Singer and model Charlite Brooks began her primary vocation when she was a child, singing at local events in and around her native Port Lavaca, Texas. Charlite (pronounced “Charlotte”) also showed quite an ability for quickly learning dance moves from watching music videos on MTV and she soon began choreographing her own. After moving to the larger city of Victoria when she entered high school, she continued to develop her talent, performing in the choir, talent shows, and even putting together a step team, choreographing many of the routines they performed.
Although she’s also a very experienced model, Charlite didn’t begin or even show an interest in modeling until she was well out of high school. A friend told her she looked good in a bikini and should consider modeling. Charlite decided to give it a try, but sure didn’t start out in the minor leagues when she did. She went right to the majors by auditioning and straight away landing a spot on the Austin-based Texas Bikini Team, which is sort of like guy who’s never played baseball in school, suddenly deciding to try out for the Yankees and getting signed on the spot.
Now, turning her focus back to her music career, Charlite recently spoke with me about such topics as, why she took a break from singing after high school, her experiences as a bikini model, the difference between one who can sing and one who can “sang,” and how she got the nickname “Lil Miss Swag” (which is the song that will play after the jump). Above photo by Roy Nierdieck.
CHRIS CHARLES: I read your bio, so I already know the answer to this one, but for the readers; you were born and raised in Texas and started singing from age three?
CHARLITE BROOKS: I did. From the age of three I could sing better then I could talk and it was really just my thing. Like the TV was on and music videos came on an I would just mimic what was going on, even as far as singing in Spanish when the Tejano songs came on. I was gonna figure what their song was about and I was gonna learn it. So that was my way of talking, I had to sing everything.
CHRIS: So did you know from that young age you’d be a singer when you grew up?
CHARLITE: I did. I was not like most typical kids when asked “what do you want to do when you grow up? ….oh, I want to be a fireman or a doctor,” I never did that. My thing was always “I’m gonna be a singer” and I would always have an example. In first grade we would have these little journals and one of the questions was what we wanna be when we grow up and my answer was I want to be Whitney Houston and Paula Abdul, and then I wrote all the lyrics to two songs of theirs because I wanted to let them know I was dead serious.
CHRIS: Well from what I’ve heard you’re as good as Whitney and better than Paula. I also read that besides music you studied psychology in college?
CHARLITE: I did. Behavioral psychology
CHRIS: Was there ever a time when you considered going into that field?
CHARLITE:You know, I would probably say now that there were times when I should have been a detective because I just love figuring people out, reading people, things like that, but at the same time, I’d be like; “well would I really be happy doing that?” and I’d say no, because when it comes to behavioral psychology, I dealt with a lot of kids and their emotions and acting out, and you’d have to really get to the root of the problem and a lot of times it’s a very sad story behind all of that and me being the emotional person that I am, I cannot be around that constantly. Psychologists have to be strong to do that and I just don’t have than strength to do it. However, I was a counselor for an elementary school for about two years and I totally enjoyed it, but music it just where it’s really at for me.
CHRIS: Besides being a great singer, you have a pretty impressive modeling resume, which I understand you didn’t start until well after high school?
CHARLITE: Yes, you know honestly I didn’t start modeling until about 2008, and that’s actually when I started with the Texas Bikini Team. I didn’t really have a thing for modeling at all, but when I was (a senior) in high school my mom passed away so I had stopped singing until about maybe 2007. So at the time, modeling was kind of a way for me to figure out something else when I felt like I didn’t want to sing anymore. Someone told me I looked good in a swimsuit so I was like “you know what, let me try it,” and I did and I made the team. I was Miss September for the (2009 Texas Bikini Team) calendar.
I was with them for about three years and I was on their calendars and posters, I traveled all around the country with them. It was awesome and it really taught me a lot, as far a modeling goes, which of course helps with the music because you have to model when it comes to music, too. So that was really a good learning experience for me.
CHRIS: That’s really something. I mean, that’s like never playing baseball in school and then later trying out for the first time and getting signed by the Yankees, because being with the Texas Bikini Team is not a small deal. That’s the big leagues of modeling.
CHARLITE: Yeah, in my head when I started, I thought it was a small deal but then I got into it and I was just like “wow, I have to get on a plane, I have to travel.” We flew to the Bahamas every year and I hadn’t even been out of the country before!
CHRIS: Besides just looking good in a bikini, did you have to audition for them, like have to dance or learn some choreography?
CHARLITE: Yes, it was really structured. You had to not only audition, but you had to try on different swimsuits, because, come to find out, all swimsuits are not one size fits all. So, you have to try on several ones, you had to learn stage presence, because we did a lot of stage shows and car shows also, so you had to know how to dance. So it was like, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’ dance routines. We had to do things like that. You have to know how to model, you had to know your turns, you had to be able to get on the stage and dance. Sometimes they would even throw me up there to sing a song or host the show, so you have to be a people person ….
CHRIS: Sing a song in just a bikini?
CHARLITE: Yes! I had to literally stand out there and sing a song in just a bikini, because there may have been technical difficulties or we lost a trunk or couldn’t find the swimsuits and they’re like “well Charlite, there’s your cue” and I’d go out there and put on a show in a bikini., in order for the rest of the girls to get ready, then I’d go back.
CHRIS: Wow, you sure couldn’t have stage shyness to do that.
CHARLITE: No, no, if you did people could tell. It was a really good learning experience because it sent me from there to teaching at a modeling school.
CHRIS: Yes, that was my next question. You were even an instructor for the Barbizon School of Modeling
CHARLITE: I was.
CHRIS: So, that’s like after your first tryout, getting signed by the Yankees and after playing, becoming a coach.
CHARLITE: Exactly. You’ve been it it, so you’ve learned a lot, so now you’re like “let me teach somebody else who might be trying to do this. So, it was good and I worked with a great group of girls, from 8th graders all the way up to seniors (in high school), so it was amazing to be able to teach them the stuff that they’d need to know on the runway and a lot of it was also teaching confidence and stuff like that, so it was great
CHRIS: So, do you really teach them how to walk while they have a book on their head or it that just a myth?
CHARLITE: You know what, that’s a myth. I’ve never taught that and I’ve never actually been at the school where someone taught that. We taught them poise but we made them wear at least inch-and-a-half or two-inch heels to class everyday, and when we did do the runway, we made sure it wasn’t carpeted because they have to have balance and they’re not going to have a carpeted runway. We made then go over their walk and their turns over and over. There was never a book. I’ve never seen that.
CHRIS: You also competed in the NPC (The National Physique Committee) figure & fitness competition in the bikini division. Now, that’s serious fitness modeling. What was your workout routine like to get in shape for that?
CHARLITE: The funny this about it is, I’m naturally like that. That was the craziest thing about it.
CHRIS: You didn’t have to hit the gym?
CHARLITE: I hit the gym but the only thing I did in the gym was maybe like once a week, I would do squats on the hack squat machine and that was it. Other than that, I would eat a little more than I would usually eat. It wasn’t some strenuous activity with a bunch of food. A friend of mine, who’s a trainer said I was naturally shaped like this, so we just need you to stick with that and to just do some squats, that’s a full-body workout for you and eat twice as much of what you’re eating now and you’re good to go, and that’s all I did. In my class there were 60 some-odd girls in the tall bikini division, what I was in (She’s 5′ 8″), I placed 11th out of all.
CHRIS: As successful as you’ve been at modeling, is it now on the back burner and are you currently focusing solely on you music career?
CHARLITE: Really, I’m focused on the music career as of right now. Modeling is kinda on the back burner. I’ve had a couple of offers for certain spreads. I had some surgery and they actually wanted to do a feature on my surgery and show my scars and I kinda wanted to do it but at the same time I was actually like “that’s a little too much for me now,” so I put it on the back burner but eventually I would love to go back into bikini modeling. For some reason, I definitely got attached to bikini modeling. I would love to focus on the music and get that going and then go back to being a bikini model or even doing a calendar. I would love to do just a bikini calendar,
CHRIS: So let’s talk about your music. You have a long list of musical influences from all genres, including a lot of country artists. Did you listen to a lot of country music growing up?
CHARLITE: I did. When I was growing up in Port Lavaca Texas, which is the small town way out there where I’m originally from, we didn’t have TV stations like now. Now there’s like BET where you can get all the hip-hop and R&B stuff. We had MTV, which only showed those genres late at night. We had VH1 and we had Country Music Television (CMT). So, it was either listed to the pop or the contemporary stuff or listen to the country. So, I kinda picked the country because country for me, was about the lyrics, I just absolutely loved the lyrics. The way they write, to me, is like old school R&B, with depth and meaning behind it.
So with country music, that is what attracts me as well as they’re genuine singers and they have a lot of blues feel to them when you get to certain artists like Reba McEntire, she’s my favorite country singer. She’s got that really blues feel to her and that attitude I just love. So for me, country music was just like listening to R&B, so I totally listened to country music.
CHRIS: Yes, I agree Reba’s great. Do you write many of you own songs or your own lyrics?
CHARLITE: I write all my own stuff and co-produce my own stuff. I’m a firm believer in that. I can’t sing something I don’t feel. If someone was to write something for me, I’d have to be very particular about it because the way I see it is; no one can really understand me but me. So, in order to portray who I am, I have to do the writing, I have to co-produce the music, the tracks, I also play the piano so that’s where my basis for the music comes from. I play the piano, I write, I sing, and we get in there and do it.
CHRIS: Now when you record, do you also, do all the lead, background, and female rap vocals?
CHARLITE: I do everything. I do the lead, all the background, three-part harmony, sometimes, if I get carried away, I’ll throw a four or five-part harmony, depending on what it sounds like. I just do all my own work because I just want to show every side of me, I don’t want any limitations on me.
CHRIS: Have you ever thought about appearing on a show like The Voice or America’s Got Talent?
CHARLITE: I actually tried out for American Idol once way back. It didn’t necessarily go too well for me, the main reason because at that time, I still wasn’t ready to get back into singing.
CHRIS: Did you appear before the “big three” judges, Paula, Simon, and Randy?
CHARLITE: No. There’s like two, three preliminary rounds you have to pass before you actually meet Simon, Paula ….I got to the second preliminary round. That was like with the producers, so it was kinda over from there. I did that but then I realized it wasn’t really my kind of thing. I don’t know, something about the competing and all that stuff wasn’t really for me because I felt like, once I got up there, as crazy as it sounds, me being a Black girl, they’re going to expect me to be able to sync, and everybody kinda has this notion of what I already sound like. “Oh, I should sound like Whitney Houston”-type of thing. So I kinda felt like if I let people down by trying to venture out and doing all these things I know I can do, that I wouldn’t make it. So I just went, “you know what, forget that, I’ll do my own thing and do it my way.”
CHRIS: What projects are you currently working on?
CHARLITE: I’m still debating on if I want to do an EP album or just go with my full-length album. I did write the full-length album, so that is ready to go. I’m not gonna say the title of the album yet because I don’t want anybody stealing my title, but I am working on an album right now. What I’m actually going to do first is release me first single. Hopefully by February 2014, I will put the title on that one, it’s gonna be called “Get It.” It’s a club dance beat typically for females. I’m all for female empowerment.
CHRIS: Yes, I could tell from the lyrics of your songs. By the way, how did you get the nickname “Lil Miss Swag”?
CHARLITE: Oh, the nickname. Actually, the nickname came from the first song I did, which was actually “Yup, Daz Me,” that came before “Lil Miss Swag.” In Yup, Daz Me” there is a line in the second verse, “Lil Miss Swag, ain’t I all that” and then I guess when people heard that, from there, when I would do shows, people would come up to me and instead of calling me by my name, they’d say, “alright Lil Miss Swag, I see you , you were doin’ your thing and whatever” and I was getting kinda stuck to where people were calling me “Little Miss Swag.” It was never meant to be an actual name, it just kinda stuck. I did a radio interview one time and they asked the same question and I told them how I ended up taking the name and the radio host told me it fit because I’m little, I’m very slim, and the swag that I bring was a female swag to them. It was really edgy, I didn’t have a problem using vulgar language but, at the same time, it was feminine, so they felt like “Lil Miss Swag” was perfect. So from then on I’m just like, “well, I guess that’s my nickname” so I kept it.
CHRIS: Any desires or plans to someday branch out to acting? I know you’ve done a couple of music videos, but any interest in someday doing TV or movies?
CHARLITE: You know what, I would actually love love love to do that. I don’t have it on my Facebook page and I don’t have a lot of footage on it, but I actually acted a lot, pretty much throughout my whole like because I sing. I was in different kinds of musicals and I have a friend who’s a playwright and owns his own production company and he puts on plays in Austin and the surrounding cities and I started doing his plays. I always played the more comedic roles. I haven’t really found a way to be serious quite yet. I like having fund and to make people laugh. I would always be in his plays. Of course, I would always sing but I always had speaking roles so I would absolutely love to do acting, TV, and I also want to do voice over work like for the cartoon characters. I do a very good Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
CHRIS: So, I read where you said you don’t sing, you “sang.” So, can you tell me the difference between “singing” and “sanging”?
CHARLITE: Oh, that one, okay. Where I’m from and how I was raised, listening to Whitney and Gladys Knight, whom I’ve seen in concert, and Aretha Franklin ….there’s a big difference between “singing” and “sanging.” When you sing, it’s kind of like something you would do around the house while you’re cleaning. You sound good, you can hold the note, It’s kinda like a Britney Spears-Paula Abdul-Rihanna-type singing. It’s good, but there’s not a lot to it.
Now when you “sang,” that’s when you get your Whitney Houston/Aretha Franklin on, when they hit these amazing notes. They get high notes, they get low notes, they have all these riffs and runs. They can belt out songs, They have dynamics with their voice, that you don’t hear in the typical singing style. So it’s kinds like a slang term whereas, you can always sing a song if you’re a singer but when you just let it all out and just let it go into the song and you capture those big vocals you are no longer singing, you are sanging!
CHRIS: Okay, I got it. I saw the VH1 Divas Live concert with Aretha Franklin and the four other ladies, who were good singers, but Aretha, she sang.
CHARLITE: Yes, she sang! You’ll always be able to tell the difference.
CHRIS: Well this has be great talking with you Charlite and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for you. In closing, are there any shout-outs you’d like to give to anyone? CHARLITE: I do have a brother who I miss dearly and he’s got three kids. His name is Charles Brooks and that’s my shout-out to him, saying I’m doing what I’ve said I’ve always wanted to do!
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris flirted with the music business there and in Nashville before joining the U.S. Army and serving in South Korea. He remained in Asia for several years afterwards, teaching English and covering the regional entertainment scenes. Currently in a mindset between Seoul and San Francisco, besides Idol Features, you can also catch his writings in the print edition of the quarterly magazine, Effective.