Brandy Rebounds

When Brandy talks about future goals, she doesn’t list No. 1 hits or a top-selling CD among them. Instead, she talks about more personal benchmarks, like learning to be more understanding, staying true to herself, and living her life with a purpose.

“I don’t want to live my life in vain,” says Brandy, who released her first CD in four years, Human, this week. “That is the most important thing … not just to be here to be here.”

Photo: AP Photo
Brandy is photographed in New York.

Brandy’s new focus reflects lessons learned from a tumultuous time, including her involvement in a car accident that left one woman dead. The 2006 accident did not result in charges against Brandy, although she faces a lawsuit and has sued another party in the accident herself.

The tragedy was a “life-changing” experience for the Grammy-winning singer/actress.

“I don’t really know how to say it, because I don’t like to talk about it much,” she says quietly as she sits in a dressing room at BET’s “106 & Park” after delivering a rousing performance of her album’s first single, “Right Here (Departed).”

“It was one of the hardest times in my life,” she says. “I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone.”

The accident came as Brandy, a former child actress who became a multiplatinum singing sensation as a teen, was in flux professionally. She had left longtime label Atlantic Records after disappointing sales of 2004’s Afrodisiac, her fourth CD, and was contemplating a career switch.

“I didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t have a deal. I was just kind of, in limbo, but it was funny because that journey without music was very lonely,” says Brandy, a single mother to a young daughter.

She went back to her roots in TV as a judge on the first season of “America’s Got Talent” in 2006, but even then, the former “Moesha” sitcom actress felt a void: “There were moments when I felt like I should have been on the stage.”

The accident occurred Dec. 30, 2006, as Brandy was driving on the freeway. Traffic slowed and her Land Rover smashed into the back of a Honda. That car was involved in several other collisions. The driver, 38-year-old Awatef Aboudihaj, died in the accident.

Even though the California Highway Patrol suggested charges be filed against Brandy, an investigation found insufficient evidence.

Brandy credits family and friends for helping her from sinking into a depression.

“Some of the things that people said about me was also very very tough,” she says, tears welling up as she talked about the accident. “I was involved in something that was life-changing. … I still feel the effects of that. It was a tough experience, and I don’t think that’s something that I could ever forget.”

Photo: AP Photo
“Full Moon,” at the American Bandstand 50th anniversary show taping at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in California.

Music helped her. She reunited with longtime producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jenkins, linked up with Epic Records and co-wrote some of the album’s most personal songs, including the title track, on which she sings: “I make mistakes but I can’t turn back time, I’m only human, forgive me.”

So far, her comeback has been solid, though not huge. She has had a respectable showing on the charts and “Right Here (Departed)” has gotten consistent radio play.

“She’s been kind of out of the limelight for a little while, but she’s never stopped being a great singer,” says John Legend, who worked with Brandy for his latest CD, Evolver. “I’m glad she’s coming back.”

Brandy is glad as well, eager to return as more than just a pop star this time.

“I feel like my life isn’t in vain,” she says. “I’m actually contributing to uplifting people and inspiring people, and that feels great, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way before — ever.”