PETER SAGAL, HOST:
This week, we are interviewing musicians. This is fun because it makes them put down their instrument and stop singing and use plain words like the rest of us. It’s all about bringing them down to our level.
BILL KURTIS, BYLINE: Or not. The soul diva, Toni Braxton, joined us in May of 2014. And Peter asked her to tell the strange, but true story of how she was discovered.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
SAGAL: Now, you were singing a lot as a youth, you write about, constantly.
TONI BRAXTON: Oh, yes.
SAGAL: But you tell a great story of how you were discovered.
BRAXTON: Me personally, at a gas station, yes.
SAGAL: You were discovered at a gas station?
BRAXTON: I got $5 I borrowed from my dad, and I went to this gas station in Annapolis, Md., and I had a plan. I was going to put $3 in my gas tank and keep $2 for lunch. And this gas attendant comes up to me, and he staring at me. And I'm thinking, OK, little weird. But then he says, all of a sudden, are you a singer? And he said no, really. I've seen you sing around the city. I'm a producer. And I would love to do some demos on you. And of course, I'm thinking this is a line. He might be crazy. He works at a gas station.
BRAXTON: But sometimes in life you're at the right place at the right time. You have to take risks. And it turned out to be legitimate. He was the guy who cowrote the songs that Milli Vanilli - "Girl You Know It's True" that was just starting to get some attention in Europe.
ROY BLOUNT JR.: Were just his lips moving and somebody else…
SAGAL: One of the things you're doing now - and this is - one of the things that's kind of fun about your life is that when you were young, you know, you auditioned for a producer with your sisters, but they only wanted you. And that was - you describe in the book - pretty traumatic for everybody. But now you're back with your sisters doing a reality show called "Braxton Family Values."
SAGAL: And so is this, you know, just all you guys just doing what you do normally together, or is it more high concept than that?
BRAXTON: Normally what we do together in my family, we're pretty animated.
BRAXTON: Yeah. My sisters - you know, I'm a little different. I'm the oldest. And in my generation, being a performer, we were taught to be aloof, to be quiet, you know. Artists have a regalness about them. You don't tell too much of your life. The younger generation are comfortable telling everything about their lives in social media. I mean, one thing my sister said - she said, oh, I'm sorry. Guys, I need some help with something. I had a transaction with someone other than my husband. Should I tell him? I'm going, you think he knows now 'cause you just told millions of people. What do you mean should you tell him? You just told him.
SAGAL: Really? So she says this to you...
SAGAL: She says this to you with the cameras rolling - that she was - let's just be public radio about it - canoodling with...
SAGAL: With another fellow.
BLOUNT: Is that what that means? I never knew.
SAGAL: Yeah. That's what it means, specifically. Canoodling is still illegal in Mississippi.
CHARLIE PIERCE: Roy thought you needed a paddle.
SAGAL: Yeah. So she says to you, oh, my God. Toni, help me. Give me advice with this very private thing. I've, you know - in this intimate situation, what do I do? And did you really look at her and then look at the camera, and look at her and go what do you mean? He knows now.
BRAXTON: Exactly. That's exactly what happened. I just - you know, they're just so open about telling their lives. I don't get it, but I still feel that you should be quiet a little bit.
SAGAL: Yeah. Well, you just wrote this memoir, though, which is...
SAGAL: ...It's very frank.
SAGAL: Now you're known - you named your book after your big song Un-breaks Your Heart - "Un-Break My Heart," which is...
SAGAL: ...Your big number one hit. It was on Billboard top song for a long time. Is that the song that's, like, most identified with you that the concertgoers clamor for, that's what they want to hear?
BRAXTON: Yeah. Pretty much. That one and "How Could An Angel break My Heart," usually those two.
SAGAL: Yeah. And does that ever get tired for you having to sing those songs?
BRAXTON: Not really. There are sometimes I wish I could do different versions of them, but I always tell myself I have to sing the song how it sounds on the record because the audience wants to sing along with you. I hate when I go to concerts and they do a completely different version of the song, and I can't sing with you. I feel like I want to perform it with you. So I try to make it so I can engage my audience.
SAGAL: Is - do you ever do that really cool thing I something see artists do where they simply stop singing and let the audience take over for a while?
BRAXTON: All the time. That's my favorite part.
SAGAL: Isn't that - is that as cool as it looks? 'Cause it looks pretty cool.
BRAXTON: It's pretty nice. Sometimes, if I forget the lyrics, they kind of help me out.
SAGAL: That's awesome. Well, Toni Braxton, what a pleasure to talk to you. We have invited you here today to play a game that we're calling...
KURTIS: Un-Break My Heart. No really. I'm dying here, Toni.
SAGAL: Your biggest hit, of course, "Un-Break My Heart," which we think has something to do with that emotion you normal people call love. But we thought we'd ask you about actually un-breaking a heart. Answer two of these three questions about the lighter side of cardiac surgery...
SAGAL: ...And you win our prize for one of our listeners - Carl Kasell's voice on their voicemail. Are you ready to play?
BRAXTON: I am ready.
SAGAL: Well, Bill, who is singer Toni Braxton playing for?
KURTIS: Ellen Cooper-Festa of Grahamsville, N.Y.
SAGAL: All right. Are you ready to do this, Toni?
BRAXTON: Oh, the pressure. OK, I'm ready.
SAGAL: All right. First question. A man, who is now fine, faced cardiac trauma in 2010 after what happened to him? A, he was playing a patient on a TV medical drama, and the prop defibrillator turned out to be a real defibrillator. B, he took a point-blank, direct hit to the sternum from a T-shirt gun at a Padres game...
SAGAL: ...Or C, he suffered the only known actual case of total eclipse of the heart?
BRAXTON: Oh, my gosh. A?
SAGAL: A, he was playing a patient on a medical drama and he was defibrillated?
SAGAL: You're right. It was A.
SAGAL: He was an actor. You know, they were acting a scene - clear. And then, ah 'cause it was real. He did not suffer a heart attack, but he did sue the production company for, quote, “the damage he received in the terms of anxiety and flashbacks to the event.”
BRAXTON: OK. Wow.
SAGAL: All right. Yeah.
SAGAL: So check those things before you get on the table, people.
SAGAL: All right. That's good. Here's your second question. In 2006, a Connecticut man filed a lawsuit saying what had caused his heart attack? A, the loss of the Hartford Whalers hockey team, B, a bad toupee, or C, trying to squeeze into a supposedly extra-large sized Under Armour shirt?
BRAXTON: Let's say - I'd say C.
SAGAL: You're going to go for the Under Armour shirt?
BRAXTON: OK, maybe B. Maybe B.
SAGAL: Maybe B?
SAGAL: You're right again. It was the bad toupee.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: Mr. Paul Lewis says the wig shop sold him an ill-fitting toupee that was the wrong color. And he became so aggravated over it, he had a heart attack. And he sued the shop for damages. The shop says, no, the toupee was very nice. All right. This is excellent. You can go for perfect here, Toni.
BRAXTON: I like that.
SAGAL: Last question. In 2012, a very high-profile heart transplant operation in Mexico went off successfully despite the fact that the paramedics carrying the heart did what just before the surgery? A, as a joke, they gave the doctors a chocolate candy heart...
SAGAL: ...B, they propped up the unconscious patient for a "Weekend at Bernie's" -type photo shoot. Or C, they a dropped the heart on the ground in front of a line of news photographers?
BRAXTON: Maybe dropped the heart?
SAGAL: You're right. That's what they did.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
BRAXTON: Are you serious?
SAGAL: I am not kidding you. It was this enormous operation that got a lot of press down in Mexico so there were people filming the private jet that brought it in from overseas. People filming it as the paramedics brought him to the helicopter. People filming as they got it off the helicopter, running across the tarmac, dropped the thing and it spilled on the ground. Hardly put it back in the cooler and ran it to the ambulance.
BRAXTON: No way.
SAGAL: It's true. It happened. It turns out the five second rule applies to organs as well.
SAGAL: Bill, how did Toni Braxton do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Three for three.
SAGAL: Well done. Wow.
KURTIS: For Ellen Cooper-Festa. Congratulations
SAGAL: Toni Braxton is a six-time Grammy award-winning singer. Her memoir, "Un-Break My Heart," is in bookstores now. Toni Braxton, thank you so much for joining us. What a pleasure to talk to you.
BRAXTON: My pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “UN-BREAK MY HEART”)
BRAXTON: (Singing) Un-break my heart, say you’ll love me again. Undo this hurt you caused…
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