Up for the Challenge
"Finally" Hit-Maker CeCe Peniston is Ready for Pride

By Lee Valentine Smith

Cece Peniston has one big hit, but it's a massive moment in dance, R&B and video. In 1991, "Finally" made her a star, but the talented performer hasn't taken the easy road to fame. The Phoenix-based vocalist and songwriter has never tried to fit into any one category, which has opened her opportunities from initial major-label success to independent entrepreneur.

She's moved from multi-act radio-promo shows to performing at galas for Aretha Franklin and Bill Clinton. In between, she's appeared on reality TV (Celebrity Wife Swap) and worked with a number of PTA and youth foundations. She returns to town this month for a featured performance at Atlanta Pride.
INsite spoke with Peniston by phone from Arizona.

Is "Hot" your newest release? You're looking great on the cover.

Yes, that's the newest release and that's really me. You know, I've put on a few pounds since that picture was taken. I was dealing with family issues and hadn't been on my gym workout as much. So recently I started a new fitness challenge. I'm not quite in supergirl shape, but I'm getting there. I decided to do a fitness challenge with the group Az Yet from the '90s. There's five of them and they all took me up on the offer. Now we're all on a tough 90-day fitness contest and we're posting back and forth about it on Instagram. In 2014, I did the NPC Bikini Fitness competition and that's my goal, I want to do another one. I want to be ready.

You're no stranger to contests. You participated in beauty pageants in college.

Yep, I sure did. In 1989, I was "Miss Black Arizona."

But you also did a lot of theater. Those seem like two very different worlds.

I've always been the type to try not to fit into any box. Whether it's writing poetry or taking dance lessons, I just like to do things to challenge myself on a regular basis.

Now that you're an independent artist, that's one more challenge for you.

Yeah, we have Team CeCe and I pay everybody. Everything is from me. But that's good because you can actually see where the money goes and when it comes back in. It's great for me because there's so many possibilities we're working on, from skin care to licensing music. It's been a really busy year.

1991 was a good year for you, as well.

Yes! You know, a couple of days ago was the 27th anniversary of "Finally." I was writing a lot of poetry at the time and that's where the song originally came from. Then about six weeks later, the label called and said, 'You have a hit and you're about to travel the world.' I woke up the other day and said, 'Oh snap, that was 27 years ago?' It's just a blessing that I'm able to do what I do, all these years later. It's become a classic and it's created so many memories.

You know you have a solid hit when people connect their life stories to a song.

I can't thank the LGBTQ community enough for loving me. I have heard so many stories about "Finally." People came out to that song, people have gotten married to it. It means so much to me to know that it all started with a poem from a girl with a dream. And now here we are.

Tell us about the Atlanta Pride show.

I'll definitely have my DJ and I'll need dancers. Whoever I don't bring with me, I tend to be very good at picking people out of the crowd. I remember one time in Vegas, I had all these rappers and dancers. Really talented people. And Atlanta is full of so much talent, I know we'll have a good time. I've done so many Prides. I think I've done them all at this point and it's always the best audiences.

At this point, do you play with a live band or do you strictly work with a DJ? How do you present the live show?

All of it! I have bands in different cities that I go to. I've built up a network all over the country. That keeps it fresh and fun for everybody. It's really like a variety show. It gives me time to do more ballads and R&B and I'll be doing some new stuff, too. Atlanta hasn't heard "Hot" yet, but they're about to! In the live show, I can tweak the energy to match the flow of the city. I really love it because the music doesn't tell me when to stop.

CeCe Peniston performs Saturday, October 13 on the Coca-Cola Stage at Atlanta Pride. For more information, please visit atlantapride.org.

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