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 It’s a good thing that Deborah Cox doesn’t allow this industry to define her. Otherwise, she’d still be trying to live up to the hype of rivaling Whitney Houston’s musical legacy rather than creating her own. And she’s done a pretty darn good job of distinguishing herself from the pop queen with whom she once shared the same mentor—J Records honcho Clive Davis. But it was Cox’s monster smash “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” that had even those who were tone death belting in earnest—in and out of the shower.

Since then, Cox has starred on Broadway in “Aida,” released a jazz album and started a family. Now, Cox is ready to release her independent effort, “The Promise,” an inspirational take on life and love. And the wife and mother of two is certain to earn a healthy crop of new loyalists. chatted with the songbird about raising a family, rekindling her passion, and why she’ll never leave her fans.

ESSENCE.COM: Ms. Deborah, you’ve been gone way too long, but we’re glad you’re back! How have you been keeping busy?
DEBORAH COX: For the past 15 years, I’ve been hustling with this business and it was really nice to take some time and enjoy family. When you’re on the road you miss so many occasions—cousins grow up, family members pass on, and, well, I’ve missed a lot of life. I took time to have my kids Isaiah, 5, and Sumayah (which means pride in Arabic), 2. I stayed busy but I was able to stay more in control and have the best. And of course, there’s my new album, “The Promise,” which is reflective of what happens in relationships and what’s been going on in my life.

ESSENCE.COM: As a wife and mother, the balancing act is most difficult. You’ve been married for a while and your husband is also your manager. How do you  manage to keep the fire and desire burning?
COX: (Laughs.) I’ve been very fortunate where we’ve been able to maintain a relationship on the personal level so there is a balance. Naturally, we have to juggle the two especially now with children and as business partners we have to keep our work relationship in tact too. I will say it takes a lot of creative time management and having our alone time together, but it does get difficult, because there are times that we are physically together but not as husband and wife. I think we’re figuring it out, but when we’ve been a part too long and we’re not really in sync we have to pull it back and do something for us.  

ESSENCE.COM: I knew you were going to drop the pearls, diva! So how have you evolved musically and personally?
COX: My role on Broadway helped me come full circle again in my artistry. It reminded me why I got involved in this business in the first place. When I got my record deal, it wasn’t about singing but promoting and all this other stuff. 

ESSENCE.COM: Unfortunately, artists are marketable products who are often shaped and molded into a prototype. When you debuted, you were hailed as “the next Whitney Houston.” What kind of pressure did you endure?
COX: It was difficult when I was at that label because I felt like I had to live up to those expectations monetarily, not so much image-wise. The pressure of trying to sell  10 million albums was completely unfair and it never allowed me the opportunity to establish my own identity. I was still naïve, green and eager to please. It really ended when Whitney and I finally did the duet together. She had always been very supportive of me  Then I felt like we had built a camaraderie.

ESSENCE.COM: What promise would you like to make to your family, friends and fans?

COX: My promise is that I’m coming back to my homebaseR&B. Fans embraced me in the beginning, and I’m going to reign true to self and I’m never going to compromise or do something for fame. I’m never going to compromise my integrity. But more importantly, I’m not going anywhere.