Back in 2004-05, millions of television viewers tuned to MTV every week to watch Making the Band 3, the P. Diddy-centered reality show where a bunch of young, pretty, talented musical hopefuls would battle to, ultimately, form a group. On the Nov. 15, 2005 season finale, the network set a new viewership record as Diddy selected five women to form (the entity that would ultimately be known as) Danity Kane.
One of those women was Shannon Bex.
Quite often, reality TV winners come and go like the Foxboro wind. Where, for example, is Evan Marriott? How about Ruthie Alcaide? Uh, Omarosa, anybody? Danity Kane, however, had a very legit run. The group’s first single, Show Stopper, was absolutely huge, and the debut album topped the Billboard chart. Then, a second CD, Welcome to the Dollhouse, landed at No. 1, too. It was a pretty phenomenal showing, and even though the group broke up after five years, one can’t argue with the success.
Bex, a 32-year-old Oregonian, always came off as the mature member of Danity. She was the oldest, as well as the only one who was married. While she certainly sang the songs with gusto and flair, she never quite seemed to be, well, the squeeze-into-the-tightest-pants-possible type. A guitar, some jeans—that was Bex.
Anyhow, nowadays Shannon is recording a solo album that leans significantly more toward country than pop. She raised dough for the project via Pledge Music, and seems quite happy with the organic nature of her work. Shannon’s website is here, and she Tweets frequently (and interestingly). Here, she chats about life in Danity, life with Diddy, why the music business can mess with a person’s head and what life was like as a Portland Trailblazer dancer. She digs high heels, loathes immitation crab meat and has never heard of Dwight Gooden.
Shannon Bex, we’re in the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Shannon. Off the bat, thanks for doing this. Truly appreciated. First thing I want to ask you is a question I’ve often thought about when it comes to singers initially known from reality shows: Once one becomes famous from a Making of the Band-esque endeavor, how hard is it to move past that? I mean, certainly women like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood are now just as known (if not more so) than their catalogue of work than American Idol. But for most, it seems very, very difficult to shed the label, “Reality show creation.” Has this been difficult for you? Or am I inventing something that doesn’t exist?
SHANNON BEX: When reality shows first came about, I believe stepping into a legitimate role as a true artist was difficult. However, it has become such a popular path of discovery that the industry and fans are much more accepting.
J.P.: I’m gonna ask you a very blunt, very unconventional question: Was Danity Kane a good group? What I mean is, well, you all had talent, obviously; good voices, etc. But, looking back, what were the strengths and what were the weaknesses? And is it truly realistic to take a bunch of total strangers and think they can become a cohesive, long-lasting group? Or is that just ludicrous?
S.B.: Yes, Danity Kane was a well-rounded talented group of women, from singing to dancing and performance quality. I believe our biggest weakness was the side of our business. It is the music business and if you can’t agree on decisions it affects the brand. It’s just like starting or owning your own business, whatever it might be. You typically would choose to work with those who think the same and bring other strengths you do not have. But I’ve always said that, considering we were a group that was put together through a competition, well, I think we truly held our own for five years.
J.P.: I know you’re from Gresham, Oregon. I know you started dancing at age 6, and I know you went to high school in Bend, Oregon. But what was your path from there to here? In other words, how did you become a singer? Who most influenced the career choice? And what were the big moments along the way that influenced who you are?
S.B.: I’ve always loved singing but was very shy. I didn’t start until I was a freshman in high school in choir. Then I started singing at pep assemblies around town for events and the anthem for horse shows. You couldn’t stop me. After I graduated I auditioned for the NBA and joined the Portland Trail Blazers’ Dance Team. My coach heard me sing and got me on the court with a mic at a Western Conference game against Los Angeles. I was 20 at the time. The whirlwind started there. I sang the anthem at games along with other time out performances. Then I joined a cover band. At the age of 22 I auditioned for Fame on NBC with Debbie Allen. I was the runner-up, then signed to WEG Entertainment. I waited at home a year and got my first taste of this industry. The reality that nobody was going to do it for me really sank in. I watched the first season of Making the Band, then when Diddy announced the next round of auditions I was on a plane to San Francisco to stand in line for seven hours. You know the rest.
J.P.: You spent five seasons as a Portland Trail Blazers dancer. I’ve watched many NBA dance troops over the years, and I always think, “Hmm … this must get really boring for the dancers.” What was the experience like for you? And what are the pressures and complications that come with being an NBA dancer?
S.B.: I had the best time being an NBA dancer. My coach was amazing, as were the women I was on the team with each season. I have made lifelong friends through that experience. I can’t say every NBA team is the same way. What we had was unique to our situation, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it. I almost didn’t try out due to the stereotypes of the NBA dancers, but I had the opportunity to take a camp from the girls before I tried out and it changed my mind.
J.P.: My wife loves reality TV. I sorta think much of it is bullshit. I’m wondering—what do you think? How true to real was Making the Band? Was drama manufactured? Were character traits exaggerated so we’d have “good” vs “bad” storylines? And how has that experience changed the way you view the reality genre?
S.B.: No doubt reality shows enhance the personalities, so the audience can relate to one character or another. However, I always say they can’t use what you don’t give them. I can’t speak for other reality shows, but as far as Making the Band goes, everything that you saw go down really happened.
J.P.: In 2003 you were the runner-up to Harlemm Lee on the TV series, Fame. What do you recall from the experience? And, although everyone smiles and claps when the come in second in front of the cameras, how did you really feel?
S.B.: I truly was thrilled for him. I thought he was/is incredibly talented. Truthfully, I had never been around a performer so captivating. Plus I was getting married two weeks after the show. I knew that the winner was leaving for New York the next day, hitting the media circuit. I thought this thing could blow up fast. So I have to be honest—I was a little relieved I could go through with the wedding plans.
J.P.: You’ve obviously worked insanely hard. What did it feel like when Show Stopper blew up and was being played everywhere? When did you first realize Danity Kane could be pretty big? And what was your highest moment during that run?
S.B.: From the moment Puff picked the five of us I was like … wow, this could be big! When we hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts the first day we released it confirmed that we were on the right path. Although I knew there were no guarantees. It wasn’t until our second album hitting No. 1 that I thought this thing could be huge, but now it was up to the team around us to take it further. We truly did all we could. At some point no matter how successful you become you need that manager … that mentor to come alongside and help open those doors, endorsements, opportunities that will help cement your longevity.
J.P.: You’re the second singer I’ve interviewed who was in a Sean Combs-affiliated group. From this viewpoint, it seems like he’s great when he needs you—then quick and sorta heartless when it comes to cutting strings. Am I off on this? And what was it like to work with a man you refer to as “infamous”?
S.B.: He and I always had a respect for one another. Around the time we recorded “Dollhouse” he mentioned how he trusted what I had to say, and in the end he said I was a pleasure to work with. I came in focused, worked hard and never gave him grief. We only got into one argument during the “Damaged” video, regarding my costume for the dance sequence. The pants were way too tight for me to move in, however, he wanted me to wear them so I did. I didn’t have a choice, but all in all he was right. They looked good and I told him.
As far as him being heartless, personally I didn’t experience that. Is he hard to work with? Sometimes—especially if he wants things to be a certain way. However, I had a few conversations with him, where I felt he was listening and he took to heart what I had to say.
J.P.: As we speak you are using PLEDGE MUSIC to try and raise money to record your solo LP. For $180 one gets to hang in the studio, for $2,000 one gets a private acoustic performance. I don’t want to sound rude or crude, because lord knows I’ve pimped my books in myriad ways (including handing out postcards in a stadium parking lot). But is there a feeling of, well, vulnerability, doing it this way? I mean, the dream is to be discovered by some label, which throws millions of dollars at you so you can live in the studio. Does this suck? Is it organic? Does it suck and is it organic? And what happens if you fail to raise the sum?
S.B.: It’s a great question! Not rude at all! Honestly, right now I’m not looking for a label. I’ve been signed to two in my career and they are very difficult to maneuver with and get out of when the time comes. It took a year and a half to get out of the Danity Kane contract. I couldn’t do anything during that time. Labels have a lot of control and I’m happy for what I’ve been a part of but for me, personally in my career, this is the right step at this time. To me it’s about connecting straight to the fans and communicating. Understanding what they like and what they are wanting. Though I can’t please everyone I can be personable vs. just looking at facts and numbers.
Working with Pledge Music is only helping my process. Reconnecting me with fans, gaining new ones. I see it as organic, and difficult. There is a lot of work that goes into self-promotion, but also a lot of creative control.
J.P.: Does the music business suck as much as I think it does? I mean, from my viewpoint it seems image rules over substance; mediocre talent+big boobs outweighs fat woman with a great voice; willingness to sell out takes one very, very far. Am I wrong? And how does it not drive you insane?
S.B.: The music business/entertainment business in general is very driven on marketability vs. the root of true talent. Though I feel in the last few years people are speaking out more about it and are trying to change that focus. It will be interesting to see where things go in the next 10 years. Especially since the fans/audience have more control than they ever did before in helping careers. In a way they’ve become the label.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH SHANNON BEX:
• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you remember?: No but Aubrey [Writer’s note: Former Danity Kane member Aubrey O’Day] thought she was going to—every plane we took! Haha … I stopped sitting next to her for fear she’d break my hand squeezing it so tight.
• Five reasons one should make Bend, Oregon his/her next vacation destination?: 1. It’s the high desert so the weather is a hot dry but not too hot. Typically there is a perfect breeze to cool you off; 2. If you love the outdoors there are plenty of activities. Floating down the river or on the lake, kayaking, riding bikes all around a quaint town, hiking, horseback riding, etc; 3. Bend is always hosting some type of event almost every night in the summer. There’s always good food and good music and a very reasonable price; 4. Winters are perfect! The snow is powder and the mountain is only a 25-minute drive [Writer’s note: Shannon only offered four. Which shouldn’t be taken as an indictment of a great town].
• What the hell does “All the boys tryin’ taste our candy ride” mean?: Haha! I don’t really know… it’s fun to say. We didn’t write it, we probably asked but I forgot.
• I consider this song, Blind Melon’s “Soup,” to be one of the most underrated tunes of all time. A. Have you ever heard it? B. What’s your take?: I had never heard it before. Though it’s typically not the style of music I listen to I can appreciate all genres. Watching the performance there is a complete honesty and connection for the singer and the lyrics, something that lacks now days with some artists. I had to look up the words to understand them all. It’s poetic and probably underrated since many people want to be entertained with bells and whistles. What it should be about is listening and understanding a song like you would a painting or any other work of art.
• Five greatest singers of your lifetime?: Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Brandy.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Celine Dion, pink lemonade, Dwight Gooden, Los Angeles, Yung Joc, Kenny Rogers, high heels, Disney World, imitation crab meat, April Fools Day, J. Giles Band, your cell phone, hamsters, the number 14: 1. High Heels; 2. Hamsters (so cute); 3. Pink Lemonade; 4. Celine Dion (Come on—she can sing!); 5. Yung Joc (He was on my first single and a label-mate has to be Top 5); 6. Los Angeles (traffic+Lakers=no thanks); 7. Kenny Rogers (know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em); 8 J. Gils Band (Centerfold gets stuck in my head); 9. Dwight Gooden (didn’t know who he was); 10. Number 14; 11. Disney World (too much to see, I get overwhelmed); 12. April Fools Day ( I don’t like being teased); 13. Imitation Crab Meat (yuck!).
• Why do you think KISS has yet to make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?: I truly don’t know. I think there are a lot of musicians and bands who have made an impact on music and a generation who have yet to be recognized.
• Is fame overrated or underrated? (Not the movie, the act of being famous …): Overrated! I don’t understand why society thinks so highly of fame and works so hard to be famous. It’s a dangerous road if you’re on it for the wrong reasons.
• Names you thought would be better than “Danity Kane”?: I didn’t think anything else was better then Danity Kane. It took a while to grow on me, but everything we or Diddy came up with fell short—i.e. Courage, Trust, Her-story (History), Queen 5. Yikes, I can only imagine!