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Keyshia Cole 

One thing you can say about Keyshia Cole: the girl keeps it real. Literally. Though she's now a platinum-selling artist, her BET reality show Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is — now in its second season — lets it all hang out, with unflinching, bare-all access to Cole's dysfunctional family. Stopping just short of total sensationalism, it's a gritty, honest look at the tumultuous home life that she transcended on the ladder to soul stardom. A tough, curvy platinum blonde with a thrilling, emotion-drenched soprano voice, Cole's look has vintage sex appeal that's reminiscent of old Hollywood starlets, but with a ghetto-to-glam edge that recalls the Ruff Ryder crew's rapper Eve with whom Cole collaborated on a song, 2004's "Never."

The Oakland native's singing debut came at age 12 on an MC Hammer recording. She has released two albums of smooth, soulful R&B that led critics to throw her in with the neo-soul songstress crowd: Brandy, Monica and Beyonce. Cole's signature, though, is an urban grit that adds a rough edge to the studio shimmer and acrobatic vocalizing. If this were the "60s, Cole would be the Shangri-La's to Beyonce's Supremes, weighting buoyant, soulful pop with inner-city sadness.

At this point, it seems little can stop her ascent to true divahood. She's appeared on tracks with Diddy and R. Kelly, guested on Snoop Dogg's Father Hood and played herself in the 2007 teen movie How She Move. Diddy showed up as a guest — as did the rappers T.I., Too $hort and a host of others — on her 2007 sophomore album, Just Like You, which debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's pop charts and No. 1 on the R&B charts. Cole currently is recording a project with the working title The Love Album for release in the fall.

click to enlarge Keyshia Cole takes a break from reality TV at Jazz Fest (5:35 p.m. Saturday, April 26, Congo Square "My Louisiana" Stage).
  • Keyshia Cole takes a break from reality TV at Jazz Fest (5:35 p.m. Saturday, April 26, Congo Square "My Louisiana" Stage).
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