Written by Washington Post Express contributor Alfredo FloresDESPITE ITS MISLEADING title, "Mediocre" is the stellar debut from child-actress-turned-pop-jazz phenom Ximena Sariñana.Prior to last year's surprising success of the Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling album -- whose title is a comment on females' pre-women's lib lot in life -- the Guadalajara-born songstress was mostly known as an actress in Spanish-language telenovelas and films, where she grew up before her country's eyes. But Sariñana proved that music was far more than just a hobby by showing she had a knack for writing songs with heart-wrenching choruses that displayed her serious jazz-inflected vocal chops. "A lot of people have told me I have an old soul [for a young person]," said Sariñana, 23.A huge fan of Ella Fitzgerald, Sariñana was just 2 years old when her dad, director Fernando Sariñana, took her to her first jazz concert. She began vocal lessons at 7, took piano at 11 and by 15 entered National Autonomous University of Mexico's school of music and was mentored by her neighbor — famed actress and vocalist Cecilia Toussaint. Later she attended Boston's Berklee College of Music. "Maybe it's how I grew up. I was always working and surrounded by people way older than me," Sariñana said. "When I was a kid my parents would take me to concerts ... and jazz became the musical genre I gravitated toward the most. I probably didn't understand what I was watching at the time, but I was fortunate to see all those people and to be surrounded by parents who are so talented artistically." Sariñana's acting skills — honed in the soap opera "Luz Clarita" and displayed in big movies such as "Niñas Mal" and last year's "Enemigos Intimos" — help her command the stage when singing. She often closes her eyes and enters a swaying, trancelike state as she sings, and at times goes into improvisational Spanish scat singing, as on her hit single "Vidas Paralelas." "That song talks about when you end a relationship and you feel that you've moved on, but a part of your brain thinks about what would have happened if it continued," she said. "It's like living these parallel imaginative lives when you're already past that and you're living your own life now." On "La Tina" (Spanish for "bathtub"), a deep electronic bass groove sets a dark mood, and Sariñana sings about a past love that she tries to win back, but if she fails, she might commit suicide. The translated chorus states, "This bathtub is for you / This bathtub fits two / Red is the color / Red is better." Such vivid imagery isn't that surprising coming from someone who grew up in the arts, but perhaps Sariñana's most memorable visual is her album cover. It's a photo of her dressed in 1950s-type housewife garb -- long, dark-blue polka-dot dress, plus pearls -- while knitting, not a hair out of place. But Sariñana's facial expression shows sadness, a yearning for something more. It's an ironic image considering it's nearly the complete opposite of the performer fans and friends calls Xime — a bubbly, independent young woman who is living out her dreams by doing both cinema and music. "Women were portrayed like this in the media. This was the idea of perfection," she said. "Not like now in our century when we have a huge palette of what a woman can be — single, married, a lesbian, hate kids, whatever you can be. There's a choice for everything. In the '50s you were either like this [album cover image] or you didn't exist. It was a very mediocre portrayal of women." » 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; Tue., April 21, 7 p.m., $18; 202-265-0930. (U St.-Cardozo)
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