Thousands of fans around the world have discovered Doreen Taylor since the release of her original debut album, “Magic” last April. On May 23, the award-winning singer-songwriter will kick off her first ever concert tour at Philadelphia’s World Cafe Live. For many of Taylor’s new fans, the attractive 20-something embodies a glamorous overnight success story.
In reality, Taylor’s overnight success was a decade in the making. It involved thousands of miles, countless hours of hard work, unwavering determination, and a just a little bit of luck.
Taylor was born and raised in Alden, New York, a small farm town outside of Buffalo. Her musical talent was “discovered” at an early age.
“In third grade I was picked to sing ‘The First Noel’ a cappella in a school Christmas concert,” Taylor said in a recent telephone interview. “They put me on stage to perform by myself in front of everyone – parents, teachers, and students – which would mortify most third-graders – but I did it! Not only that, I stayed in tune, I had vibrato, and it felt natural to me.”
A year later she was taking violin lessons and developing an interest in musical theater. She also studied piano. But all the while, she sang. As a teenager, she loved harder-edged artists like Alice in Chains, Tool, and KMFDM, but her angelic voice seemed tailor-made for formal training.
In high school she had to choose between voice and violin lessons. Taylor says the choice was easy.
“My violin training was wonderful,” she says. “It taught me to read music and to be a legitimate musician. But I never got to the point where I felt like I was one with the violin. On other hand, your voice is inside you; it's part of you.”
Taylor moved to Connecticut to attend the University of Hartford, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in voice performance. She then decided to get her master’s degree in opera performance, and moved to the Philadelphia area to attend Temple University. She settled in nearby Gloucester County, New Jersey.
“I'm a country girl and a farm girl at heart,” Taylor says. “Even though I wasn't doing that type of music at the time, that's where my heart is. In South Jersey you've got acres of land and farms and tractors. It reminded me of where I grew up, so I decided to plant roots and stay here.”
After graduation, Taylor performed with various opera companies throughout the country. She then crossed over to musical theater, signing on with two national tour groups for “Ragtime” and “Phantom of the Opera” (in which she played female lead Christine opposite musical theater legend Davis Gaines).
Although she could have opted for a career in musical theater, Taylor says she felt confined as a performer in theatrical roles.
“I felt like I was just regurgitating the same character over and over that countless other people had played before me,” she says. “I felt like I had more to offer. I wanted to express my own creativity, my own thoughts, and my own message.”
For a change of pace, Taylor did a bit of modeling. She concentrated most of her energy, however, on developing a one-woman show in which she sang, danced, told a few jokes, and showed-off another hidden talent – her DJ skills. She performed popular songs from a wide variety of musical styles – everything from pop to jazz to R&B to country. After debuting the show in the Philadelphia area, she took her act to the Jersey Shore, where she became an Atlantic City fixture in a number of casino lounges and showrooms.
Taylor says her one-woman show allowed her to refine her performance skills, and taught her how to truly connect with a live audience. She also became a tireless self-promoter on social networking sites like Facebook.
But over time, the casino gigs proved to be physically exhausting.
“My show was 45 minutes on and 15 minutes off, but during those 15 minutes I never left the stage, so I worked for four hours straight,” Taylor says. “I was like the poster child for an energy drink. I was on my feet the entire time, singing and dancing in four-inch platform heels. There were times when I couldn't walk for two or three days after a gig.”
Taylor reasoned that if the shows were taking a toll on her body, she was likely putting her voice in jeopardy as well.
“I decided that my voice is everything to me, and I couldn't risk damaging it any longer.” she says.
Taylor took another revelation away from her one-woman show. While audiences responded favorably when she sang rock, pop, R&B, or jazz, she got the best audience reactions when she sang country. Taylor left her one-woman show behind with mixed feelings, but she was pointed in the right direction.
“I was always a very strong songwriter, and I decided that I had to do something with that talent,” Taylor says. “That's how ‘Magic’ came to be. Originally, it was supposed to be just for me to go in and record these songs so that I didn't die with them in my head. I thought maybe my grand-kids would be able to hear them one day.”
Before recording “Magic,” Taylor already had a considerable amount of recording experience under her belt. In 2006, she released “Unbreakable,” a four-song promotional EP. She followed that in 2008 with “Taylor Made Hits,” a compilation of 19 covers that she performed in her one-woman show.
In 2010, Taylor released “Coming Home” a tribute to the armed forces that featured songs from the World War II era. Along with the album, Taylor modeled for a 32-page collection of recreations of famous pin-up girl photos of the 1940s. Taylor donated a portion of the proceeds to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports more than 60,000 Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps special operations personnel and their families.
One thing Taylor had not done to that point was record an album of her own original material. For the recording of “Magic,” Taylor chose Optimus Studios in Newtown Square, Pa.
“I wanted to do a full album, but I didn't have enough songs,” she says. “But then a perfect storm happened. I met with a team of people at Optimus Studios and all these creative sparks went off.”
That team included co-songwriter, guitarist and producer Joe Mass, and producers Lou Durso and Justin Lombardi.
“The first song I wrote was ‘Heartbeat,’” Taylor says. “I came in with the song and started working with Joe Mass – arranging it, putting the chords in, adding textures. All of a sudden the song started taking on a life of its own.”
The experience lit a creative fire that surprised even Taylor herself.
“All of the songs that I came in with to record never got recorded,” she says. “I wrote all new songs for the album.”
While the eleven-song collection is firmly rooted in country music, Taylor’s eclectic musical history is evident throughout.
“I'm country music for everyone,” she says. “Being an independent artist allows me to explore a wide variety of styles. One of my songs is southern rock (“K.I.S.S.”), another has some funk in it (“Baby C’mon”), there's blues (a sultry cover of George Gershwin’s “Summertime”), there's gospel (“Judgment Day”). But you have to be identified by a genre, so obviously I'm closest to country.
“When I wrote the album, I really tried to write it from the perspective of a listener,” she adds. “If the song’s hook stayed in my head while I was lying in bed at night, then I knew I was on to something. If I had to work hard to remember a song, then it didn't make the album.”
Videos for the rowdy party anthem “Last Call (for Alcohol),” sexy ballad “Heartbeat,” “Judgment Day” and “Summertime” continue to draw new fans from all over the world.
“Even though ‘Magic’ has been out for almost a year, I think the reason why it still feels fresh is because it keeps getting reintroduced to new audiences,” Taylor says. “Through the power of the Internet and word of mouth – people liking it and sharing it – new audiences keep discovering it.”
Taylor admits that she even rediscovered the album when rehearsals for the World Cafe Live show and tour began.
“In some ways I'm hearing the album differently because I've been away from it for so long,” she says. “We had our first rehearsal a few weeks ago and I'm doing things now vocally that are taking the songs to another level.”
Taylor is pulling out all the stops for the Philadelphia show at World Cafe Live. An eleven-piece band, including Joe Mass on guitar, Lou Durso on bass, three backing vocalists, and two percussionists, is accompanying Taylor. The show will feature a video wall and other hi-tech effects.
All proceeds from the event are being donated to Jaws Youth Playbook – a charity founded by Eagles legend Ron Jaworski that benefits at-risk youth in the Greater Philadelphia region.
“I wanted to do something really special for what I consider my hometown now,” Taylor says. “I've always gravitated toward charities that involve children or animals, because they're the ones that can't speak for themselves. The reason I went with Ron Jaworski’s charity is because like me, he grew up near Buffalo. He's Polish, I'm Polish, and he's also got very strong ties to Philadelphia.
“It's going to be a very special night because this is the first,” Taylor says. “You always remember the first. This is what I've been working toward for so long, so it's huge on many different levels for me.”
Additional concert dates are being scheduled across the country, and will be announced closer to the tour’s launch date. Taylor says she’s looking forward to taking her music to the thousands of fans who have recently discovered country music’s latest “overnight success.”
“My audience demographic is enormous,” Taylor says. “I've got young teenagers to people in their 80s who follow me on my Facebook page. The one thing that they have in common is that they can all relate to my music. That is the biggest compliment I could ever get.”
Doreen Taylor performs Thursday May 23 at Philadelphia’s World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut Street. The Laura Cheadle Family Band opens the 7:00 p.m. show. Tickets are $30 - $50 and are available at www.brownpapertickets.com.