A NEW CHAPTER FOR Amerie; Strong, Smart, Wholesome - and with a Deep Love of Literature - Amerie Is Not Your Average R&B Diva. and with Her Third Album Promising to Be 'Pure, Unexpurgated Me' She Looks Set for Superstardom, Reports Stuart Husband Photographs Amanda Bruns

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Byline: STUART HUSBAND

IT'S not every day that you find yourself discussing C S Lewis with an R&B diva; but then, Amerie is no ordinary member of that rarefied species. 'I remember telling all my friends about Narnia when I was seven years old,' she recalls avidly. 'Oh, I love books, I always have. I even love the smell of them.

I always carry a couple in my bag.' It's hard to imagine Beyonce producing a well-thumbed copy of, say, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland from her Hermes Birkin bag, but her love of literature is not the only thing that marks out Amerie - who also has a degree in English and fine arts from Georgetown University in Washington - from her peers. Her looks are sexy, yet sultry, the result of her African-American/Korean parentage. She chats unselfconsciously, punctuating her conversation with an uninhibited laugh rather than the standard-issue diva's icy formality. And, with the release of her third album, Because I Love It, she has moved beyond the influence of early mentors - such as 'Crazy in Love' creator Rich Harrison, who crafted her earlier hits, including 'Why Don't We Fall in Love' and '1 Thing' - to write and produce much of her own material. The first fruit of her labours, the single 'Take Control', is a maddeningly infectious soul-hip-hop hybrid on which Amerie implores her paramour to assist her in exercising constraint, while a chattering guitar line and slapping snare drum encourage just the opposite approach. It's the perfect introduction to Amerie's skittish persona: girlish but fierce, seductive but sweet. 'I am all those things,' she nods, 'and I think we've nailed them on this album.' Many of the tracks on Because I Love It betray an 80s influence; 'Crush' boasts a candles-aloft chorus that wouldn't have shamed Duran Duran in their pomp, and 'Some Like It' samples former Sex Pistols manager and early champion of hip-hop Malcolm McLaren. 'I wanted to put a lot of 80s stuff on the last album,' says Amerie, 'but I was worried about whether the audience would want to go there with me.

I thought it might be too leftfield,

too much to digest. But this time I think we're all ready for it.' Hang on, though; Amerie, now 29, was born in January 1978, which means that she was a mere stripling through most of the decade she claims to revere. 'But all the music was being played around our house,' she stresses. 'My mother was a pianist and my parents loved all kinds of music, so we'd have the Grease soundtrack, Barbra Streisand, Madonna, the Beastie Boys, heavy metal. I think it all went in subliminally.' And, she adds, it's taken a while for all these influences to percolate into her own music. 'My first album, All I Have, was very mellow R&B,' she says, 'as that was my vibe back then. People would meet me and say, "My, you're a dynamo but your album is so laidback."' She laughs.

'Well, now they're getting the pure, unexpurgated me.' Is the fact that this is the first album she's done without Rich Harrison's guidance as big a deal to Amerie as it seems to be to others? 'Not at all,' she says breezily. 'We could be back together again with the next album. I just wanted this record to feel funkier and looser. But whatever groove I'm in, melody will always be important to me,' she adds, with a toss of her long, ink-black hair. 'I love songs you can sing along to with a hairbrush, just like I did as a kid. You know,' she continues, grinning, 'I called the album Because I Love It because that's what I always say to people when they ask me why I got into this business. I love the whole process of writing, recording, videos, performance, everything.' She pauses; the smile is now getting positively beatific. 'I just know I'm in the right place, doing the right thing.'

Amerie's ambition showed itself early. 'As a kid, I wanted to do everything,' she recalls. 'I'd say to my mom that I wanted to be a detective, astronaut, singer, teacher, and Egyptologist when I grew up. …