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SONJA NORWOOD REMEMBERS THE EXACT MOMENT WHEN she realized that her daughter Brandy's career was about to take off. Brandy had just wrapped taping for the first and only season of the sitcom Thea when an offer came for the then 14-year-old to sign a production deal with a well-known music executive. Norwood, a district manager with H&R Block at the time, waded through the contract and was struck by one immediate thought: she needed advice from someone who understood the terms of the deal before she signed anything.

"I called my boss and asked him to look at it because he had some knowledge of contracts," says Norwood. Although he admittedly knew little about the entertainment business, he knew enough to raise an eyebrow at the offer. "The production company was asking for 70% of Brandy's earnings, and it would have been a hard deal to get out of," explains Norwood. "That's when I knew I needed an entertainment lawyer."

Norwood and her husband, Willie, saw a substantial opportunity for Brandy, but they were also determined to protect her interests. With the help of an entertainment lawyer, the Norwoods carved out a more equitable contract for their daughter. A little over a year later, Brandy had a recording deal with Atlantic Records and a debut album that sold over 4 million copies. At the same time, her younger brother, Ray J, was co-starring in the sitcom Sinbad and launching his own music career. The Norwoods, both of whom had full-time jobs, had to decide who they were going to trust with making decisions about their children's careers.

Norwood decided to quit her job and take on the challenge herself. "I already had management skills, but I knew I needed help in other areas," Norwood says. Five short years later, with the help of a good lawyer, an agent and a business manager, she has mapped out a multimedia career for her daughter that includes music, television, film and modeling. "When Brandy was little, she came to me and said, `Mom, I want to be as big as Whitney Houston.' That's a tall order. It was my job to figure out how to get her there." Norwood has since taken her success in guiding her children's pursuits and launched her own management company, which handles the careers of her son, Ray J, and R&B singing groups 702 and Silk.

Like Norwood, many parents have young children who dream of being superstars. You may even believe that like Brandy, your child has what it takes to move beyond school plays and local talent shows. But there's a lot to consider if you want to help her get to the big time.

You certainly want your child to succeed. But perhaps you don't have the desire to shoulder management responsibilities. In that case, you'll want to choose the best manager or agent for your child (for more insight into the roles of managers and agents and their responsibilities, see "The Power Behind the Stars," December 1998). But even if you aren't willing--or able--to usher your child into the professional arena, there will be contractual and financial issues that will require your full attention, since your child cannot enter into employment contracts without your approval.

If you do want to manage your child's career, however, you should consider very carefully how that professional arrangement may affect your relationship with him. The business is full of well-publicized stories of stars--Gary Coleman, Brooke Shields and Macaulay Culkin, just to name a few--whose relationships with their manager-parents were soured or severed after their parents allegedly mismanaged their careers.

Learning the business as you go is practically a rite of passage for new stage parents. But some mistakes are too costly to make. Here's how to get prepared to make sound decisions regarding your future child star's career and finances.


So what exactly do you need to know to grow your child's career and protect his interests? To start, realize that while you may find your little angel entertaining, it doesn't mean they have what it takes to be a professional.

"Parents really have to see something in their child. A lot of [kids] go through dance classes and school plays, but what a parent really needs to see in a child is an ability to take their imaginary friends and make them into characters," says Kelvin Reece, a California-based acting coach' who has worked with child actors Megan Good (Eve's Bayou), Gary Gray (The Tiger Woods Story and star of the International House of Pancakes' current TV advertising campaign), Arjay Smith (Nickelodeon's The Journey of Allen Strange) and Jake Lloyd (Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace).

"You're looking for a child to [make a character] jump off the page," adds casting director Kimberly Hardin, whose credits include UPN's series Moesha and the films Higher Learning and Deep Cover.

Similarly, because your child is truly talented doesn't mean that he'll want to work professionally. "If he'd rather go to the movies or the mall than rehearsal and auditions, then it's not for him," says Floria Smith, mother and manager of 16-year-old Arjay. Also, parents need to be clear that they're working to fulfill their child's dream, not their own.

Your child, however, is not the only one who will have to make personal sacrifices. Launching your child's career will demand a lot of your time. "Parents spend a lot of time driving around to auditions," says Kel Mitchell, 21. At 15, he became the star of Nickelodeon's All That and The Kenan & Kel Show--after his parents spent many years shuttling him all over Chicago for amateur and semiprofessional auditions.

Once you've assessed your child's ability, interest and your own level of commitment, start slowly. "I will tell parents, `I don't think your kid needs to be in my [acting] class right now. He needs to get out and do some auditions, get his feet wet,'" says Reece. Not only are nonprofessional activities such as school plays, after-school arts programs and church choirs great training grounds for children, they provide networks where parents can find out about professional opportunities.

At one of her daughter's amateur gigs, Norwood got advice that helped her secure an agent for Brandy. "One parent told me after [Brandy's performance on] the American Teachers Awards, `You should call agents and ask them if they saw her on the broadcast,'" explains Norwood, who followed the woman's suggestion. Subsequently, she sent out videotapes to the agents she contacted. One of those tapes landed at Brandy's current agency, Creative Artists Agency.

Participation in amateur activities can also bring your child to the attention of local talent scouts. Multi-platinum singer Monica was introduced to Atlanta-based producer Dallas Austin after singing at a talent show, and Mitchell was discovered by Chicago-based Aria Model & Talent Management while performing in a Chicago community theater production. You can also scour trade publications such as Variety, Hollywood Reporter and Backstage for casting calls, but note that most of the listings in these resources are for productions based in major entertainment centers like New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.


Undoubtedly, your child's toughest challenge will be making the transition from amateur to professional entertainer. The changeover will be less dependent on your child's talent than on your ability to surround him with the right support system.

First, you'll need to learn the entertainment industry's power hierarchy. Familiarize yourself with who is responsible for setting up auditions for film, TV and commercial parts, and who casts those roles. If your child wants a record deal, you'll need to identify who can get his music to record-label executives, and which of them can offer and execute deals.

"The music industry [hierarchy] is completely different from [that of] film and television," explains Matt Lichtenberg, a partner in Goldman, Lichtenberg, Wasserman and Grossman--the Los Angeles-based business management firm that handles Brandy's financial concerns. Lichtenberg says that a singer-musician's first concern should be securing an experienced manager although, typically, a model-actor will first find an agent.

A music manager's initial responsibility will be polishing your child's image; setting up performance and talent showcase opportunities and shopping for a record deal. Later, he will pursue promotional and endorsement opportunities. Artists don't have to pay up front for these services, so any manager who requires cash in order to represent your child is not legitimate. A manager typically earns 15% to 20% of his client's income. In the early stages, however, your child probably will not have developed enough for an established manager to feel confident that he can secure a recording deal. Thus, much of the work will fall on your shoulders.

That was the case for Melinda Dancil, who began working with her younger cousin, Arista recording artist Monica, while a student at Tennessee State College. "I planned a lot of the campus events, so I'd have her come up to perform and we'd take up a collection to pay her," says Dancil.

After college, Dancil returned to Atlanta and continued working with the then 12-year-old singer. She booked her to perform at so many events that Monica came to be known as the "little gift who sings `The Greatest Love of All.'" Her increasing popularity resulted in several recording contracts from local record-label executives. But it wasn't until producer Dallas Austin--whose Rowdy Records label is distributed through Arista--offered a deal that Monica, her mother and Dancil decided to sign.

"Dallas was the only one who approached Monica as a person and not a dollar sign, and with her being only 12, it was important that she [sign] with someone who acknowledged her age and innocence," explains Dancil. She strongly advises parents not to jump at the first contract that comes along, and to make sure that label executives support your goals and concerns.

After securing Monica's recording deal and working with the label to complete the singer's debut album, Miss Thang, Dancil took a step that surprised some: she brought on rapper-actress Queen Latifah's Flavor Unit Management company to act as Monica's co-manager. "I was concerned about trying to direct her career in a trial-and-error fashion," admits Dancil. As Monica's pursuit began paying off, Dancil knew there were key career development concerns--imaging, promotional appearances and endorsement opportunities, for example--with which she would need help. Dancil, who is currently Monica's sole manager, says parents need to be open-minded about bringing in help when necessary. "I don't think that you should step out of the picture, but if someone can offer the artist a better situation, it should at least be considered."

In the film and television industries, agents reign supreme. While you may be managing your child's day-to-day activities, you'll still need an agent. Why? Because an agent will be the only way your child can gain access to certain auditions. "While I try to give everyone who I think is right for the part a chance, there are a lot of casting directors who will only cast with top agencies," says Hardin.

Getting your child an agent is essential, but it can be difficult. Tracy Stewart-Kaplan, an agent with Aria Model & Talent Management, says that parents should first identify the agencies and, if possible, draft a wish list of agents whom they would like to have represent their child. She notes that some agencies (visit for a list) have children's divisions. Send your child's photos and resume to those agencies and give them a couple of weeks to contact you. "With a little kid under 10, there's not a whole lot you can do beyond sending pictures. When they get a little older--around 12--that's when experience becomes important," notes Stewart Kaplan.

There are a few other steps that you can take. Ask a friend whose child has an agent if she can recommend your child. Be prepared for her to say no, however. Agents take client referrals very seriously, and no client wants to jeopardize her relationship by recommending a child who may not be ready for representation.

If your child is going to be in a substantial community theater or semiprofessional production, send postcards inviting agents to attend the performance. Ask them to R.S.V.P. so you can give them complimentary tickets. Be certain your child's performance and the quality of the production are up to standard before inviting agents; you'll only have one opportunity to impress them.

Once you secure a meeting with an agent, be clear and honest about your child's goals and concerns. "Parents shouldn't feel they can't interview an agent, because they're going to interview you and your child," says Phyllis Larrymore Kelly, mother and manager of 14-year-old actress RaeVen Larrymore Kelly. "Ask them how they would handle it if your daughter got sick and was unable to make a booking. Find out how often they want your child to audition."

An agent is responsible for booking auditions, and for negotiating payment and contracts should your child land the part. He will earn 10% of whatever bookings he secures for your child. Floria Smith warns parents to watch out for agencies that ask for money to represent your child. "I actually got ripped off when [Arjay] first started," Smith admits. "We went to an agency that charged us just to get started, then wanted us to pay more money for [acting] workshops." Smith advises parents to check with the Screen Actors Guild before signing on with any agency that is not well known.

Modeling is another way you can break your child into the entertainment business and help her gain the experience that might attract a film and television agent. Although most of your child's initial bookings are likely to be for low-budget print ads paying between $40 and $75 an hour, the work will help build her resume. It's important, however, that you make sure your child is represented by an agent who can screen for legitimate bookings. There are people--including pornographers-who prey on unsuspecting parents and children.

Modeling is what Janet Smollett used to get all six of her children, including actress Jurnee Smollett (Eve's Bayou and the current CBS sitcom Cosby), into the professional arena. Smollett sent her own photos of her children out to agencies. "One sent me a letter saying that my oldest son, JoJo, didn't have `the look.' They said [to] cut his hair and send us another picture," she explains. But JoJo didn't want to get his hair cut, and Smollett honored his wish. While another agency eventually signed him, Smollett said she learned an important lesson about being true to her children's identity and helping them manage rejection. "I've had to run [the business] in a way that wouldn't be harmful to my children," she says.

Norwood echoes Smollett's belief. Kids who really want to be in the business will be hard enough on themselves when they don't get a job; parents shouldn't contribute to their stress. All in all, your job is to support your child's endeavors and protect his interests. Whether you decide to manage your child's career--or hire someone else to do it for you--never be afraid to say no to any entertainment executive who doesn't have your child's best career or personal interests in mind.

"I personally think parents get the rough end of the stick We're characterized as not knowing what we're doing, but we were [our kids'] first managers," says Norwood. "I was stereotyped and talked about badly. But I've always said that our ultimate goal for Brandy has been to say if you ever fall from the top, you'll be prepared to live the same lifestyle. I think we've accomplished that."


Whether or not you choose to handle your child's career yourself, you'll need to arm yourself with information to make sure he isn't getting the short end of the stick. Here are some resources that can put you in a better position to get your child on the right track:


* Everything You'd Better Know About the Record Industry by Kashif and Gary Greenberg (Brooklyn Boy Books, $39.95)

* This Business of Artist Management by Xavier M. Frascogna Jr. and H. Lee Hetherington (Watson-Guptill Publications, $21.95)

* Acting A to Z: The Young Person's Guide to a Stage or Screen Career by Katherine Mayfield (Watson-Guptill Publications, $16.95)

* Acting as a Business: Strategies for Success by Brian O'Neil (Heinemann, $14.95)


* Young Concert Artists Inc. ( This nonprofit organization aims to discover and launch the careers of talented young musicians. It offers free artist management services, publicity materials and career development guidance to winners of its audition-only selection process.

* Screen Actors Guild ( Click here to visit the site of the organization that represents the interests of professional actors. Find a reputable talent agent for your child, identify your responsibilities as a stage parent and the benefits of your child belonging to a union.

For more tips on raising a star, log on to
COPYRIGHT 1999 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
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Title Annotation:managing child celebrities
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 1999
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