Thursday, September 28, 2006



As part of this year’s St. Louis Gateway Classic post-events two St. Louis-based artists will be featured as opening acts in a national musical concert .They are American Idol finalist Nikko Smith and gospel star Praiz. They will open for national R&B recording artist, Joe at The Roberts Orpheum Theatre.

Presented by Rhodes and Coleman Entertainment, this concert will take Saturday, September 30, at 8pm at the Roberts Orpheum Theatre located at 416 North 9th street in downtown St. Louis (See ticket info below) .

Born Osbourne Earl Smith in San Diego (and raised in Town and Country, Mo.), Nikko Smith is a singer/songwriter who was the ninth-place finalist on American Idol. Smith, who is the son of baseball Hall of Famer/St. Louis Cardinals short stop Ozzie Smith, auditioned for American Idol in 2004 (at the Edwards Jones Dome in St. Louis) with the song "All I Do" by Stevie Wonder.

The following is an interview Smith had done in 2005 for The American Idol website :

AI: Do you have any formal singing training?
NS: No.
AI: What other talents do you have?
NS: I was involved in martial arts.
AI: What are your personal goals in life?
NS: To be individually and independently successful in music.
AI: What album would your friends be surprised you own?
NS: The Eagles greatest hits.
AI: Who is your AMERICAN IDOL?
NS: Prince.
AI: : Do you have any rituals or things you do each time before you perform?
NS: Pray.
AI: Favorite male pop artist?
NS: Mario.
AI: Favorite female pop artist?
NS: JoJo.
AI: Most embarrassing moment?
NS: I was performing and my shoe came off and I accidentally kicked it across the room.
AI: What has been your proudest moment in life so far?
NS: Making the top 24.
AI: If you couldn't sing, which talent would you most like to have?
NS: I would love to be a painter.
AI: What is your definition of an AMERICAN IDOL?
NS: Someone who has the drive, talent and star quality to show America real music.
AI: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
NS: I'm a homebody.
AI: How has this changed your life?
NS: I'm a lot more focused now.
AI: Do you have any lucky charms?
NS: Yes, my dad gave me a coin that always brought him luck.
AI: Who are your heroes in life?
NS: My parents.
AI: What's been your toughest obstacle in life?
NS: Staying focused.

As we all know, Smith did not win. Smith was the first AI contestant to be voted off and then return (sans the wild card). He made it to the third round of the semi-finals, but was voted off on March 9, 2005 along with Travis Tucker. Days later, Smith got a phone call from the producers asking him to come back in place of Mario Vazquez. American Idol later reported Vazquez left due to a personal dilemma. After returning, Nikko was dubbed "The Comeback Kid" by judge Paula Abdul after a great vocal performance of "One Hand, One Heart". Although Paula liked it, it wasn't enough for America because that same week, Nikko was voted off the show for his 2nd and final time.

Smith, who attended Parkway West High School, started singing at age 7 in church. In 1996, he joined the singing group Team 11, which performed cover tunes at promotional events. In 2003, Nikko moved to L.A. with Team 11 to pursue music, but moved back the same year, after the group disbanded. He has performed at several St. Louis jazz and blues clubs and is currently working on an album entitled "The Revolution" with the N Music Group which is due to be released sometime this year.

Like Smith, STL gospel artist Praiz has a lot to be thankful. After a near death experience in 1997, Praiz changed his life around through God and song and hasn’t turned back since.
Born Vance Watt, Praiz was determined to make a name for himself not only in St. Louis but on the national scene. Praiz prefers up close-and-personal interactions with his fans. It's no surprise because those familiar with his music feel they truly know him. His lyrics are a mirror into his tortured past, but they also portray a man who's found peace.

Consider the song, "Praiz," borne out of a horrific car crash in 1997 after what the gospel star calls “a hard night of partying.” The accident left him with a concussion and broke parts of his vertebrae and neck. Years later, Praiz transformed that ordeal into a catchy refrain for "Praiz":
“If I can't clap my hands/I'm just gonna wave my hands/If I can't move my feet/ I'm gonna rock in my seat/ If I can't leap for joy/ I'm gonna just sing for joy/ That's why they call me 'Praiz.'”

In addition to promoting his music, which has also been featured on MTV, BET, and TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network). At a recent CD release concert for his CD The Take Over(which garnered the heavy radio airplay hit, “Deliver Me”) in University City, St. Louis' eclectic cultural hotspot that helped propel the careers of Nelly and other artists. Praiz has been called the "Nelly of Gospel," a comparison he doesn't mind.

"It's better than being compared to someone not as successful. If they see the same level of success coming from me, as a Christian artist, it's fine with me." It's also the St. Louis connection, he says, "Being from St. Louis, like Nelly, or Chingy, or J-Kwon, we have a certain style, a certain sound, that comes through with our music; just like Detroit's Motown sound, New York has a sound, L.A. has a sound."

Music and his faith play a dominant role offstage. He plays the piano for Grace Bible Church in St. Louis, where his family attends Sunday services. He and his wife of 4 years, Candace, are in marriage class and Bible Study. The Watts also form small groups with other church members to visit each other's homes and spend time with their children. Watt also plans to go to Bible college, and maybe, sing in the choir. Problem is, he'll now have to balance his personal time with the demands of being an artist.

To learn more about Vance Watt (aka Praiz) and his music, visit his website,

The headliner, Grammy Award nominated R&B crooner Joe has a lot in common with Smith and Praiz. Joe (Thomas) had gone through auditions to “demo” his talent and his heavy upbringing in the church. As the most distinctive voice in R&B, Joe is a major force to be reckoned with in the R&B and Hip-Hop genres. He gets ultimate respect from Hip-Hop’s most notable stars and he is one of the remaining few R&B male singers, songwriters, musicians, producers that is not relegated to the old-school stigmas often given to his counterparts.

The son of two preachers, music played an important role in Joe’s life early on. As a musician and singer of his parents’ church, the Georgia native’s early musical influences include gospel greats such as The Winans, Commissioned and Vanessa Bell Armstrong (with whom he’d later also work with). He eventually discovered secular acts like Bobby Brown and Keith Sweat and after playing in local bands, set his sites on a career in music. After graduating high school, Joe bought a one-way ticket to New York to pursue his dream. His melodic and instrument-playing skills would serve him well - it enabled him to produce his own three-song demo, which eventually lead to a label deal and the 1993 release of Everything (and his debut Top 10 R&B single, “I’m in Love”) .

Joe also appeared on the soundtrack to Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (featuring the Top 10 single, “All the Things Your Man Won’t Do” ) and moved to Jive/RCA for his second album, 1997's All That I Am. The single "Don't Wanna Be a Player" hit the Top 40, thanks to its exposure on the soundtrack of Booty Call. While “All That I Am” went platinum, Joe remixed a duet by Tina Turner and Barry White, "Never in Your Dreams"; he also produced and wrote for debut albums by Ideal and Deja Groove.

In 1999, Joe appeared on Mariah Carey's (No. 1 Hot 100) "Thank God I Found You" single (from Rainbow), and caught yet another break from a soundtrack appearance, this time with "I Wanna Know" from The Wood. Released as a single in the fall, "I Wanna Know" languished in the lower reaches of the charts until suddenly catching fire in early 2000; the single reached the R& B (and Hot 100) Top Five in March, setting the stage for Joe's next album, My Name Is Joe. (which featured the No. 1 Hot 100 and R&B single, “Stutter” with rapper Mystikal). He went on to produce the lesser successful albums, 2001’s Better Days and 2003’s, And Then.

Fast forward to 2006, Joe is ready to release his 6th album, “Joe…Who?” “Who? “is Joe’s 6th album (and featuring the single, “Where You At” with rapper Papoose) and this release will be the one where Joe’s celebrity and personality shine brighter than ever before.

As long as Joe has been making music, the journey continues to be exciting for him.

“Music has always been a part of my life. But it’s growing. It’s becoming more in tune with me as an artist and where I stand and what I’m trying to do. The understanding is becoming so clear, so [is] the enjoyment in what I do,” he says.

And with his latest project, Joe hopes music fans can hear that growth as well.

“The album is for my fans and to give them quality music every time. That’s my goal,” he says.
With more than ten years in the business under his belt and still going strong. JOE…Who? Will no longer be the question but JOE Thomas will be the answer.

Ticket prices to the Joe/Nikko Smith/Praiz show at the Roberts Orpheum are $40.00, $50.00 and $60.00 each. Tickets are on sale now through Tickets Master. For more information: Contact Anthony Coleman at 314-580-9424

Interviews, bios and discographies courtesy of American Idol,, Rhodes and Coleman Entertainment, John Bush, All Music Guide, and

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