Toni Tells Her Troubles

Looking at the petite, upbeat Toni Braxton, it's hard to believe she's weathered all the stuff you've heard about: bankruptcy, busted romance, a stalker who scared her into leaving gigs in disguise and a grueling 1998 interview with Oprah Winfrey, who grilled the multiplatinum singer about fiscal responsibility. After a four-year hiatus, and a stint in Broadway's "Beauty and the Beast," the smoky-voiced Braxton, 31, is back with "The Heat," an engaging new CD that mixes sultry love ballads--like the lush "Spanish Guitar"--and saucy dance tunes. She spoke with NEWSWEEK's Allison Samuels about her travails--and her hair.

SAMUELS:Was it hard returning to R&B?
BRAXTON: It was tough in the beginning. On Broadway you have to enunciate every word very carefully. When I went to record my album, the producers were, like, "Where's the old Toni? We need to send you to church."

While you were doing the show, you had a stalker. How scary was that?
I don't like to call him a stalker, but a very, very enthused fan. Sometimes people really just want to connect with you. I've had fans that I've invited up to the dressing room and all they wanted was to say "hi" and tell me how much they loved my music. The guy that was a real problem, though--the police had to deal with him.

And it was already a difficult time for you.
Right. My boyfriend [New York Jets running back Curtis Martin] left me in the middle of the bankruptcy. I think it was just too much for him. I'm sure it changed my personality--I was definitely going through my angry young black woman period.

Despite all the records you sold, you had to file for bankruptcy. What happened?
A new artist never makes a lot of money the first time around. [Braxton says she got about 35 cents a CD; the norm is about a dollar.] I wasn't making the money I should have, but it's hard not to live the lifestyle.

Girl, I gotta ask you about the Gucci silverware that Oprah made such a big deal about.
I only spent about $1,000 on it. If that made me broke, then I was truly in bad shape. It's Gucci--I love it. I'd buy it again. And now that I get a huge discount because I've given them so much pub, I can really shop!

Oprah was pretty tough on you.
Yeah, I guess I expected her to give me a hug and a kiss and tell me it was going to be all right. But she took a different approach. Sitting there, though, made me know that I was never going to let this happen again.

So tell me about the hair. It's a braided weave again, right? The last time we talked you didn't like it because it got matted up.
This time around I had money to buy better hair.

A friend told me she paid $1,800 for hers.
No, I paid a little bit more than that, honey. It's expensive being a black woman.