The military’s loss is reality TV’s gain. Former City High star Claudette Ortiz is now a cast member of TV One’s “R&B Divas: L.A.” but if not for fate, Ortiz may have been singing for the U.S. Air Force. While City High had two memorable hits in the 90’s with “Caramel” and “What Would You Do” the trio was plagued with problems including Claudette’s relationship with both of the group’s male members, Ryan Toby and Robbie Pardio. Although she dated Pardio well before the group hit, she was still blamed for the group’s breakup. Pardio appeared on the A&E show “Intervention” and blamed his problems with alcohol stemmed from his breakup with Ortiz. Ortiz ultimately married Toby and they had two kids, but after their divorce she found herself struggling to reboot her career. At one low point, she was applying for social services and her caseworker recognized her.
“R&B Divas: L.A.” was the break Ortiz was looking even if it meant moving herself and three kids across the country. Before that, she was seriously contemplating the U.S. Air Force Reserves. Now the youngest member of the “Divas” crew, Ortiz hopes her time on the show will help her revive her singing career. She has had some offers for film and music projects so it seems the Army will have to go on without her. We talked to her about life, love and her desire to make a comeback.
What has your experience been like on “R&B Divas” so far?
It’s very different from doing music and being on tour. It’s film, so there’s a call time and scenes and things like that but it’s definitely an amazing experience. I’ve learned a lot and my kids enjoy watching Mommy with cameras.
You were really young when you started with City High, just 17. Do you think you were too young for the harsh realities of the music business?
I think maybe if I had a little more guidance when I started I wouldn’t have been too young but I was out there by myself. I didn’t have my parents with me or nothing like that. My parents worked but when the opportunity came they let me do it because I’d always been independent. Everything was new. I wasn’t even an adult yet. Traveling and reading contracts and meeting with lawyers and executives was something that I wasn’t used to. It was the first time I had a job so I was definitely lost in the sauce at first.
Did you come out of the City High experience with any money? So many groups in that era ended up not making any money.
You’re not making money initially because when you are an artist first coming out a lot of things are promotional and you’re waiting for your album to be sold so you’re not making money initially. We did start making a little more money but certain ways the contracts were designed weren’t beneficial to us on the financial side. The money was the long-term money and I used that money to get into real estate and if I hadn’t I would have been broke from the beginning.
Was the lowest point for you having to go to social services for help?
That came from being married, I had three children, I got a divorce and my house was foreclosed. When we divorced, Ryan moved to the West Coast and I couldn’t work as much because it was just me taking care of my children. That’s what led me to that time in my life. It was definitely humbling and humiliating. I just tried to count my blessings and appreciate that me and my children were healthy and lean on my family and friends and prayer and that’s what got me through.
Your ex-husband was on the show and you said that you felt abandoned by him, yet you two seemed to be on good terms.
He was struggling as well. He’s a good father and he takes care of his kids and the kids love him but yeah, that is how I felt. It took some time. We went through a lot. But we’re cool now and we have a system worked out now. It never feels good to have tension. This is somebody who’s going to be in my life for the rest of my life. So I’m not going to sit and be angry forever.
Your ex-boyfriend, the other member of City High, Robbie Pardio, blamed you publicly for the breakup of the group. Was that accurate?
Lies. Lies. There was never a love triangle. That was a misconception. I was absolutely not the cause of the group breaking up, he was. I kept my mouth shut for a long time but I’m not anymore. He had trouble with drug and alcohol abuse well before the group came out. He was abusive and it was a nightmare working with him. I chose to leave the group because I couldn’t work with him anymore. [After being abused] for him to do that made me feel like dang, does it ever end? And it was bad timing. I was going through a divorce, my house had been robbed and it was foreclosing. It was a rough time in my life.
What has it been like working with the other women on the show? Did you all know each other beforehand?
Not really. I saw Li’l Mo at some of the same venues, but prior to that, I didn’t meet anybody else. They are some really amazing, interesting, funny people. I learned a lot and I took the time to just enjoy that moment. It’s not something that everyone gets to experience. I try to enjoy every day being able to be with my kids and meeting new people. I really enjoyed myself.
Are we going to see any diva-style craziness or is it just a group of women trying to put it back together?
We’re just ladies who love to sing and want to do what God gives us to do and make our families proud but we all feel as though Chante is the ultimate diva. (Laughs.) I couldn’t film for one week and during that week I heard there was some drama between some of the ladies, but ultimately, we executed what the goal was. So there’s a positive air to it in the end.
Catch up with Claudette Ortiz via @ myclaudette and on Instagram.