LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - She is wowing fans on the reality TV contest "Dancing With the Stars" but behind the scenes this week, singer/actress Brandy has been in a more important competition. She is racing against time to help save the life of a teenager who needs a heart transplant.
Brandy, who gained fame as chart topping R&B singer and actress on the TV show "Moesha," has been raising awareness and money for 16-year-old Jessica Harris, who suffers from a congenital heart defect. Known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, the condition can be fatal.
"I just want to do whatever I can to get her story out there in the public," Brandy told Reuters. "You hear a lot of stories like these, but this one just connected to me."
Harris lives McComb, Mississippi, where Brandy Norwood was raised before she went to Hollywood and became the big star known simply by her first name.
Brandy's family told her of a story the local paper wrote about Harris needing a heart transplant that, on average, costs $150,000. But Harris is currently uncovered by insurance because the policy through her father's new job doesn't allow dependents with pre-existing conditions until July 2011. Harris has been told by doctors she may not live that long.
The story in the McComb Enterprise-Journal this month told readers how Harris dearly wanted to meet Brandy, who recently found success in reality television on shows like "Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business" and currently "Dancing With the Stars."
When Brandy got wind of the tale, she talked with Harris and decided to fly her and her family to Hollywood where the teenager attended a taping of "Dancing With the Stars." Harris also had dinner and birthday cake at home with the Brandy and her family. Harris turns 17 years-old on November 3.
"When I met her, she felt like a younger sister," Brandy said of Harris. At dinner, "she got a chance to see me as a person and not what she thought of me" as a celebrity.
Now, Brandy is out raising money for Jessica through the website, www.thejessicaharrisdream.com. The two appeared earlier this week on celebrity news magazine show "Entertainment Tonight."
"It feels amazing," Brandy said. "It feels like I'm doing something so positive, using my fame and popularity to help."
For her part, Harris said she has had a "nice trip" and was "very appreciative" of Brandy's help.
"Just meeting her that was cool enough," Harris told Reuters. "She stayed with me the whole time...treating me like she was treating her own daughter. She was more than what I thought, she was real down to earth."
Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Zorianna Kit