A voice that spreads love, and fights for solidarity among all people
Cynthia Alicea is a Puerto Rican singer from Newark, NJ. She often goes by the name Ms. Lovelee, because her message is always about loving one another. She has performed for thousands around the world, and I had the distinct pleasure of getting an intimate and in-depth look into what it means for this strong Latina to spread her message through her gift of music.
Nathan Rodriguez: When did you know that you wanted to be a singer?
Cynthia Alicea: Well, singing has definitely been something that I’ve always done. Dancing though, was actually what I first stepped into when I was about eight years old, but I was always singing along. It wasn’t until sixth grade that my chorus teacher Ms. Ferguson pulled me aside and asked if I realized I ‘had a voice.’ I didn’t think about it much; I was this little dork with glasses hopping around, but she really pushed me. She told me one day she was giving me a solo; she wanted me to sing “Hero” by Mariah Carey. From there, I went on to my eighth grade graduation where I got picked to do the solo as well, but again, at that point singing was something I liked to do, but I was still way more focused on the dancing. I still went on with it at the graduation, but I did have a moment that put a pause in my singing for a little while.
I went up there to sing Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time,” and I choked. Stage fright totally captivated me, and I actually ran off the stage. I cried like a baby. Still, something inside me couldn’t see myself not getting back up there to finish the song because it was such a disappointing moment for me, so I got back up there and I finished it. I got a standing ovation.
From there, I started joining chorus classes. But after I graduated high school, I worked for John Corzine’s office, and that was when my singing really took off because he had me sing for all his events. He used to hear me singing in the office, so before I knew it, I sang the National Anthem when he got sworn in as Governor of New Jersey. Then there was the Frank Lautenberg post office in Newark; they swore that in under his name, and he wanted me to sing then as well. I sang for Newark Bears games, then I auditioned for American Idol, but I was so shy for camera that they told me I had to come back and prepare.
NR: So it wasn’t an event, but more of a recurring theme in your life.
CA: Exactly. No one ever forgets that I sing. I could be anywhere and if I know someone, they’ll probably ask me to sing something. I used to get really shy about it, but I’ve broken out of that, especially with the label I’m with now: MJ Records. They have done an amazing job of building me up as an artist. They’re patient; they’re dedicated to making sure I’m successful. It’s wonderful.
NR: What and/or who inspires you? Was there an artist’s style you liked, or a subject that you like to sing about?
CA: I am a love guru without a doubt. My nickname for a long time was “Lovely” and it stuck. Even my twitter information goes by that name, but I spell it “Lovelee” because my middle name is Lee. But love is definitely something I’m obsessed with. It can be love for your family members, love for yourself, love for another person…it’s just that heartbeat that you feel. I like to sing songs that mimic that heartbeat in a way where you can feel it. So love definitely inspires me.
My all-time favorite singer is Whitney Houston. When she passed on…I cried like it was my mother. She was just this voice that was extremely inspiring. It was in her character, the way she delivered herself on stage as an artist; she commanded that you listen to her by the way she delivered her voice. Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, all top favorites. Another really big impact was Crystal Lewis. She’s a contemporary Christian singer, for those who don’t know, and she gives me chills every time she sings.
NR: I love that all the artists you listed are women, mostly women of color. For you, being a woman in this industry…what are some of your struggles, and what are some of the things you do to incorporate your strengths as a woman?
CA: The music industry is extremely tough on women, I have to admit. I was in a group called Concepto Sabor which was managed by an individual named Junior Zunega. Unfortunately, because we were woman, he took advantage of us. For a while, we did production with him, we performed places, and we never saw a dime. It was pocketed by our manager. Things like that seem to happen a lot, because what happens is the women tend to forget to put that business cap on. People have to realize that. I love singing, but my voice isn’t for me. My voice is for the listener. When you look at it that way, your voice is a product; your voice is a brand. It’s a business. When you look at your gift as a business, you begin to think like a business woman. When you think like a business woman, personal no longer matters. Offending people is irrelevant. What matters is getting what’s owed to you. It’s knowing how to read contracts, and getting what you deserve. When people focus too much on saying ‘I just want to sing,’ they run the risk of being taken advantage of.
NR: So is that advice you’d give to other girls who feel this is their passion and want to sing?
CA: Absolutely. In music, everyone wants the bigger percentage, and you end up being a slave to the market if you aren’t careful. You have to go for what you want and not let anyone get in your way. If you feel like you’re right about something, you have to own it, in a professional way of course. You have to stand your ground when people attack you and knock you down. You have to rise above it.
Another piece of advice I’d give, that I learned myself from people in the industry, is ask questions. It is okay to trust people, and it’s also okay to get second opinions. Just because you get outside opinions doesn’t mean you don’t trust people; it means you’re doing your due diligence, and that means everything when it comes to protecting yourself.
NR: What would you say are some of your greatest successes as an artist so far?
CA: I would have to say one of my milestones was singing the National Anthem for the Governor. That was a moment I can never forget…seeing myself on TV was surreal. I was there for a historic moment.
NR: That must have been really special. What about your traveling? You’ve been doing a lot of that, haven’t you?
CA: Oh yeah. Well that is hugely because of the label I’m with now. They hooked me up with a very famous Latin artist named Henry Santos; he was part of the group Aventura. They introduced us, and at the time he was looking for a backup vocalist, and he had said something that really stood out: he said, “I love the color of your voice.” When he said that, it just made me feel so good, because when you hear other artists, sometimes you’re hard on yourself because you don’t sound like them, and you might feel like you aren’t as good. But when Henry said that to me, I instantly thought of a crayon box, where they are all different colors, but they’re all the same thing. One is not better than another, and that was so encouraging to me. So in May 2012, Henry and I linked up. I got to spend my 29th birthday in Switzerland, which was a phenomenal experience. Since then, I’ve been to Belgium, I’ve been to Chile…Texas, Atlanta, and if all goes well, we’ll be hitting the West Coast at the end of the month. It’s amazing. I mean, performing in front of twenty or fifty thousand people is a feeling I can’t even explain.
NR: Lastly, I know when I asked if you’d like to post a video of yours, you immediately suggested “Read All About It.” What is the special significance to that song?
CA: Well, as many people know, my sister is a Trans Woman. She was born my ‘brother,’ now she’s my sister. By no means was that transition an easy one. I mean, for the family, we have always been supportive. We love each other, and that is why love is such an important topic for me. When you look past who likes who, or what their personal decisions are, and just love each other…it just makes the world a better place. It was the first phrase of that song that caught my attention: “You have the words to change a nation, but you’re biting your tongue. You spend a lifetime stuck in silence feeling like you do something wrong. If no one ever hears you, how are they going to learn your song?” And she starts saying, “Come on, come on.” So with regards to the LGBT community, I mean look at the news. How many people have committed suicide because they are so embarrassed by something that’s so natural for them? We all have a voice to do good, and a voice to do bad. The song asks, ‘What are you going to do with that voice?’
I’m tired of seeing people feel like they need to be hidden because of who they are, who they were born to be. At the end of the day, the divorce rate is over 50% already…those are heterosexual relationships. They take advantage of that. When you have a community of people that fight to be able to have that commitment…that to me is special.
So when I heard that first phrase of the song, and of course with me having my sister in that community, that song stuck out to me. I looked at it as enough is enough, stand up and be yourself. Your voice can save lives whatever your topic is, whether it’s women who are abused or anything like that. You have to speak out, because you never know whose life you are going to change, and that’s why I sing. I might not have a voice to speak publicly in front of people, but if I can sing and change a life, that is what I am here for.•