IT was fun," says pretty 15-year-old pop singer Tracie Spencer about her tour of high schools in the southern United States earlier this year. We spoke in her hotel room here during a promotional tour for her latest album, "Make the Difference." Does she feel she's made the difference?"At first some of the kids were like, 'Oh, she's just gonna come and preach to us about staying in school, when she's hardly in school herself, says the soft-spoken Miss Spencer. "But afterwards, spending time with the kids, all of them were like, oh, she's pretty real about what she's doing, so they all respected me and really appreciated me for coming." The Waterloo, Iowa teenager, whose first album was released when she was just 12, has spent the last few years honing her musical skills, getting ready to record "Make the Difference," and singing and talking to other kids about the danger of drugs, and about the other problems they face in today's world. "I mean, being the same age as these kids it was easy for me to talk to them and make it more believable promoting staying away from drugs." When local TV stations interviewed the students about Tracie's visits, several said they had changed their minds about dropping out of school. I asked Tracie how she manages with her own studies. "I have a tutor." And, she's quick to add, she doesn't miss not being in school and being with her friends. She laughs and says, "I just enjoy what I do so it's, like, I don't miss anything." Actually, Tracie Spencer has been singing since she was about seven years old. "...doing weddings and benefits, singing in church, and stuff." She knew even then that she wanted to be a singer, and it was the "and stuff" that got her an audition on the TV show "Star Search." She'd made a video with some friends in the basement of a library doing covers of pop songs like Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know?" After she beat out a five-year-old on "Star Search," she was picked up by Capitol Records, and the rest is, well, the beginning of what Tracie hopes will be a long history in the music business.
IN "Make the Difference," Tracie co-wrote a couple of songs (many others were written by her brother Marty, a k a "Sir Spence"), and she's interested in writing more songs on her next album. "It always seemed to me that people feel closer to an artist when they can hear something that you wrote," she said. The music on "Make the Difference" is a mix of finger-snapping dance tracks, ballads, and even some rap. Tracie is a rap fan, so I asked her about some of the messages rap is putting out to kids, and what she thinks about them, especially the this-is-what-life-is-really-like-and-it's-pretty-awful raps that are topping the charts right now. ve listened to a lot of rap music and I listen to what they're trying to say. I know that [rappers] Ice Cube and Ice-T, being from the streets, they're just telling you like it is. But maybe if they went a little easy on it and got right to the positive part, maybe kids would be able to understand a little better. Because kids interpret things the wrong way nowadays, they just take things the way they want to hear them." And, she adds, ve known kids who listen to Ice Cube who are corrupted now, because t hey take the stuff the wrong way." As far as Tracie's concerned, she'd rather get a message out to kids that's more immediately perceived as positive, rather than something that's open to interpretation. "There are so many negative things in this world today, I mean, kids see it on TV, gang violence and stuff like that. It's like there's nothing for them to look forward to." As for the people who make music that has nothing but a negative message, she says, m tired of people making music that has nothing to say, you sit there and you're down after you hear it and you're like, dang! - that's pretty depressing." Tracie has some pretty definite ideas about how to improve the world: "I think people need to get more involved in their communities. Just recently back home we started a neighborhood crime watch, and people I didn't even know lived on my street started coming down to my house.... This is how it should be. But this world is still racist - it's so hard to get blacks and whites to work together. Until people can just block out that 'Oh, you're black and I'm white' then there really is no solution.... Everybody has to do it." Getting involved for Tracie means doing things like touring the schools, and in a recent performance at the United Nations in May she sang for children from 137 countries who gathered to celebrate a year of focusing on the needs of children. "My mom tends to worry because she's like, you always want to help other people, but you've got to help yourself, too," says Tracie. "But my dream has always been to help other people. Most kids are talking about, yeah, I want to be in the music business make all that money get these nice cars get a million dollar home ... that's not even something that I think about."