Vonda Shepard moves on after 'Ally'

By SONIA KOLESNIKOV, UPI Correspondent  |  Oct. 16, 2002 at 12:48 PM
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SINGAPORE, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- "Ally McBeal" and its colorful cast may have left our small screens forever last May, but one character still lives on as we knew her. Singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard, who played herself in the series, has just released her ninth album, "Chinatown," under her own label in the United States and is now getting ready to tour the states for the next two months to promote it.

Although Shepard is very thankful to the series for turning her luck, she told United Press International in an interview that she was also relieved the show came to an end.

"My first thought (when she was told the show was over) was 'Thank God.' Don't take me wrong, I loved my job on the show, I was very lucky, but I was juggling two careers for five years (the show and touring), and the structure (of filming) was so constant, I thought it was a perfect time for the show to end."

Prior to "Ally," Shepard was a relatively unknown club singer in Los Angeles, who had been dropped by her label Reprise in 1992 after the release of her second album "The Radical Light." But when TV producer David E. Kelley chose one of her Radical Light's songs "Searchin' My Soul" as the theme of his new series "Ally McBeal" and asked her to perform on a regular basis on the show, Shepard's star ascended.

"I had no clue it would become so huge," says the 39-year old Shepard, confessing that she didn't even sign a contract for the first year of the show. "I felt just lucky I was able to pay my rent for a month or two," she recalls.

"Success was overnight, but it was a very long night," she laughs, pointing that she started performing on stage at the age of 14 and signed her first record deal at 24. By the time "Ally" came, the 33-year old was wondering whether her career would ever take-off, but the thought of giving up never entered her mind.

As the "Ally" series developed over the years, so did the role of Shepard and her music. Kelley realized the music was having a strong reaction with the public and the tall, blonde club singer became a weekly fixture of the show, as the house performer at the local nightclub, Ally and her co-workers frequented. "And Kelley, who loves music, found a place where he could live out his musical dream and have guests come and sing," Shepard says. And what a guest list: Elton John, Gladys Knight, Al Green, Sting, Barry Manilow, Barry White, just to name a few.

Shepard recalls being sometimes nervous singing next to these singing legends. "I had to take a deep breath and keep focus so I wouldn't get too nervous," she says. She also points that Kelley got "very lucky" with his actors, because he had no idea prior to hiring them that Lisa Nicole Carson, Jane Krakowski or Morten Downey Jr could sing.

With filming for Ally over, Shepard is now focusing on the promotion of her new album and touring. After the U.S. tour, she's planning a one-month tour in Asia in January. Then further down the line, when she doesn't want to "tour as much," the songwriter would be interested in writing music for films.

Shepard describes her new album "Chinatown" as a mixture of fun and party tracks, with the theme of "escapism" throughout the 11 tracks. "The album has a combination of traditional piano-based singer-songwriter, like an early Elton John and Carol King meets Rickie Lee Jones, and there are a few songs that are produced in a more junkie way," she says.

She decided to release the album under her own label, complaining about the state of the American music industry. "They're only interested in signing 15-year and 20-year olds. I don't think I would be able to do what I wanted to do if I had signed with a record company. At this point of my life, I don't need the big money, the big event, I'm one of the lucky people who can do what they want to do," she said.

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