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A chat with up and coming Danielle Curiel: Not the same old song and dance

Age is simply an issue of mind over matter – if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. Sure, Mark Twain’s shrewd observation is usually bandied about by those with a little more skin in the game – more “experienced” sorts that is. But the knowing humorist surely had someone like high flying 19-year-old Danielle Curiel in mind when he uttered the adage.

Danielle Curiel wrote, directed and acted in Prince's "Breakfast Can Wait" video.
Danielle Curiel wrote, directed and acted in Prince's "Breakfast Can Wait" video.Rogers and Cowan

The word “phenom” just won’t do for the multitalented teenager. Curiel can sing, dance, act, and she’s an absolute knock-out – none of which was lost on the artist currently known as Prince when he chose her to direct and star in his music video for “Breakfast Can Wait,” the Purple One’s new single with 3rdeyegirl.

The performer still isn’t exactly sure how Prince found her, but it couldn’t have hurt that her résumé is stacked with commercial appearances (Zumba World Party, Adidas, Just Dance 4, X Box), live shows (Essence Festival, 2013 BET Awards, Jimmy Kimmel with PSY), and print campaigns.

And then there’s the work she’s done in music videos for Miguel‘s “Adorn,” Daddy Yankee‘s “La Noche De Los Dos,” and Mayra Verónica‘s “Mama Mia” along with her sister Amanda Branche – the rapping half of their music group, CurlyFryz.

Add it all up and you have a Iifetime of accomplishment at the ripe old age of 19. The dazzling Curiel chatted with me recently about those remarkable achievements and her mentor, His Royal Badness.

Notwithstanding her extraordinary versatility, a certain “person in the know” encouraged her to narrow her focus. “Prince has talked to me about that before, that I’ve just got to put my eggs in one basket and really go for that. So that’s what I’m doing right now.”

“And I’m gonna choose music, so I’ve been in the studio. But as far as acting, if I book a movie it can have singing in it or something musical. It all kind of works. So I feel like I can do it all, at least music and acting.”

“With the acting background, I can put out more emotions in my singing. If I’m not feeling that way that day, it will help me as far as acting. When I start doing my own music videos, acting will help me do that as well. With the ‘Breakfast Can Wait’ video, I had to act in the beginning and it helped me to have that background.”

But all of the background in the world wouldn’t have made the teenager any less nervous about working with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. Somehow Curiel made her way onto Prince’s musical radar.

“Basically I got an email from Nandy and Maya (McClean), The Twinz –they were his dancers before. I guess he had reached out to them to get in contact with me. At first I was really iffy about it and my parents and I were flipping out – just the fact that I looked at the email and who it was from.”

“He wanted me to take my favorite choreography and make a submission. It was about one minute to the ‘Breakfast Can Wait’ song and he loved it. From there he asked me to write a treatment for the video and then direct it. I went through about three treatments because the first treatment that I did, I wrote with him in the video and he wasn’t gonna be in the video.”

Prince may not have been in Curiel’s video. But the musical genius – who has a long history of working with emerging artists – has certainly been in the young performer’s life since then. It was a bit of an adjustment for the fresh-faced Curiel. “I guess I just had to think, ‘This is just a normal person right now. I’m not talking to Prince (laughs). If I was star struck and all that, I wouldn’t be as focused as I was.”

Focusing on the ambitious project with the brilliant artist taught her a very important lesson. “To be my own person. He’s always saying that I don’t have to sign to anybody as far as music. People should just come – not in a cocky way – but people should be coming to me and I shouldn’t compromise for anything. Just be strong. That is a big thing that he’s always telling me.”

Taking on any one of the three artistic responsibilities for the video would have been challenging enough. But directing, writing and acting in ‘Breakfast Can Wait’ would have made anyone feel a bit too close to the project at times.

“There were times where I felt that’s all I was doing. There was nothing else going on in my life and that’s all I would focus on. Maybe there were some moments where I just needed to take a break from it because that’s all I was and it was a little bit stressful at the time.”

“But I had a good team behind me and that’s what really got me through it. There were some times when I didn’t believe in myself. And what really helped get me through was the team that I had behind me.”

Curiel will no doubt also benefit from those that have gone before – particularly one less than surprising superstar. “I think it’ll be like a Justin Timberlake story in a way. You know how he started with music and he blew up with the music. And then eventually he got into acting and movies and things like that. I think that’s where my like dream. I think that’s what’s gonna happen to me.”

“I feel like I was destined to be successful. I just gotta keep working hard and that’s what’s gonna get me through it. I have my parents behind. So I feel like I just gotta keep working hard and just keep going for what I want to do.”

With talent like Curiel’s, only a complete imbecile would bet against her achieving what she wants to do.

Be sure and catch Curiel’s video for “Breakfast Can Wait.”