1983-2002: Early Life, Career Beginnings, and 3LW
Bailon was born to a Puerto Rican mother and an Ecuadorian father on October 24, 1983. She grew up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York. Bailon has an older sister, Claudette, and is the cousin of Jorge Santos, who was once in a relationship with Christina Aguilera. Bailon's parents are divorced, and she was raised by her mother and stepfather, Joe. She attended High School for Health Professions and Human Services, but didn't pursue a career in the medical field due to her musical endeavors. Bailon commented "I really wanted to be an Obstetrician! I wanted to bring babies into the world.." Bailon was discovered by Latin pop singer Ricky Martin while she was performing in a church choir at Madison Square Garden. Martin asked for the four best singers in the group, and Bailon was one to be selected. Bailon, along with the other picked singers, performed as back up singers at Martin's live concert later that night.
Following the performance, Bailon became a member of the girl group 3LW. Bailon stated that she was spotted by a producer while on a field trip to Beth Israel, and was later offered a slot in the female trio. Bailon said "..coming from very humble beginnings in the projects of the Lower East Side and not having any "Hollywood" connections... It did not seem realistic. I sang in church, acted in all the church and school plays... So when the opportunity came to join a girl group I was ready!" The group was signed to Epic Records. Kiely Williams and Naturi Naughton were the other two members of the group, and work on their debut album began in 1999. In 1999, the original line up of 3LW formed. Their first single, "No More (Baby I'ma Do Right)", was released in the fall of 2000. "No More" was a chart success, and was followed by "Playas Gon' Play" in early 2001. The group's self-titled debut album, 3LW was released on December 5, 2000. The album went on to be certified platinum by the RIAA, selling 1.3 million copies in the US. In the summer of 2001, the group embarked on the MTV Total Request Live tour along with Destiny's Child, Dream, Nelly, Eve, and Jessica Simpson. In 2001, 3LW recorded a song with various artists including Michael Jackson, Usher, Beyoncé, Luther Vandross, Celine Dion and Mariah Carey in response to the 9/11 attacks called "What More Can I Give". In late 2001 they collaborated with Lil' Romeo and Nick Cannon for "Parents Just Don't Understand" on the Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius soundtrack.
3LW spent the first half of 2002 in the studio, recording an album tentatively titled Same Game, Different Rules. The album and its intended lead single "Uh Oh" were presented to the label, who felt it did not have enough urban radio appeal. The tracks from Same Game, Different Rules were leaked to the Internet in MP3 format, and Epic considered dropping the girls. A fan support campaign for 3LW named 'Never Let Go Of 3LW' after their song "Never Let Go" spread to the radio, and the act was retained, despite the album loss. Recording a new set of tracks, the group returned in the summer of 2002 with the P. Diddy-produced single "I Do (Wanna Get Close To You)", featuring Loon. That same summer, the group performed a concert special on Nickelodeon titled Live on Sunset. By August, the group was set to release its newest LP, A Girl Can Mack, when member Naughton had left the group for good after heated arguments. A Girl Can Macks release date was pushed back a month, but sales were still disappointing debuting at #15 on the Billboard 200 with a disappointing 53,000 copies sold in the first week. Approaching the time that the group was ready to deliver their second album, Naturi Naughton announced that she was no longer a member of the group. Naughton alleged that she had a number of conflicts and arguments with Bailon, Williams, and their management, which led to a heated argument in August 2002 involving an altercation with KFC food. Not long after, Naughton claimed that she was forced out of the group.
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