapper in Houston. I wrote lyrics, too."

Goin' crazy — for real: "About two years ago, I wanted to quit the whole music thing," Natalie says. Her single, an account of romantic angst based on "something I went through personally," languished for a year and a half before release, "and my patience was really being run down. I said, if music isn't for me, I'll accept it, though it will be hard."

Sittin' pretty: After all that waiting and wondering, Natalie says, "I'm so happy with the outcome of the CD. I have a pretty soft voice, but Happy Perez (Natalie's longtime friend and a co-producer of her CD, with past credits including Jadakiss, Mystikal and Master P) set it to beats that are going to make guys want to drive around in their cars to it. We don't know if we should call it R&B or pop; it's just easy, rhythmic melodies with great beats."

Lookin' ahead: "Five to 10 years from now, I hope that I've won a couple of Grammys. I would also love to do movies and sitcoms, because I'm more of a funny person. I would love to do Saturday Night Live skits. And I'd love to work with Beyoncé; she's also from Houston, and she's a wonderful writer and one of the best entertainers. And Usher, and Missy Elliott. ... I'm just going to keep going for my dream."




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