Once upon a time, not all that long ago, an all-girl pop group named Dream owned the planet.
OK, that’s an exaggeration. No planet was actually owned. But Dream was big. REALLY big. In the spring of 2001, one could not listen to the radio for more than an hour without hearing He Loves U Not, Dream’s debut single. The song was peppy and catchy, and the girls—all teenagers, all Californians—were cute and bubbly and eminently likable. They traveled the country, appeared on late-night TV shows, opened for Destiny’s Child and Nelly, did autograph appearances and meet and greets and reduced teens to tears. Hell, they were on Puffy’s Bad Boy label. Life was grand.
Of course, pop music (especially that of the teenaged variety) is something of a mirage. It comes, it explodes, it vanishes. Names are forgotten. Songs fade. You get old and are, to a certain degree, replaced. Donny Osmond becomes Bobby Brown. Bobby Brown becomes Justin Timberlake. Justin Timberlake becomes Justin Bieber. On and on and on …
Ashley Poole was a member of Dream. She sang, she danced, she embraced the gleeful life of a pop star. Then, when the industry no longer needed Dream, she kind of vanished into the abyss. She spent about five years working as a cocktail waitress, and now works out of her home, doing property management. She also trains and writes for aspiring artists. You can follow her Tweets here.
Here, Ashley talks about the highs and lows of a career in pop music and why she ultimately decided against a comeback. Ashley loves Snoop Dogg and Twilight, but has no real use for Ross Perot.
Ashley Poole, dreams do come true … the Quaz is yours …
JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Ashley, so back in 2001 I was driving across Florida, covering Spring Training for Sports Illustrated, logging hundreds upon hundreds of miles … and “He Loves U Not” is being played non-stop. Literally, I can’t escape it. And here’s the odd thing—I was a 29-year-old guy, and digging it. I genuinely liked the song. Which leads me to my (somewhat lame) opener:
What is it like, being 16 and having your music played everywhere, all the time? How did that feel? How did it hit you? Did you have a singular moment when you were like, “Holy crap, we’re big?”
ASHLEY POOLE: Honestly—it rocked. It never got old to hear our songs on the radio! We’d turn it up and blast it every time it came on! The feeling, more than anything, was pride. Just pure awesomeness. It smacked me right across the face, and I enjoyed that. As for a singular moment—there were many. Your first tour bus, your first time on TRL, the first time you make your tour manager go get you tampons in the middle of the night “cuz you can!” Hanson at my Sweet 16 birthday party—andthen it was aired on MTV News. Jay Leno, fans knowing my dogs’ name. But the one that sticks out the most is when we premiered “This is Me” in the middle of Time Square and no one had done that before. It was epic.
J.P.: There are about 800 different stories online about the formulation of Dream, and zero about your specific plight. So, Ashley, who the hell are you? What I mean is—I know you’re from Cali, I know you were in a pop group, I know you have a great voice. But what was your path?
A.P.: My path was to sing, I guess. Not sure how to answer that one. When I was 6 I did a talent show and everyone cried. I decided then to do music until the day I die. I knew that God gave me a gift, because it didn’t exactly come from my parents. I was inspired by God. Not in the cheesy way it sounds. I’ve always felt super connected with God and I have been able to hear Him, and I just feel so empowered when I sing. It was His gift to me. It inspires me to use it because as a nerd, who wanted to fit in, the only thing that people respected about me was my vocal ability. They couldn’t deny it or do it themselves. I was always annoying and in-your-face honest, trying to prove I was brave but it only worked when I sang.
J.P.: A piece from MTV.com says you joined Dream via a call to 1-800-BE-A-STAR. I’m guessing there’s much more to this than that.
A.P.: This is true. I’m from a small town and I didn’t know shit about the “biz.” There was a commercial that said “If you wanna be a star call this number …” And, being the ballsy and wonderfully naive kid I was, I called it. It was a talent placement agency, which is basically a BS place where they take your money and sell you a dream. They wanted to sign me and we had to pay like $2,000 or some craziness and during that time there was an audition for a girl group from this manager who didn’t know a thing about music (she came from the modeling management world). The Owners of the agency said “Go ahead and audition”—not thinking I would get it, because it was 1,000 girls. Well, I got it doing a jazz dance and singing “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion. Yup.
J.P.: Pop bands are a strange thing, because they’re built to be temporary. I mean, even the biggest pop bands around (New Edition, New Kids, Backstreet, etc) eventually fade off. But I’m wondering, when one is 15 … 16, does she realize this? At the time Dream was blowin’ up did you think, “Man, this is gonna last forever!” Or did you have the awareness to know that musical taste is fickle and pop songs generally fade quickly and kids grow up and move on to Zeppelin and Joplin?
A.P.: No. I had no freaking’ clue. I thought Dream would last forever. And don’t you worry—10 … 20 years down the line people will be singing Britney and Backstreet. Not just Joplin. Its how it goes. It’s kind how parents hated rap when it came out and thought it was a phase that we’d never love later. I bump “California Love” and old-school Snoop because to me it’s the good shizzz! Just as epic as Zeppelin.
J.P.: I watched a handful of videos before typing this up, and it never looks especially fun doing live pop performances. What I mean is, it seems more like a tightly choreographed aerobics class, where you have to be 800-times more concerned with arm placement than vocals. Am I wrong? And is it even possible to sing well while also dancing 674 moves per second (I’m assuming, maybe wrongly, you guys often had a backtrack)?
A.P.: Good questions. We are the military of pop. We did eight-hour dance rehearsals for three months straight, while incorporating school. You learn the moves so ridiculously well that it’s second nature. Every finger, every toe. It’s hard-ass work—seriously. Especially for a double left footed dweeb white girl like me. Ha! But once it’s second nature and you don’t have to think about it—then the fun begins. You get to “feel” it. It’s invigorating. You stop thinking and just respond the music, the crowd, your body … it’s beautiful. I loved it. I used to jump off stage to hug or sing to fan because I felt it—or I would just stop and stare at the crowd and hear them roar … amazing. Truly amazing. We left our blood, sweat and tears on that stage.
As for the singing/dancing, it’s hard—I won’t lie, but we always sang live. We sounded like shit sometimes but hey, it is what it is. You do also have a backtrack because it’s produced pop and when you record a pop song you record four of the main not four of the low harmony, four of the top harmony, four of any other harmony or in-betweeners. Basically four girls can’t sing 80 tracks and make it sound like the record. The leads were always naked and live. But we each sang our background notes above the track. *Nsync was the same.
J.P.: Y’all were originally formed by a talent scout named Judith Fontaine in 1998. Then you were signed by Bad Boy (and Diddy), and Fontaine sued you—making you the 800th pop band to be sued by some disgruntled former employee of some sort. From afar, it seems like perhaps the woman had a case—“I bring y’all together … and this is how you thank me!?” Am I way off?
A.P.: A bit off. Judith Fontaine is the modeling manger I spoke of before. She did discover us, except for Diana. She formed a group and we did the cheesiest songs that would have never put us on the map, and somehow she got us a meeting with manager Kenny Burns and producer Vincent Herbert. They laughed at us because we were white girls on Planet Cheesy. But then they listened to us individually and closed their eyes and apparently had a vision. Shortly after that we fired Judith Fontaine and started to make an album with Vincent. Kenny came up with the name “Dream” (before that we were the God-awful name “First Warning” that Judy came up with). They wanted us to be urban white girls so they came up with the whole baggy clothing, Timberland boots, bandanas image and they started shopping us shortly after. Kenny knew Diddy and got that meeting and Diddy signed us on the spot. So Judith Fontaine did nothing but introduce us. She basically deserved a finders fee.
J.P.: Your first album sold very well, then Bad Boy clearly tried to sex you guys up with the single “Krazy,” off a second album that wasn’t released. You weren’t even 18 when this happened, which must have been disconcerting. And you guys just look really uncomfortable in the video (correct me if I’m wrong, please).
A.P.: I was 18 and I was really comfortable. I was living in that video, honey! I can’t speak for the other girls but I do think a few of them were uncomfortable with all the sexy stuff. But, you see, I had looked like a little boy all of my teen years and when Mel left (who was our sexy at the time) I jumped right into that space. I wanted to feel like a beautiful, sexy woman. My hair grew out, my body was banging’—I was like, let’s do this!
J.P.: I’m wondering if this is when you truly came to realize that music, ultimately, is a business, and one in which you have little control.
A.P.: It is a business and we hated Krazy! Diddy was wrong to put that record on us. Our fans we’re pop not R&B or hiphop. Our second album “Reality” was so insanely amzeballz, we were basically the female *Nsync. “Krazy” was not us. But Puff made a call and there was nothing we could do.
J.P.: Four years ago you formed a new band, Little Phoenix, with Melissa and, later, Diana. I saw the web announcement, but then, well, nothing. What happened?
A.P.: Mel and I have always stayed good. Never did we hate each other—so we hooked up one day and both of us had it on our minds to get Dream back together for a reality show. We flew up to San Francisco to visit Holly with Diana and tried to romance them back into the group. LOL, it didn’t work. Mel and I kept it moving and decided to create a new group. A year later Diana decided to give it a go since it was in the jazzy area that she liked, and we named ourselves Lady Phoenix (because we were rising from the ashes). It wasn’t my fav but whatever. Me and my girls were back! For me and Mel it had been three years and nothing was happening, but we were having fun still. Then I was in church one day and I heard God say “I don’t want you in Lady Phoenix right now.” So I got out. It was confusing and hard and I went through some much-needed learning after that. God stripped me down to see the ugly things that were going on in my heart and the broken pieces happening in my life were revealed. But then I grew stronger and healed and the girls and I grew from that. We all love each other very much.
J.P.: Mandy Moore was a pop contemporary of yours, and her song “Candy” was pretty similar to “He Loves U Not.” She’s about the same age you are, and she now does a lot of acoustic, Joni Mitchell-type music … really good stuff. She also seems to have fun mocking “Candy” as crap fluff. She sings it with spoof emotion, makes fun of the words, etc. I was wondering if now, as a woman in her mid-20s, you feel the same way about Dream’s songs. Do you look back and think, “that was excellent?” Do you look back and think, “Soulless pop drivel?” Are you somewhere in the middle?
A.P.: First off, “Candy” is nothing like “He Loves U Not.” It wasn’t authentic for her. For us, or any girl, getting angry at some slut trying to take your man but you rock confidence instead or beefing it out … that’s something most of us have been through, or could understand. Its such a bad-ass message and beat and sexy with attitude … even you, a grown man, liked it. Which, by the way, we heard a lot from grown men. Weird. He Love’s U Not 4 Life Bitches!
J.P.: I saw a video of you singing the National Anthem at Citi Field, and it was terrific. You’re a mom, a wife, possessor of a gorgeous voice. What is your life like today?
A.P.: LOL—um, I’m not a mom unless you count my two pooches, Xena The Warrior Princess and Olive Oil. Thanks for the compliment. I love singing the National Anthem. But my life is calm and family-oriented. I missed out on so many birthdays, holidays, family reunions while being in Dream, so I take full advantage of those moments now. I am a wife—not the Betty Crocker kind, but my man loves him some Ashley. Crazy, loud, obnoxious, sexy, nerdy, fight til 2 am—ME! LOL. So my life is just family fun basically. And always music—writing, singing, recording, teaching, etc.
J.P.: What are your goals? Do you want fame? And how big of a priority is music?
A.P.: My goals … that’s a hard question. To sing and make a living. And singing is definitely below God and family. But other than that it’s at the top. I just don’t feel worth anything unless I’m doing music.
J.P.: What’s been the absolute greatest moment of your music career? The lowest?
A.P.: The highest—just living it with three other amazing girls. They can make my world and break my heart anytime they choose. To have that kind of relationship is just special and only the five of us get it (including my sister-in-law Kasey who was the new girl in Dream). The absolute lowest? The day Holly quit. I am the emotional one so I took it pretty hard. When Mel tried to quit the first time, I threw a Doc Martin shoe at her. Those things are heavy. LOL. But she stayed for a while after that … I should’ve thrown a shoe at Holly! Kidding … kidding.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ASHLEY POOLE
• Five things in your purse: Lip gloss, credit card, deodorant, fifty shades of grey, tampons.
• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, details …: LOL!! LMFAO! Yes. Dream was heading to Chicago on a red eye for our first on-air performance on the Jenny Jones Show and lightning hit our plane (I guess it happens all the time but I freaked out). I got up in the middle of the plane and screamed “DOES EVERYONE HERE KNOW JESUS!” No joke. My manager peed his pants laughing so hard.
• What the heck does “You’re the kind of girl that’s always up for do or dare” actually mean?: She’s up to do your man.
• Rank in order (fave to least), Andre Ethier, Star Trek IV, Ross Perot, Twilight, Taco Bell, your cell phone, people named John, the designated hitter rule, Justin Timberlake, strawberry milk, Celine Dion, Men Without Hats, purple, Campbell’s Soup: Twilight, cell phone, Taco Bell, people named John, Justin Timberlake, Celine Dion, strawberry milk, purple, Men Without Hats, Star Trek IV, Campbell’s Soup, I don’t know know Ross Perot and Andre Ethier are. Oh, and the DH rule. Who cares? If they wanna get hit, go for it, my friend.
• Would you rather watch an endless, 24-hour-a-day spool of the Krazy video for two straight weeks or shave your head bald for six months?: Are you kidding me? I’d love to watch myself weighing 12 pounds for 24 hours! Bring the popcorn and beer!
• Five all-time favorite musical acts?: Besides us—Lady Gaga, Foo Fighters, Snoop Dogg, Tim McGraw, and the late, great Michael Jackson.
• What happens when we die?: In my opinion—Heaven or Hell.
• The winner of the 2012 presidential election will be …: Stressful.
• American Idol—great for music, or one giant step toward hell?: Ummmmm Carrie Underwood! blah!
• I’m not so sure about calling up Bryce Harper this early. Thoughts?: No.
• You’re driving alone in the car and a Dream song comes on the radio. Do you: A. Turn the station; B. Listen joyfully; C. Listen joyfully and sing along?: C