Freshman Lauren Minenok has another name: Ren Capri.
Capri is her stage name and the name she signed to Jams Avenue Music, an independent record label based in Pittsburgh, at the end of August.
“It’s nice to finally be able to do my original music and start to get it out there,” Minenok said. “I’ve met with different producers before who I could have signed a contract to work with just in their studio.
But this way, with the label, I have the freedom to go to whatever studio I want, work with whatever producer I want.”
She created her stage name by shortening her first name and snipping her mother’s maiden name, which is DiCaprio.
Andre Carter, owner of Jams Avenue Music, suggested the idea.
Minenok is coming off a performance at the Hard Rock Cafe in Pittsburgh’s Station Square on March 10.
Carter planned the performance as a showcase of local music talent from around the Pittsburgh area. The event featured mostly R&B, rap and hip-hop acts.
Minenok headlined the show, the last of three shows that Carter promoted at the Hard Rock Cafe.
“I did two other shows, one in January that I headlined, and one prior to that in the fall,” Minenok said. “The show in January was the first time I let anyone hear my first single, ‘Game On.’”
Minenok has two other original songs completed so far:
“Remember Who’s to Blame” and an updated remake of a song by Tevin Campbell titled “Can We Talk?”
Carter said that, within the next couple of weeks, Minenok’s three songs will be released on iTunes as singles.
“After that, we will start to release her new songs as they come out,”
Carter said. “We hope to have an entire album completed by June or July for the Rocket to the Stars music festival in New Castle, where we’ll have a booth promoting her and her music.”
For now, Minenok is focusing on writing lyrics to more songs for her upcoming album later this year.
“Hopefully, by the end of May I’ll have all the songs I need. At least eight,” Minenok said.
Last year’s Rocket to the Stars festival in Minenok’s hometown of New Castle, Pa., is where Carter first discovered her.
“I predicted she was going to win the competition, and when she did, I had one of those ‘I told you so’ moments and immediately wanted to sign her,” Carter said. “How you perform, your emotion on stage is always important. And her stage presence and her ability to engage the audience is what won me over.”
Minenok said she remembers the event clearly.
“Lucky enough for me, they had these people from Pittsburgh come up and work with the different contestants,” Minenok said of the festival. “Not too long after that, [Andre],contacted me and wanted to set up a meeting. We fit well together. We kind of have the same goals and views for where I want to go with my music, so it just seemed like the perfect fit.”
Her songs have an R&B and pop feel to them, channeling two of her most prominent influences — Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. But her biggest inspiration is Beyonce.
“When she’s onstage, she’s just a completely different person. The energy she gives off is just unreal, and her choreographer’s amazing,” Minenok said about Beyonce.
Minenok has been singing since she was 5 years old, when she auditioned for and was cast as the part of Gretel in the New Castle Playhouse’s production of “The Sound of Music.”
She sang “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole, and she said everyone in the room immediately ceased talking and began looking around to see where that loud and powerful voice was coming from.
“I was always so loud, and from that moment on I just loved singing,” she said.
Rosanne Palladino, Minenok’s former music teacher, said she thinks Minenok has a chance to go far. Palladino coached her in different musicals and showed her how to hit certain notes.
“She is very dedicated and always wants to be the very best she can be in anything she does. For that reason, I believe she can do anything she sets her mind to,” Palladino said.
“We are going to try and get her to open for some major acts this summer and get her in a lot of festivals to get her name out there. She absolutely has a future as a professional musician,” he said.
Since then, she has performed in various shows around the area and sung the national anthem at Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians games.
She will perform next at the Back to the ‘50s festival, held in New Castle in late August.
“They booked me for that, and it’s actually going to be bigger than just having me there. There’s some other stuff that I can’t say yet that’s in the works, but if it all works out, it’s going to be a great show,” Minenok said.
In addition to Minenok’s pursuit of a music career, she commutes from New Castle to Youngstown State University as a telecommunications major. “I’ve always wanted to go into sports broadcasting. That’s another passion of mine. I’m really obsessed with Erin Andrews,” she said.
Trying to chase both dreams makes her life “a little crazy,” she said. In the future, she would like to be a singer and a sports broadcaster at the same time, if possible.
For now, she said she has no regrets and is fueled by her love of music and sports.