Alicia Keys Comes Out of Her Corner Fighting

Keys' manager, Jeff Robinson, says his client now "keeps in mind that she can get tired, mentally, physically and spiritually. Now we break down the calendar so that she gets not only record company time and tour time and fan time but also Alicia time, time to get in touch with herself."

That sense of balance informed the structure of Keys' upcoming arena tour, which she describes as "different from anything I've ever done." She'll play 30 dates in the USA with Jordin Sparks and Ne-Yo supporting her, and she'll complete her trek with a homecoming gig at New York's Madison Square Garden June 18.

"I decided to make the show like a journey, from the beginning to where I am now. I love performing in theaters, because it's so close-knit; I can see everybody and get a vibe going. I wanted to be able to translate that feeling to a larger venue -- to bring you into my world, but also provide excitement."

Keys says the shows will combine "things that are big and tremendous, because the arena world tends to feel grand, with things that are really intimate. I spend almost a half-hour just on piano, and I talk."

Granted, fans shouldn't necessarily expect any jaw-dropping personal revelations. Keys isn't the kind of contemporary star likely to spill her guts in a public forum.

"When you let the media into your personal life, it invites them to feel like they deserve to know your business," she says. "Then suddenly they start to own it, and while one minute it might be fantastic, the next they're tearing it down.

"What people like me for is my music, and hopefully what I have to say and what I represent. If you stay focused on that, they can't find out anything about you."

If Keys is purposefully vague in discussing the events that led her to fear for her sanity, she is downright mum on the subject of her romantic life. Just as Beyoncé has remained coy about her relationship with longtime beau (and maybe husband) Jay-Z, Keys will say only this of her creative collaborator, songwriter/producer Kerry "Krucial" Brothers: "He and I are great partners, and we do beautiful music."

She's more expansive in discussing politics.

"It's time for something radically different," Keys says. "And that's represented with the (presidential) candidates, especially with Hillary (Clinton) and (Barack) Obama. I mean, if we had a woman president -- wow. And if we had the first black president, wow."

The singer stops short of endorsing any of the candidates, but she's "leaning in that direction" with Obama. "We need someone to make us feel like we can all do something. That's why he's reaching black and white people, and everyone in between."

Political positivity

Keys, who like Obama has a black father and a white mother, is encouraged by that mass appeal. "It used to be all about the race thing in this country, and it's still about race. But now it's more about people wanting to be positive, and wanting to be back in control of their lives and their country."

She'll be touring in Pennsylvania when that state holds its primary April 22. "I'm just in the process of seeing how I can be around all that," she says, her smile suggesting a possible appearance on behalf of a favorite political hopeful.

Whether Keys pops up at an Obama rally or doesn't, the success and respect she has cultivated could translate to a level of influence beyond everyday celebrity cachet, says Sean Fennessey, associate music editor of Vibe.

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