Three years ago when Siedah Garrett heard that Michael Jackson’s producer, Quincy Jones, was looking for singers, she climbed into her battered yellow VW and drove calmly to the audition in downtown L.A. She was calm as she stood in line with 800 others, calm as she sang her number, calm as she waited 11 months to hear back. But when word came that Garrett, now 26, would be among the Gloved One’s chosen few for his new album, she finally crumbled. “How could I ever fathom that?” she squeals. “What female of my generation would not want to meet Michael Jackson, work in the studio with him and sing on his record? Oh, my God! It was unreal.”
It has grown even less real since. In addition to picking “Man in the Mirror,” a song Garrett co-wrote, as one of the 10 cuts on Bad, Jackson asked the bubbly Californian to duet with him on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” which zoomed to the top of the charts after the LP was released in August. Garrett now has her own single, “Everchanging Times” (from the movie Baby Boom), did a guest spot as a jazz singer on the NBC series Private Eye and has a solo album due out in March. “Sid is the freshest and most soulful of the current musical ‘brat pack’ of singer-songwriters,” says Quincy Jones. “And she has the energy of a 747.”
For Garrett, acclaim doesn’t come as a complete surprise. Born and raised in L.A., she started singing as a child, and from the very beginning she knew she was good. “I had a plan for making it,” she says. At 13 she swapped her name, Debra Christine, for the more exotic Siedah (it rhymes with Aïda), which she translates as “shining and starlike.” Rhythm-and-blues vocalist D.J. Rogers, a client of her mother, an interior designer, heard what Siedah could do and hired her for his 1978 album. After high school she sang with local bands, belted her way through major TV commercials (L’eggs, McDonald’s), recorded with Sergio Mendes and was ready for Michael when he was ready for her.
And how did they get along? “He was incredibly mild-mannered and had a great sense of humor,” says Garrett. “He told me I look like Pebbles Flintstone. Singing opposite him was like, wow, like holding a comet by the tail.” Siedah is feeling pretty celestial all on her own. “Watch out, world,” she says. “I’m comin’ on strong!” Whatever happens, don’t say you weren’t warned—the next voice you hear may be hers.