Conejo Valley Female Artists Sing on "Dancing with the Stars"
Conejo Valley Female Artists Sing on
By Amy Bentley

Before "Dancing with the Stars," Carmen Carter and Beverley Staunton of Newbury Park had never met each other or crossed paths in their musical careers.

But on Sept. 19, the pair will once again share the stage on the hit television show for another season performing as the two female singers in the vocal quartet. Carter and Staunton have both been cast signers with the ABC show since "Dancing with the Stars" premiered in 2005. The show's 13th season debuts Sept. 19.

While most viewers focus on the dancers, Carter and Staunton work in the background, singing a wide range of songs in English and several foreign languages. The male singers are Antonio Sol and Darryl Phinnessee.

Both women are also proud of their newly released CDs. Staunton's latest solo effort, "Everything Changes," is a country/pop album and Staunton cowrote the title song. She had previously recorded a jazz record and three albums as a child, but said, "It's the first one I've done in a long time and the first one I feel is really who I am as an artist. I chose songs I could relate to and I thought other people could relate to."

Carter enjoyed positive reviews with a solo song released by Arista Records some years ago, and she wrote and produced a new CD earlier this year called, "Can I Be With You Tonight?" Carter called her CD an eclectic blend of music about relationships that also includes dance music and smooth jazz.

Both singers are busy with a variety of projects year-round.

Carter has an extensive list of singing credits from television and film. For television, she has worked on "Ally McBeal," "American Idol," "America's Got Talent," "Boston Legal," "Chocolate News," "Family Guy," "Family Matters," "Friends," "Glee," "King of the Hill," "Lopez Tonight," "Married with Children" and many more. Carter's film work includes "A Bug's Life," "A Civil Action," "Amistad," "Antz," "Be Cool," "Big Mamma's House," "Dreamgirls," "Flushed Away," "Ghosts of Mississippi," "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," "Rent," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Lion King 1.5," "Lion King II: Simba's Pride," "Prince of Egypt," "The Princess and the Frog" and many more.

In addition, Carter has provided vocals for scores of major recording artists, including: Adele, Barbra Streisand, Brandy, Celine Dion, Chaka Khan, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Don Henley, Gloria Estefan, John Tesh, Julian Lennon, Lionel Richie, Mary J. Blige, Meat Loaf, Nelly Furtado, Patti Labelle, Peabo Bryson, Queen Latifah, Randy Newman, Smokey Robinson, Steve Perry, the Village People, Whitney Houston and scores of others.

Staunton, who grew up in Canada, has worked with entertainers including Bette Midler, Julio Iglesias and Barry Manilow, as well as for children's CDs for Disney Records. Staunton also sang with Kelly Clarkson, Lionel Richie, Nelly Furtado, Martina McBride, Dionne Warwick and James Taylor. Her voice has been heard on such popular TV programs as "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "The Late Show with David Letterman" and "Good Morning America." She has been the voice on animated shows including "The Emperor's New School," "Kim Possible" and Seth Green's "Robot Chicken," and movies such as "Norbit" and "Blades of Glory."

Both singers agreed they love working on "Dancing with the Stars."

"What I like about it the most is that the people on the show are so friendly. It really is like a family and I've been on a million television shows. What you feel from the show is real. The judges are nice and everybody is really nice. I couldn't have wished for a better job," Carter said.

Staunton said many people are curious about the show's singers and orchestra that provide live music for the dancers. While not in the forefront, the singers have an important role, she said.

"There is so much pressure on every single person, especially us. We cannot screw up because if we do, we mess them (the dancers) up. Everything that comes out of our mouths has to be perfect," she said, adding, "It's the best show that I've ever worked on for sure."

"I'm hoping 'Dancing with the Stars' is the ticket for me to kick it up a notch," Staunton, 35, said.

Carter grew up in Inglewood in a family of talented entertainment industry people. She has a cousin who sings with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and her uncle, Thomas Carter, is an Emmy award-winning producer-director of such films and TV shows as "Save the Last Dance," "Coach Carter," "Miami Vice" and "Hill Street Blues."

"I started singing in high school," said Carter, who added that growing up in Los Angeles and having relatives in the entertainment business opened doors for her. She left UCLA to work as a professional singer.

"My parents were horrified. I was going to be a doctor but I was moonlighting in the clubs," she said. "You have to follow your heart. If you do what you love, you'll be happy."

Carter said that because she lives locally and doesn't tour, she gets called for singing work often in Los Angeles for film and television. She was asked to audition for "Dancing with the Stars."

"I normally don't go and audition for things because I don't have to. This is a small part of what I do," Carter said about the hit show, adding that she receives six tickets to the show per season and donates them to local schools so they can auction the tickets as fundraisers. "One of the schools made $1,500," Carter said.

"I really feel blessed. Work is difficult for people now. There are a lot of talented people out there in the world," said Carter, a Newbury Park resident of seven years who lives with husband Lynn Watson and their son and daughter.

Carter and Staunton met on "Dancing With the Stars." Staunton was relatively new to the Los Angeles entertainment scene and living in Burbank at the time. It was then that Staunton met her now-husband, Jeremy Chitwood, who was living in Newbury Park. Staunton moved to the Conejo Valley five years ago and the couple has two young sons.

Originally from Montreal, Canada, Staunton, who has three older brothers, began performing at an early age.

"My parents kind of steered us toward music. It just kind of stuck. We became like a family band in Quebec and we actually recorded and did a lot of French TV shows," she said. "What's funny is when we were kids, that was their prediction, that I would be the one who would continue in it as a career. I had a passion for it and it's something God blessed me with."

Seeing their daughter's talent and passion for singing, Staunton's parents brought her to Los Angeles when she was 14. Staunton attended and graduated from the Academy of Music at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, a public high school.

"That was great for me because it rounded me out. Suddenly I was doing jazz, musical theater and taking piano classes," Staunton said. After high school, the family moved to Vancouver and Staunton began her career singing on a cruise ship and in a musical variety show at an amusement park there.

After Staunton landed a one-month promotional tour singing backup vocals with Nelly Furtado, she to went to Los Angeles to further her singing career.

"I was ready for a new challenge," she said, adding that her mother is French Canadian. Staunton's familiarity with the French language has helped her tackle the foreign-language songs on "Dancing with the Stars."

Staunton noted that when she auditioned for the show before its debut in the United States, no one had any idea how hugely popular it would become.