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First Whitney, Mariah . . . Now Dina? : British Singer Is Candid About Comparisons and Her Debut Album in U.S.


Another Mariah Carey? The next Whitney Houston?

"That's the direction the label is going in with me," 24-year-old Dina Carroll says with a sigh.

A&M Records, which on Tuesday released her debut album, "So Close," is betting that pop audiences will be enraptured by the British pop singer who, like Carey and Houston, is a pretty, young and black. Like them, Carroll also has a strong, far-ranging, soulful voice and knack for both ballads and dance-oriented songs.

Miller London, senior vice president and general manager of A&M's urban music division, confirms the marketing plan: "We think we have another Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey, artists who appeal to both pop and urban (R&B) audiences. Our plan for Dina is similar to what was done with those singers."

This American pop-soul push is somewhat of a career switch for Carroll, who's mainly known in England for such dance-oriented hits as "Ain't No Man" and "Special Kind of Love," which both appear on her A&M album. Carroll is part of a British soul invasion--including such artists as Seal and Tasmin Archer--that has hit the American market in the last year.

While it may sound like quite an honor to be promoted in the States as a Carey-Houston type, Carroll is a bit leery about it all. For one thing, she just doesn't see herself in that lofty vocal league.

"I can sing OK, but I'm not up to their standard," she insists while sitting in a Hollywood hotel suite while on a short visit from England.

"You may not like their image or you might not think they have too much soul or whatever--but technically, (Carey and Houston) are incredible singers. I can't knock anybody out with my voice the way they can."

But Carroll's caution about following in the Carey-Houston footsteps isn't just musical.

"I don't want this sweet image put on me--the kind of sweet image they have," she says. "I'm not knocking it for them but it's not me. I'm not sweet. Anyone who knows me knows that. I won't be this smiling phony, having to be something I'm not all the time. I have my bad side--which doesn't mean I'm some drunken drug user. I'm just no saint, and I don't want to have to live up to a false image. That's too much pressure."

Carroll knows about pressure. Born in Britain to an African-American father and a Scottish-Irish mother, she's had to live with a certain kind all her life--the social pressure that often comes from being of mixed heritage.

"As a kid I was confused," recalls Carroll, who currently lives in Cambridge. "I used to straighten my hair and try not to look black. I thought that way for a long time, which is pretty horrible. It was real pressure trying to be something I wasn't--which is white. Maybe that's why I have this anxiety, when it comes to my career, about trying to be something I'm really not."

Influenced by R&B artists such as the Temptations, the Isley Brothers and Aretha Franklin, Carroll has been singing seriously since her late teens. She had modestly successful runs on two English labels, including a stint in a group called Quartz, before landing on A&M.

"When we first heard her, she already had a Top 5 single in Europe, and we thought she could make it big in this country," A&M Records vice president London explains. "The sound, the look--she has it all."

Now in this country pushing her "So Close" album and the single of the title song, Carroll obviously hasn't been schooled in the promotional game, where you're supposed to avoid negative talk and say how much you love your album. But on this day, she was into candor, not hype.

"The album didn't totally turn out the way I wanted," she admits. "There are elements on it I don't like. There's one song I don't like at all."

When it is pointed out that her candor could be self-destructive, Carroll replies: "I'm just trying to be honest. I think you can be honest about your music in this business and survive. Or is that naive?"

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