Black Music Month

inBlack: Collins Pennie: Talent Before Fame

Watching television programs like “American Idol” or “America’s Best Dance Crew” highlights how individuals go from being unknown talent to stars almost overnight. In reality the road to fame is filled with many struggles and barricades that forces gifted talent to the top. Singer/Actor Collins Pennie, like other great entertainers, went through experiences that forced him to keep his dream alive of becoming a singer/actor while overcoming being homeless. Pennie’s grind paid off when he received a feature role in the film “Fame.” The film provides him the opportunity to share a similar story he and his character lived through and showcase his dancing, acting and vocal ability.

How did your childhood help to shape you?
Collins Pennie: I grew up in Brooklyn projects in Brooklyn (New York) and by age thirteen/fourteen I was in foster care. By fifteen I ran away and have been on my own ever since. I was homeless sleeping in parks and staying at friends houses. I made a way out and ended up here doing ‘Fame.’

In that point in your life, how did music, film and entertainment become a dream for you?
Collins Pennie: Ever since I was a kid that was what I wanted to do. My mom was a single parent and she did not necessarily have the time to support me. At one point she was working three jobs to support me and my sister, she was not home a lot and money was tight. It was rough. She did not have time and the system got involved took me and my sister and put us in the foster care system. When we were in the foster care system my sister ran away to Wisconsin to stay with my aunt. I was still in the system. They give you stipend every three months or so and my foster parents were not giving it to me so I would have to go and steal food and clothes or whatever. I got caught and ended up in juvenile detention hall, after that happen I was like I am going to runaway and pursue my dreams.

Was there someone that helped you achieve your dream, like a mentor?
Collins Pennie: No. I would love to say there was somebody that was there but no there was not. I didn’t have any money. I knew I needed to take classes so I would go to the Broadway Dance [Center] and stand outside and learn the routine from outside. Then I would go in the back of the class at the end of the class and do the routine. I would go to the drama bookshop and spend days and days in their reading all the different books. I would sneak into hotels to use the gym and shower and the computer lab to find out about auditions. That’s how I did it.

With ‘Fame’ based around fulfilling dreams, is the story from the character in the movie similar to your personal life?
Collins Pennie: When I read the script I knew I had to be a part of this movie because I felt like this was my story. I felt like the idea of fame and this movie was about kids coming from all walks of life to pursue their dreams. Not only to pursue their dream but the odds, whatever their circumstances were. The only difference was the character was originally bi-racial so they did not want to read me for the part originally. I went to the casting director office and my whole life seems to be a fight like I always have to fight for the opportunities. I went down there and wrote a little letter and all this other stuff and gave him my biography. They finally agreed to let me audition and go figure, I get the role and they change the character around from being bi-racial to being me. That was awesome for me because I fought and out of the thousands of kids that auditioned across the country; Bow Wow and Chris Brown I got it.

You contribute as an actor, singer and songwriter, it seems like this role gave you the ability to show your full arsenal of skills.
Collins Pennie: My role is the heart of the movie. I have the most conflicts and the most challenges to overcome. My character is really a strong character in the film. I got the chance to act strong pieces with great actors like Charles Dutton and do scenes with him. I got to dance and rap. I rap in the movie but originally I am a singer so I was playing a rapper who sings a little bit. Not only did I get to explore all those talents I got to write on the soundtrack. Naturi and I did the theme song over and shot a music video. I went in the studio and restructured the song and wrote my part on it and rewrote some of the parts. So I got to take an iconic song like fame and rewrite it. I got to explore all my different talents in this one movie. It was like dream within a dream.

Does that make you want to pursue both music and acting or stick to acting?
Collins Pennie: Oh no, I am singer. I am working on my album right now. “Almost There” is a song that really represent my life and what I have gone through. Biggie [Notorious B.I.G.] had “Juicy”, it’s my “Juicy.” I have a song on the radio here in L.A. called “Dirty Martini” that DJ Felli Fel produced and that is getting a lot of request. I don’t even know how that happen. I don’t even have a [record] deal. “Almost There” is the title for my album and sets the tone for what it is going to be about.

You have faced a number of obstacles, what advice would you give people that want to follow their dreams?
Collins Pennie: I say focus on the works/craft. A lot of people see fame today as that quick fame. I would say do the work and the opportunity will come and you will be prepared. That is what I did. I focused on not being famous, not going to the club, not networking and having a friend do something for me. If you have a product that works and does the job people will see it and the word will get around and you will get your opportunity…Do the work. In Hollywood there are a lot of going in the clubs trying to be friends with famous people and trying to get their picture taken and all that other stuff. People see your face but there is no credibility or anything in that. You have to have talent and that will speak for itself.

—— By: Staff

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