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CLOSE’s “Base Level” column features the hottest new artists we’re buzzing about.  Before they make it to the summit of superstardom, we spot them at base level–the beginning of their hopeful journey to the top.  This week’s newbie is Antonique Smith, actress, singer and aspiring diva.

Even if her name doesn’t automatically ring a bell, her voice does. Antonique Smith is mostly known for playing Faith Evans in 2009’s Notorious, the life and death story of legend in the making, Notorious B.I.G. Three years later we get a chance to be acquainted with the woman behind the role. She’s witty (did you see her spoof “R&B Divas” with us?!), sweet and ambitious, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg!

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Antonique’s vocal talents have caught the attention of the late Whitney Houston, making her one to watch. While busy working on her debut album, Smith carved out some time in her schedule to chat with #TeamBeautiful about how she got her big break, her upcoming album, “Speechless” and starring alongside Gabourey Sidibe and Zoe Kravitz in a new movie. Check out our chat below!

HelloBeautiful: How did you get your start in entertainment?

Antonique Smith: I was doing music first and someone heard me sing and told me, “I want to be your agent.” That’s how I got “Rent” on Broadway, “Law & Order,” “Notorious” and all those other things. Since someone heard me sing first, I pursued that instead of fighting and that led to acting. I’m surprised I did that honestly because I was always adamant about needing to sing first because singers can cross over to acting easier than actors crossing over to singing. I went with the flow and acting came to me. It’s now opened the door for me to sing. It’s a blessing that the path God put me on allowed me to play Faith–a singer–and people saw me in that light, making the transition back to singing easier.

HelloBeautiful: Who is your musical inspiration?

Antonique Smith: The foundation of my musical everything is Whitney Houston. When I was a kid, her voice changed my life. When I heard her voice, I really wanted to sound like that. I would go and listen to her tapes and that’s how I learned how to sing. She was my vocal teacher. [laughs] I practiced in church and would make strangers listen to me on the street. She gave me the biggest compliment ever. She told Troy Taylor (who we were both working with) that my voice reminded her of hers when she was 21. That’s the foundation for how I sing–Celine, Mariah, Aretha–I like the big-voiced divas. I listen to Mary, Faith, Prince, Coldplay and I love Hip Hop. All of those sounds [that influence me] is why I call my music Pop Soul with a Hip Hop appeal. It’s a fusion. I sing soulfully with Pop sensibility and Hip Hop influences.

Watch Antonique Gush Over Whitney Houston Below: 

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HelloBeautiful: What are you working on?

Antonique Smith: I have a Frank Ocean song I did called, “Thinking ‘Bout You” and I did a video for it. I’ve just been working on the album. I’ve been working with amazing people like Juke Box who did “Whip My Hair” for Willow Smith. Me and him have a bunch of songs together. He did “Speechless.” I also have a movie called “Yelling To The Sky” starring Zoe Kravitz and Gabby Sidibe coming out later this year. It’s a crazy drama. But I have been really focused on my music.

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HelloBeautiful: What are you most excited about in regards to your upcoming album?

Antonique Smith: Dr. Dre gave me a track that changed everything. It had an element that I can’t say what it is, but it added to my sound. It’s called “Higher” and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it! I’ve been working with Toby Gad who did “If I Were A Boy” for Beyonce. It’s been a blessing. I feel strong about the music. Everybody’s going to be able to identify. I’m an actress, so people see me as other people all the time, so I wanted my album to be honest. I think that’s why people love Adele so much because she talks about her own experiences and on my album, I’m talking about mine.

HelloBeautiful: Is there anyone featured on the album?

Antonique Smith: Me and Faith talk about it, but haven’t decided what song we’re going to do something with. I’ve talked to Rick Ross about it because we just did his video. Nothing is set in stone, but we’re kicking around ideas of what we can do. You never know!

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