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Tamar Braxton's too busy, even with 'Calling All Lovers,' and she likes it that way

Tamar Braxton's too busy, even with 'Calling All Lovers,' and she likes it that way
Tamar Braxton on her new album: "It's very open." (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Tamar Braxton was in the car, applying makeup in the rear-view mirror, when she heard it. Her song "Angels & Demons" was on the radio. It was a first for the singer, who couldn't help but relish the serendipity. Here she was promoting her new album, "Calling All Lovers," only to hear it piping through the car speakers.

"Oh, my God," Braxton yelled, grabbing the phone to call her husband and manager, Vincent Herbert, who was parked 50 feet ahead tending to their 2-year-old son, Logan. "This means it's real!"

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Last week was a high point for Braxton, who started her career in R&B music alongside her now-famous sister Toni, but has since made her biggest splash as a sharp-witted reality television star in WEtv's "Braxton Family Values." The series, which follows Braxton and her sisters, just wrapped up its fourth season. But that doesn't mean Braxton, 38, is taking a break.

Aside from her work on the album, the singer can be seen interviewing and gossiping with celebrities on the Fox syndicated talker "The Real," competing weekly on ABC's celebrity competition "Dancing With the Stars" (she got a crash course in the rumba after this interview), and cameras are currently rolling for a new season of "Tamar and Vince," the spinoff she anchors with her husband. As if that weren't enough, she also oversees her own clothing line.

Driving from taping to taping last week, Braxton was dressed in workout gear and had been going nonstop since 5 a.m. She was wrapping two filmings of "The Real" before dinner, then heading to rehearsal for "Dancing With the Stars." Still, her makeup was perfect, her hair tightly pulled behind her ears. "They film everything, so I've gotta keep my face [together]," she said as she pulled into the parking lot of a Hollywood rehearsal space, graciously appeasing a swarm of paparazzi waiting to snap photos.

"I feel like I've waited my whole life for an opportunity, so for me to then not take [every] opportunity that I'm given would be ridiculous," she said. "What would be the point of doing this?"

If anyone knows about waiting, it's Braxton.

In the early '90s, she and her four sisters snagged a record deal with Arista. Their first and only single wasn't a hit, but it was a breakthrough for older sister Toni, who went on to become a preeminent voice in R&B. The Braxtons sang backup for Toni before three of them, with Tamar as lead, released 1996's modestly successful "So Many Ways."

Braxton then decided to pursue a solo career, signing to DreamWorks Records and releasing her solo debut "Tamar" in 2000. The album fizzled, and she was dropped.

"I was 23 years old the first time around; it was very much like, 'What am I going to do now?'" Braxton said of early career hurdles.

And then reality TV changed her luck. Since 2011, Braxton and her older sisters — Toni, Traci, Towanda and Trina — have anchored "Braxton Family Values." The show was an instant hit, becoming a flagship title for WEtv (it's most recent season was its most-watched) and sparking an influx in R&B-flavored reality shows including "Mary Mary," "R&B Divas" and "SWV Reunited."

The success of the show, and Braxton's knack for delivering scene-stealing zingers, revived a recording career that had stalled after years of label issues and shelved projects. Her first album in 13 years, 2013's "Love and War," made for an impressive comeback story, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart and yielding three Grammy nods.

"I have a bit of responsibility," Braxton said. "I started in reality ... [and] I want to be a different example of that. You can start out there, but that's not where you have to end up or finish."

Her drive is one of the first things those around her bring up in conversation. Show producers, management, production crew and even security guards all remark about her tireless work ethic.

"She just wants to work. She doesn't want to go out and party," said husband Herbert, a record executive. "She wants to know what the next thing is, and she's always ready. She's really the hardest-working woman I know."

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Braxton is, however, a harsh self-critic — and like anything she thinks, she doesn't hide it. Take the album's three-month delay. The singer penned a moving note to her fans, admitting she "lost hope." She's still working through insecurities from darker days. "I find that I often get in my own way, all the time," she said. "I'm constantly working on that."

Recorded mostly in the studio she had installed at home (to circumvent her schedule), "Calling All Lovers" is a showcase of sumptuous contemporary R&B in a time when the genre is expanding beyond its more traditional sound. It's an emotional record too, documenting the turbulent years before Braxton met her husband.

"It's very open," Braxton said of the album. "I felt like it was necessary for me to let you in on my journey before the Tamar you see now. I didn't want people to think that I was just a girl from a famous family who got lucky. No, I've been through a lot."

Braxton has mastered the art of cross promotion, intersecting each extension of Brand Tamar and including her loyal fan base (affectionately called Tamartians) in every endeavor.

During a break on "The Real," her single "Catfish" blasts throughout the studio. Braxton dances as she and her cohosts get hair and makeup touch-ups and the mostly female audience chants "Go Tamar!"

When she wanted to debut a new track from "Calling All Lovers," she did so on "The Real," the talk show she co-hosts alongside a multiethnic panel of female celebrities Loni Love, Adrienne Bailon, Jeannie Mai and Tamera Mowry-Housley that was last year's No. 1 new syndicated program. And her latest routine on "Dancing With the Stars" was scored by album centerpiece "King," which she penned for her husband and son.

"There are so many [celebrities] who say, 'OK, this is my film face. This is my book face. This is my Broadway face,'" said Rachel Miskowiec, executive producer of "The Real." "No matter what she's doing, she stays herself. Tamar is Tamar. And her fans see that. They will follow her from reality to talk to music because she's always herself."

Later, Braxton is in tears. Her dance partner, Valentin Chmerkovskiy, asked her to recount her most memorable year, which served as inspiration for their routine. She told him about Herbert's 2011 hospitalization for a near-fatal pulmonary embolism and her own fertility struggles while trying to conceive Logan (both were chronicled on "Braxton Family Values").

"I've been busy before, but this is another level," Braxton confides to Chmerkovskiy as he walks her through a complicated rumba. "I've never had an album out while I'm doing so many other things."

"It's a … storm, but it's going to be the best experience of your life," he assured her before grabbing her hand and leading her around the ballroom, their feet moving quicker with each spin.

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She's 15 hours into her day, and tomorrow is even longer, but you wouldn't know it as she spins and dips gracefully with her makeup perfectly in place, the cameras catching it all.

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