charleena has bigger fish to fry
Her voice filling the shop floor at Duddingston Fry became an attractive selling point for those who stopped by.
And now, after a frantic year, the 20-year-old has swapped singing to chip shop punters for serenading some of the world’s most influential figures in music.
The singer/songwriter from Niddrie is on the verge of finding fame after linking up with producer Phil Ramone, who has worked with famous names such as Madonna, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon.
He personally invited her to spend time in New York performing and recording, with Charleena now working full-time to develop her sound and song writing.
When she returns to the Big Apple next month, it’ll be her fifth visit there in less than a year.
“That shows me they are serious about it,” explains her father Dermot, who insisted on travelling over with her when she was first invited in November 2010 because he wanted to check it was a genuine approach.
“Of course I wanted it to be true, and she really believed it, but there was no way I was letting her go over on her own the first time, I had to make sure this was all fine.”
Having uploaded her music, much of which was developed and recorded in her bedroom in her modest family home, to several websites, Charleena continued in a series of jobs around Edinburgh as she hoped for a break.
It came in the form of an e-mail from A&R Records, the company created by Ramone.
They wanted her to travel to America and spend a fortnight there, all expenses paid, as they assessed her ability close-up.
It signalled a remarkable rise for someone who had until then barely taken the prospect of a music career seriously.
“Even though she would sing about the house, I can’t say I ever raised my ear to it,” recalls Dermot.
“When she worked in the Duddingston Fry the customers used to get her to sing to them, and the manager used to say she could hear from through in the office. She was the first one to enter her into anything – a competition in Musselburgh – and it was only when she won that she really got some confidence in what she was doing.
“On the way home she said, ‘Dad, I think this is what I want to do’, and since then she has not stopped working towards it.”
Teachers at her former school – St David’s High in Dalkeith – often urged her to apply herself and properly pursue her vocal talents, but her modest nature meant she never took the praise too seriously.
It was only when she arrived in New York that the enormity of what was happening set in, as Ramone’s staff took her on tours round the city and wined and dined her in some of the city’s trendiest restaurants.
In a Manhattan recording studio she was given a chance to show the most influential people what she could do.
She sang three songs to Ramone and his entourage, including an acoustic version of Gladys Knight’s Midnight Train to Georgia, a song that remains a favourite of her father.
That, along with her attractive-yet-quirky appearance and effervescent demeanour, convinced them she had sufficient potential in which to invest money and time.
She was subsequently invited to attend the Songwriters Hall of Fame in June, an event at which she thought she would be a star-struck onlooker.
Instead, the reverse happened.
“I was at this event and got to meet some incredible people,” says Charleena.
“Billy Joel came up to me to say he had heard about me and my music, said was I the girl from the UK, asked if he could sit down and talk about music.
“We talked about my music and plans for the future. It’s amazing speaking to people like that, who just are so important and know so much.The things they say are just amazing.”
She was also introduced to the likes of Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, legendary performer Chaka Khan and Grammy-nominated Skylar Grey, who has collaborated with Eminem.
She struck up a relationship with voice coach Mark Hudson, known in the UK for his colourful beard and involvement in popular TV show, The X Factor.
She continues: “We’re actually friends now, he e-mails and texts to keep in touch, he’s such a cool guy to know.
“I couldn’t believe it when I first got the e-mail, I just wasn’t sure what to think.
“My dad insisted on coming over – I could have gone myself and who knows what might have happened.
“But at the airport, they were there with a sign with my name on it and I knew it was true.
“The whole thing has been crazy, I just need to keep working hard because you never know what could happen.”
Regardless of how successful she becomes, her parents and three siblings have assured her she will always have a supportive home behind her.
“It’s so important to keep my feet on the ground, I do know that,” she says.
“I just love to sing and I don’t mind if that’s in front of world-renowned people like Phil Ramone, or just two kids in the park.
“My family’s support has really given me a drive, even when I think back to school when I sang but didn’t take it at all seriously.”
And she’s continuing to make a name locally as well as in the US.
“No-one can predict the future, but there is a lot happening just now which I can’t say too much about, and it’s just really exciting.”
Her music has been played on Radio Forth and other Scottish stations, and earlier this month she performed a charity gig at a miners’ club in Pencaitland.
Dobbie’s Garden Centre – of which Charleena is a former employee – also use her music to play to phone customers when they are on hold.
Dermot is in no doubt about what separates his daughter’s ambition from the average teenage pipe dream.
“Willingness to work,” he says. “She doesn’t muck about with alcohol, or cigarettes and she’s not fussed for boyfriends at this stage in her life.
“She sounds and looks terrific, but none of that would matter if she hadn’t put the work in.
“When others are going out partying, she’s in her room working on her voice or sitting with a notepad writing down every idea that comes to her.
“She just wants to talk about music all the time. If you were at the table and showed you were interested in music, she wouldn’t let you leave.
“We’re immensely proud of her and things are looking good. I don’t know if she’s going to make it, you don’t know and she doesn’t know, there’s no way of telling.
“But she’s giving herself the best possible chance.”
n To hear some of Charleena’s music visit www.reverbnation.com/charleenamaughan