Rob Jazayeri has a P. Diddy-esque plan to take over the pop-music universe, and it all starts with bunk beds. Two sets of bunk beds, with mattresses small enough to make even the boys in the Brady Bunch bitch. To most, these kid-centric pieces of furniture would look like nothing more than the quick-fix crap you buy at Ikea. But to the 33-year-old Iranian-born man, the bunks are part of his dream to transform his adopted home of D.C. into the next New York, the next Orlando, the next Atlanta—the next hot music metropolis.

The bunks are the humble sleeping arrangements for the four young women who constitute Step No. 1 in Jazayeri’s quest to become the Bad Boy of the Beltway. He’s training these women to sing together, dance together, and survive together. Jazayeri—whose musical résumé lists work with such MTV heavyweights as Britney Spears, Garbage, and Salt-N-Pepa—keeps his charges close at hand, dictating their every move.

Not only do these women all live in Jazayeri’s Gaithersburg, Md., home, these women share one room, one bathroom, and one closet, crammed with all manner of belly shirts and sweat pants. And yes, when these women have time for sleep—that is, when they’re not working with personal trainers and choreographers and vocal coaches—they sack out in those bunk beds. This is all part of Jazayeri’s R&B boot camp: all day, almost every day, repetitively honing voices, toning bodies, and moving that much closer to the golden gates of stardom.

“The whole purpose of the band living together is so they get used to the fact that, when they go on the road, in hotel rooms, they only have one bathroom, you see?” says Jazayeri, reclining in a chair in a small upstairs room used for vocal practice. “So learn now how to get along with each other, so that you don’t get stuck running behind when you have an event. A lot of success has to do with organization and using your time right.”

Jazayeri spews endless torrents of this sorta-Svengali wisdom, and so far, the women he has sequestered for the sake of someday celebrity are eating up every Zen-lite morsel. They are Elaine Lopez, 19, Tanika McLune, 21, Isabel Iriarte, 23, and Rachel Eisenhuth, 23. Or, to use the handy labels Jazayeri has slapped on them for the sake of marketing, they are, respectively, the Perfectionist, the Sophisticate, the Enthusiast, and the Muse. Sure, their mandated personalities are a bit easier to stomach than, say, Sporty, Scary, Baby, and Posh. But, at this point, Jazayeri’s women—highfalutin’ handles and all—basically just giggle a lot.

Jazayeri is working with wannabe divas well-versed in MTV, so when he lectures them on “professionalism,” he talks about working with Britney on her mega-selling 2000 album, Oops!..I Did It Again. “She really wasn’t too opinionated on this and that,” he says. “If there was something she disagreed with, she would say so. But if there was something she could possibly reach, she would do it.”

Jazayeri often gives expansive lessons about the merits of hard work: “The girls don’t realize that an 18-hour day is a normal day. This is not a 9-to-5 job. This is a development process….That’s why I’m a little bit against this American Idol stuff. They’re taking people who haven’t paid their dues and putting them into the limelight.” These lessons gain extra oomph when he’s delivering them behind the wheel of his whale-sized 1995 Mercedes Benz, with the souped-up sound system and the dashboard DVD.

The women make no money for their efforts but are provided free lodging and food (salads, lotsa salads). And they nod their heads in agreement when Jazayeri utters such social-life-snuffing decrees as “They all have people that they are close to, but at this point, this thing is their boyfriend.”

And if he’s still not getting through to them, he reminds them of the Brit Award he won for co-writing the All Saints’ international hit “Never Ever.” “I used the All Saints money on the car,” he grins.

Elaine, Tanika, Isabel, and Rachel don’t have an official album out, they’re still fumbling through their live-show choreography, and their most extensive touring has been to gigs at the Grog & Tankard, Dream, and a few other D.C. clubs. But if Jazayeri’s bunk-beds-and-beyond plan works, you’ll be buying their CDs, hanging their posters in your dorm room, and begging for all of their autographs within months.

“If you like that power singing, you’re impressed by Elaine,” Jazayeri says, selling as always. “If you like that sweet ballad sound, you’re impressed by Tanika. If you like the dripping-wet pop voice, you’re impressed with Rachel. And Isabel has a little more rocky edge to her voice—like a Gwen Stefani.”

Put them all together and Jazayeri’s women make up No Illusion. “What you see is what you get,” he says.

In 2000, Jazayeri started R&R Entertainment with the money he had saved from concocting catchy beats for some of the biggest names in the music biz. “At first, I was just looking for demo singers,” he says. He needed vocals to mix into a few new instrumentals he had written, so he advertised on the radio and in newspapers, put up some fliers, and had musician pals in the area keep an eye out for fresh talent.

“Rachel and Tanika were two of the first to respond, and after hearing them I started to think I might have something here,” Jazayeri says.

Rachel’s background was in dance: dancing for the Baltimore Ravens, dancing for the Washington Wizards, and dancing for the troops on USO tours of Bosnia, Croatia, Hungary, and Germany. “I was ready to take a chance,” says the lean, blond Butler, Pa., native. Born in St. Thomas, Jamaica, black-haired, sweet-faced Tanika had been studying in the United States for a couple of years when she decided she wanted to take her love of singing to a new level.

“You can always go back, ’cause school is always going to be there,” Tanika says. “I still want the husband and the kids, and I don’t want to be 40 having them. But you don’t want to mess this up by having babies before you have your album.”

Elaine, born in Alexandria, Va., to Puerto Rican parents, found out about Jazayeri through a friend who had heard a radio spot. The always-grinning tomboy with the long, curly brown hair had been singing “since I was about 5,” she says.

Jazayeri, however, would have to try out a few different singers before he found his fourth: doe-eyed Bolivian-Philippine Isabel, who was crowned the D.C. area’s Ms. Latina in 1996. She was tired of her administrative-assistant job with the Fairfax County government. “Not everybody gets this opportunity,” Isabel says.

Jazayeri runs R&R out of the basement of his house, which looks like a miniature version of the built-in-a-day manses featured on MTV Cribs. For now, R&R is a small office area with desks, phones, and computers, plus two small studios scattered with the latest digital hoo-ha. Milling about day and night are several interns whom Jazayeri snagged free of charge from area colleges. Their jobs are to book shows, beg radio stations to play No Illusion songs, and create as much buzz about the band as possible.

In the studios, you’ll often find one of Jazayeri’s chief concocters of fresh sounds, Darryl Burke, a laid-back guy who cut his chops touring the globe with reggae star Maxi Priest. With Jazayeri by his side, Burke spends most of his days searching his keyboard for hits. (Kent Wood, who performed with go-go icons EU in the “Da Butt” days, is also a frequent contributor.)

If Jazayeri’s employees need to unwind, they can head upstairs to the family room and enjoy a 60-inch wide-screen TV, a monster stereo system, and PlayStation 2, plus plenty of CDs, games, and movies—all evidence of their boss’s profitable past.

At this point, no one makes a cent working for R&R. But everyone up and down the company roster—from the members of No Illusion to the student “street team” handing out fliers—seems to believe in Jazayeri’s vision 100 percent.

“Rob is one of the most driven people I’ve ever met,” says Chris Wang, R&R marketing intern and a senior at the University of Maryland. “He has this ability to motivate us and make us as driven as he is….There is no doubt in my mind that R&R Entertainment will become a major player in the music industry.”

“I listen to anyone in the company who has an idea for a song,” Jazayeri says. “If it’s something vibing and cool, I go with it. Once you hit a vibe, I feel you might have something….If No Illusion breaks, I think D.C. will quickly become a great music scene. But it’s not me that they’ll be coming to. They’re going to be coming to the concept and the idea. The system is greater than the individual. That’s what I’m working on. It’s not about me; it’s about the people who help me.”

Jazayeri’s job is to sell the fantasies in his head. And lately, some of those fantasies are starting to come true. WPGC radio personality DJ PMD is playing No Illusion on D.C. Home Jams, a Saturday-evening show he co-hosts touting the area’s Next Big Things. “No Illusion is just more polished than other local talents,” says DJ PMD, otherwise known as Peter Rosenberg. “We get over 100 submissions a month from local artists, and most of them are no good. No Illusion just needs a hit, and then they have a shot at making it.”

Steve Kurtz, who used to manage Christina Aguilera and runs Marquee Management in New York, has agreed to work with No Illusion and try to get them exposure in places other than the nation’s capital. “Rob has done a nice job of putting together four women who complement each other very well,” he says. “From a male perspective, if you can’t find someone you like out of those four…you know? And for women, there’s no one too threatening, like a Pamela Anderson.”

The four bandmates are just now discovering their collective appeal—if not as musicians, then certainly as pleasant distractions in public. During a Friday-night excursion to Dave & Buster’s, the video-games-and-bar-food behemoth in White Flint Mall, the women drew a crowd by playing a game of strip pool. “There was nothing else we could take off without becoming scandalous,” Isabel says. So they then took turns catching a hunk of fluorescent toy goop with their cleavage—and drew an even bigger crowd.

For all the good vibes bouncing off the walls at R&R (and D&B’s), there are some bad vibes lurking out there, too. Nasty realities that Jazayeri, for all his persuasive talents, might not be big enough to conquer, Britneyfied past and all.

“D.C. radio sucks,” says DJ PMD, who also works as a DJ for alt-rock staple WHFS and WMUC, the University of Maryland’s college station. Sure, he admits that punk rockers and go-go bands have leveraged the local scene for broader fame, but pop groups have never gotten the same kind of support inside the Beltway. “It’s just impossible for [non-major-label talent] to get into rotation around here. For local non-go-go groups in D.C., it’s almost impossible to make it big. This area just doesn’t have a good reputation [for pop music]. We haven’t defined our personality. I mean, Baltimore has more of a scene than us.”

Gigi Soto, president of the CIMA Talent Management, in Columbia, Md., agrees with DJ PMD’s sobering assessment: “I think [Jazayeri] knows what he wants to do. He’s not settling for what everyone else around here is doing. But he knows it’s tough in this area. There’s no growth, and you really have to go the extra mile to make it. People play this area down.”

There are more tricky hurdles after that. The R&B girl-group craze started waning around the time Destiny’s Child went on sabbatical, Beyoncé started nuzzling with Jay-Z, and Kelly met Nelly. Even that rapscallion Pink, who started as a hiphop artist, has ventured into rockier music. Plus, at an average age of 22, No Illusion is long in the tooth compared with such current teen faves as 18-year-old Avril Lavigne and 19-year-old Michelle Branch, who write their own songs, play their own instruments, and stay the hell away from bubble-gum R&B. Rachel, Tanika, Elaine, and Isabel simply sing the clean, catchy pop songs Jazayeri writes and produces for them—just like early-’90s phenoms the Spice Girls, who aren’t exactly girl-powering up the charts anymore.

“I believe in being patient,” Kurtz says. “The pop-diva thing goes in cycles, and I think in six months, nine months, it’s going to come back around again. There’s always demand for attractive girls with good voices…and sex appeal.”

Jazayeri has no time for negatives of any sort. “We started this project two years ago,” he says. “Sounds change, and so does our sound. The vibe changes—so does our vibe. It’s not like, ‘Hey, we’re a baked potato; two years from now we’re going to be a baked potato.’ We’re doing our thing. And we’re basing it on reality and vibe.”

R&B stars Mya and Ginuwine are both from this area, as well, but they had to skip town before they made it big. Jazayeri waves those exits off and says you will never forget where No Illusion is from.

“If these guys blow up, they’re going to bring so much attention to the city,” Jazayeri says. “Everybody will know where they’re from. They won’t deny their origin….I don’t think people believe it can happen here. That’s kind of sad. What I’m looking for right now is the people who have that undisputed belief that something is going to happen. And once you have that, you understand life.”

Jazayeri didn’t buy those bunk beds for nothing.

Everyone in the Hotel Monaco ballroom is singing and strutting to the gangsta tune “In Da Club” by 50 Cent—”I’m into having sex/I ain’t into making love/So come give me a hug if you into getting rubbed.” Everyone except for Jazayeri. Dressed in his customary black nylon track suit, he isn’t in a partying mood; instead, he quietly paces just outside the fray.

“I just need to get my shots,” he says. “Just need my shots.”

The entire R&R crew has gathered at the downtown boutique hotel this February Sunday for an all-day photo shoot. Strewn about the retro-meets-modern decor of the ultrachic joint are cameras, tarps, and various lighting apparatus. The only thing missing is the Making of the Band film crew.

The women of No Illusion will be posing in four themed outfits today: “sporty,” “casual,” “sexy,” and “future.” If all goes well, the shoot will be finished by 10 p.m., and Jazayeri will have a CD cover and then some. There may not be an official No Illusion album yet—or dance moves or a tour or name recognition or a lot of fans—but Jazayeri wants to be ready when things start happening.

No Illusion’s togs today—”$25,000 worth,” according to Jazayeri—have been donated by Daisy Too in Bethesda. The Grooming Lounge in D.C. provided the set design free of charge. David’s Beautiful People in Rockville did the makeup and hair—all gratis. Jazayeri knew the photographer (who’s being paid) who knew the Washington hotelier (who isn’t).

Jazayeri shops for all the comps he can get. Although his artists pay for entertainment expenses and such, he’s shelling out for No Illusion’s room, food, costumes, and frequent transportation. This sets the promoter back “between $5,000 and $10,000 a month,” he says.

Jazayeri watches New York’s Christopher Robbins take shots of No Illusion posing in a hotel window. The women are dressed in white tank tops and white sweat pants, and they are revealing significant acreage of tan, taut belly. This would be the “sporty” look the women are modeling, but the photographer has them make faces similar to the one Kathleen Turner flashed William Hurt in Body Heat. Young boys—and more than a few old men—are gonna love it.

When the photog stops to reload, someone from the R&R troops shouts, “Izzy’s got the Gwen Stefani look going!” This prompts Isabel to pump her fist and beam with delight.

There’s a reason that No Illusion has a Stefani doppelgänger. Jazayeri considers his greatest strength to be “having a good knowledge of the different types of music that are out there, and at the same time being able to pay attention to the details. Being able to really understand the vibe of what you’re shooting for and what the people are looking for.”

“Hey Rob! Up or down?” asks Elaine, surrounded by stylists and pointing to her newly tied pigtails. “Up,” Rob says—which is quickly followed by someone shouting, “Elaine’s looking like J. Lo today!”

It’s now 3 p.m., and Elaine, Tanika, Isabel, and Rachel, who have all been up since 6 a.m., are feeling a little loopy. In addition to a serious lack of sleep, they’ve been running on a strict diet for the last couple of weeks, the kind of weight-loss regimen where water is a major food group.

Their normal workday begins around 8 a.m. and ends around 8 p.m. Everything in between runs on Jazayeri’s schedule: kickboxing at 8:15, choreography at 10:30, vocal work at noon, yoga at 2, and so on. Despite this hard push, the women of No Illusion are almost always hyped-up and happy, busting out in impromptu a cappella flourishes every other minute.

Jazayeri makes no apologies for picking four women who can sing, dance, and look really, really good in tank tops. “Yeah, they’re good-looking girls, but that’s not the whole thing,” Jazayeri says. “It has to have a beauty to it. If you have the money, would you want a beautiful piece of art or something that’s not appealing to the eye? When you’re spending your hard-earned money, what do you buy? You buy something that’s pleasing to you.”

At the photo shoot, the women enjoy some naughty giggles when Tanika tries to do a one-handed push-up and Rachel shouts, “You gotta spread your legs, girl!” Tanika is the “soulful” voice of No Illusion, and when a song calls for a little street flair, she delivers tight reggae toasting with her thick island accent. As she tries once again to do a one-

hander, someone shouts, “You got that Whitney Houston vibe going, Tanika!”

The No Illusion vibe factory also feeds off of Jazayeri’s girlfriend, Arzin Amin. When she’s not working as a research assistant at National Geographic, she’s helping out at R&R. Today, she tries to calm her man as best she can, reassuring him that everything is going fine (even though everything is behind schedule).

“Rob’s the only guy around here willing to say, ‘Fuck it. I’m staying. I’m going to make it here,’” Amin says. “And it’s not a matter of if, but when. This is going to happen.”

No one would like it to happen more than Rachel. “It’s kind of hard to keep up the optimism sometimes,” she says, one of the few times when a member of No Illusion utters anything but an affirmative. “You just gotta have blind faith.”

When Christina Aguilera’s ballad “Beautiful” starts wailing from the boom box, Rachel, who’s wandered away from her bandmates, matches the established sex-kitten vocal histrionic for vocal histrionic. But as she goes head to head with Xtina today, no one shouts out the similarities between Rachel and the “Dirrty” girl. So Rachel stops singing and turns to find her bunkmates gathering for a picture. “Did I get kicked out of the band?” she asks.

“I can play the microwave,” Jazayeri laughs when asked about his own musical ability. The truth of the matter, though, is that he’s damn good. Especially when it comes to crafting beats that sound best with the windows down and the beach on the horizon. He has a puckish bent for blending genre-spanning influences—”I like everything from Agent Orange to Dwight Yoakam”—and some of the music he’s working on now is more suited for Nine Inch Nails fans: angry guitar washes melding with electronic rumble, the perfect soundtrack, say, for the next Terminator installment.

“I love rock,” Jazayeri says. “I grew up with AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin. I have an understanding for the cookery of it. One project I want to do is a female rock group. Like bring back the Go-Go’s, but in the shape of Josie and the Pussycats.”

Jazayeri doesn’t talk about much besides music. He remembers the details of his life via the records he has steadily added to his collection. When Jazayeri was 7, his father shipped him out of Iran to a boarding school in London. This is where he started listening to the Clash, which was quite a departure from his first 45—the Cars’ “Shake It Up”—and his first album—the Grease soundtrack. When the fundamentalist revolution started in Iran, Jazayeri and his family moved first to Miami—where he learned about Latin rhythms—and then to Portland, Ore.—where he learned to love bluegrass.

In the D.C. area, he bounced around to three different high schools—Wootton, Woodward, and Whitman—and then enrolled at Montgomery Community College. He finished his college studies at American University, where he realized he could use his love and understanding of music to make money. He soon met Sean Mather, and together they formed the production crew Rickidy Raw in 1994.

“We basically started Rickidy Raw with $100,” Jazayeri says. “When I was going to school, I would spend as minimal as possible. My books I would buy used. I used to live on $5 a week sometimes. Anything left over from the student-loan money, I put into building a [recording] studio.”

To make extra cash, Jazayeri would lug his records to various no-frills DJ gigs, including spinning for stiffs at the National Naval Medical Center’s officers’ club. His reputation spread, and he soon landed more high-profile jobs, including moving the masses at D.C.’s old Babylon club.

“There’s a skill to DJing which is often overlooked,” Jazayeri says. “You gotta ride the crowd. Different sounds make you feel different ways, so a good DJ has to read the crowd. Otherwise, you’ll have an empty dance floor.”

Jazayeri and Mather—writing music when they weren’t playing music—started getting some of their songs and remixes played on local radio. And in 1995, they finally sold one, penning a hit for R&B act Immature. That playful pop bouncer, “We Got It,” ruled the roost on MTV Jams for a few weeks.

“The building blocks of song construction are pretty basic,” Jazayeri says. “After that, it’s all about vibe. Whether you feel that kind of music or not. Realistically, you gotta feel the music. I can do rock because I love rock. I can do hiphop because I love hiphop. You just gotta be able to know the music.”

Rickidy Raw’s chart-topping success with “We Got It” led to work with Salt-N-Pepa on 1997’s Brand New, and a songwriting collaboration with Shaznay Lewis, the fiery figurehead of R&B quartet All Saints. The all-attitude song was “Never Ever,” and it won a Song of the Year trophy at the 1998 Brit Awards. Rickidy Raw didn’t go to the big show, though; there was a dispute.

“That’s an interesting story,” Jazayeri says. “We had some conflict with the management.” At issue was creative ownership: Rickidy Raw claimed it was unfairly denied royalties for “Never Ever.” This perceived financial slight would grant Rickidy Raw a lesson about the litigious world of the gotta-get-yours music biz: The duo sued All Saints, claiming 50 percent of the copyright for the song; Rickidy Raw eventually won more than $300,000 in due respect.

Then came perhaps Jazayeri’s finest artistic moment: remixing Garbage’s “Special.” “They needed something to cross over to the urban side,” Jazayeri says. “So what I did was, instead of working with the song at the tempo that it was, I half-timed it completely, ’cause it was a fast song to start with. So when I half-timed it, that really brought [lead singer Shirley Manson’s] vocals out, and she started sounding like the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde. And that song was a tribute to Chrissie! When I sent that up to their label, everybody was amazed.”

Rickidy Raw eventually split up, but Jazayeri would land one more major job, the one that would allow him to take a break from selling himself and start selling other artists.

“I got a phone call from Jive Records, around New Year’s 2000, saying they have somebody that they want me to work with,” he says. “Next thing I know, I find out it’s for Britney. Even crazier, they ask me to produce a song that was written by Diane Warren. I’m sitting there thinking, I’m competing against [Grammy-winning pop producer] David Foster! Good luck, man, you know? This’ll break me if you don’t make it….But one thing that makes me right for this business is that I’m not star-struck.”

Spears is reportedly heading back into the studio this year, and Jazayeri says he might give a call to his friends at Jive Records and see what’s up. He’s nonchalant about it, though. After all, he’s got his own pop princesses to take care of.

No Illusion is on a stage in a large ballroom in the student-union building at the University of Maryland, College Park. The women are singing, “Now we’re all grown-up and something’s wrong/Since he came into your life/The girl I knew is gone.” The lyrics are from No Illusion’s “You Should Know Better”—and the folks in the audience, from all appearances, are thinking they should have known better than to show up.

It’s Valentine’s Day, a Friday night, and there are maybe 100 people here in the Baltimore Room, a cavernous venue that could easily hold 500. Most of the students who have bothered to show up are begrudgingly without dates. Jazayeri thought he could entice people to this free event by offering up a free buffet in lieu of booze: heaps of fried chicken, cornbread, ribs, sweet potatoes, and collard greens.

There’s a large area between the shallow stage and the small audience; it should be where people are dancing. But it’s desolate tonight, despite numerous pleas from No Illusion for the crowd to come up close. Finally, a handful of bodies do show up to boogie, but they’re quickly revealed to be members of the R&R crew.

When Isabel tries to give away complimentary No Illusion shirts and CDs, no one responds, so she just hands them to an R&R intern looking to bail her out. When Rachel coos, “Does someone want to be my Valentine?” one rowdy guy in the crowd shouts, “Just keep singing!” Another holds up a mocking lighter. Rachel quickly falls back in with her bandmates, all of whom are struggling to keep up with the other’s faltering dance moves. Still learning its steps, No Illusion often looks as if it’s doing the hokey-pokey in gym class.

Crowd response notwithstanding, “You Should Know Better,” written and produced by Jazayeri, is a great song, a hiphop burner with a stuttery, head-nod beat and some Middle Eastern underpinnings for the headphone set. It sounds extra-tight tonight, seeing as how the women are backed by a live four-piece band, with Burke masterfully working a two-tiered Roland keyboard.

Given a chance, “You Should Know Better” could be a hit—but only for No Illusion. “If Destiny’s Child wanted to buy ‘You Should Know Better,’ I’d have to hold out,” Jazayeri says. “Why would I sell out my song for some bucks? The whole reason I’ve forsaken working with other artists is to work on this project….When people say they enjoy the music, that’s more important to me than a check.”

“You Should Know Better”‘s strength is Elaine: Jazayeri may compare her to Jennifer Lopez, but she’s already a far better singer. She has raw, powerhouse pipes, the kind that can knock you out of the nosebleeds. Gigi Soto, the talent agent who has kept tabs on No Illusion and has shown up tonight, wastes no time zeroing in on the band’s leading light: “Elaine’s voice is so strong. They should let her be the strong one. They need a leader. She has style and presence.”

Jazayeri, however, doesn’t like the idea of one of his women breaking away from the pack: “In a girl group like this, the four of you are the star. I don’t care if you might sing better, you might dance better, you might look better, you might do this, you might do that—without the four legs, the table is just not stable. Over and out.”

Tonight, though, the College Park meatheads are digging neither Elaine nor her band’s most promising track. The Valentine’s Day show lasts only 25 minutes. No Illusion finishes up its four-number set with its self-titled theme song, a free-form number that starts out as a slow groove before erupting into the sounds of a Miami rave. It’s another good cut, further testament to Jazayeri’s production skills. The guys in the backing band all get a chance to solo. The women wave to the crowd—the crowd doesn’t wave back—and then, finally, head offstage.

Jazayeri tells them not to sweat the bad vibes.

“I told the girls, ‘You’ve just performed for one of the toughest crowds you’ll ever meet. They’re fed and sober,’” Jazayeri says later. “It was a great venue for them. You need to experience these things. Our goal right now is to build their experience—whether they’re working with a rough crowd, whether you’re dealing with an urban crowd, whether you’re dealing with a fed, sober crowd. It was a good lesson, you know?”

And lest anyone think the women of No Illusion are scarred by nights like these: “You just gotta have fun with these shows,” Isabel says, shrugging her shoulders. After all, while other people their age are in college or working for temp companies, they are living like (almost) rock stars.

“You can always go back to that normal-life thing, you know? But this? Not everybody can do this,” Elaine says. “Plus, once you have a lot of money, you can have a huge wedding. If this works—and it will—I can have the wedding that I want. In a cathedral, and with Celine Dion’s dress.” CP

Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Darrow Montgomery.