WHO NAMED THE SINGER: Q-Benjamin establishes her brand

They let her keep her sneakers.

This is just one small perk among many for the newly minted Q-Benjamin, a.k.a. Quanteisha Benjamin, in her new record deal with Warner Music Canada- but it’s an important one.

“I love my sneakers,” she says. “I’m in my element and I’m very comfortable. I’m doing what I’ve always done. And they’re letting me wear my sneakers.”

These are the sort of things you wonder when faced with a young female artist who’s suddenly all the rage with plenty of corporate oomph behind her: How much of this is you? Pretty much all of it, responds Benjamin, who performs Saturday at Fashion on Fire at the Shaw Conference Centre, after making a hosting appearance Friday at Diesel Ultra Lounge.

“They were open to every idea I had. That’s one of the things I love,” she says. “Every artist is their own person. They know that if I’m not comfortable, I’m not going to perform to the best of my abilities. I haven’t been told to do anything I don’t want to do.”

Artistically speaking, her input was encouraged, she says, with each of her ideas rendered “exactly the way I said,” while the finished product – in this case the first single, Young Forever, not to be confused with Rod Stewart – puts exactly her best face forward to jump into the highly competitive top-40 hit parade: Mid-tempo soul plus R&B with a touch of hip hop, a catchy hook and an empowering, oft-stated message: “Gonna live like there’s no tomorrow, I’m making this moment last, wish I could stay young forever, I don’t wanna grow up too fast.”

It was her idea to change her name – always a dodgy proposition when your career’s already rolling – from Quanteisha Benjamin to Q-Benjamin. It’s easier to say, spell and remember, first of all, while possessing that element of hip hop cool and branding potential all good names in that particular genre have. “If I’m going to change it, now’s the time to do it,” she says. “Q-Benjamin isn’t a huge stretch. It is my real last name. Not a lot of singers’ names begin with Q. So people aren’t going to be like, ‘Wait, who are you?’”

They might be saying that as it is, but maybe not for long. The Edmonton-born singer had been the surprise winner of the Best Soul/R&B Single at the Juno Awards this spring. Her acceptance speech shocked a crowd of music industry types at the gala dinner: the part about having no professional management or record company, “so if you’re interested, call me.”

They did, they did. Seven months later, she’s living in Toronto, working in a major recording studio under the umbrella of a major record label.

“It’s everything I thought it would be – and more,” she says.

Asked about future branding efforts, a line of clothing, maybe a perfume, even Justin Bieber has a perfume, Benjamin just laughs, “I think the clothing line thing is kind of overrated. I think everybody is doing it. I’m not in this for the money. I’m in it to follow my dream and help other people as well. The perfume and clothing line? Maybe a little bit down the road. There’s so much I have to do beforehand.”