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Abandoned by his father in infancy but raised by his mother and grandparents in an adoring household that prized music and singing, Usher enjoyed early success by signing his first professional recording contract when he was only 13. After a promising start and a well-placed first single, the onset of puberty and the resultant change to his once angelic singing voice threatened to derail Usher's burgeoning career. Through the mentorship of maverick hip-hop producers Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Jermaine Dupri, Usher was able to rebound with string of albums and hit singles that had him branded "Artist of the Year" by Billboard magazine before he had turned 20. A multiple gold, platinum and diamond record-selling recording and touring artist, Usher has also enjoyed success on television, the Broadway stage and in several Hollywood feature films. The charismatic singer-songwriter would eventually record with such chart-topping vocalists as Alicia Keys, R. Kelly and Mary J. Blige, performed alongside Stevie Wonder at the 2009 inauguration of President-elect Barak Obama, and even served as judge and coach on season four of "The Voice" (NBC, 2011- ). The subject of a rags-to-riches saga worthy of Horatio...
Abandoned by his father in infancy but raised by his mother and grandparents in an adoring household that prized music and singing, Usher enjoyed early success by signing his first professional recording contract when he was only 13. After a promising start and a well-placed first single, the onset of puberty and the resultant change to his once angelic singing voice threatened to derail Usher's burgeoning career. Through the mentorship of maverick hip-hop producers Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Jermaine Dupri, Usher was able to rebound with string of albums and hit singles that had him branded "Artist of the Year" by Billboard magazine before he had turned 20. A multiple gold, platinum and diamond record-selling recording and touring artist, Usher has also enjoyed success on television, the Broadway stage and in several Hollywood feature films. The charismatic singer-songwriter would eventually record with such chart-topping vocalists as Alicia Keys, R. Kelly and Mary J. Blige, performed alongside Stevie Wonder at the 2009 inauguration of President-elect Barak Obama, and even served as judge and coach on season four of "The Voice" (NBC, 2011- ). The subject of a rags-to-riches saga worthy of Horatio Alger, Usher's journey from fatherless child to multimillionaire philanthropist was a bona fide American success story.
Born in Dallas, TX on Oct. 14, 1978, Usher Raymond IV was raised in Chattanooga, TN by his mother, Jonetta O'Neal, after his father abandoned the family when he was only one-year-old. Growing up in a home in which music was an important factor and inspired by the songs of The Jackson 5, Usher joined the choir of Chattanooga's St. Elmo Baptist Church, of which his remarried mother was the choral director. At the tender age of nine, Usher distinguished himself as a vocalist of startling range and promise. At age 11, he was invited to join the preteen vocal quintet Nu Beginning, founded by local music impresario Darryl Wheeler. After recording one album with Nu Beginning, Usher was pulled from the group by his mother, who felt her son had the talent to be a stand-alone performer, in fact, a superstar. Initially resentful of his mother's interference, Usher would come to realize she had had his best interests at heart from the start.
Recognizing her son's nascent singing ability, Jonetta moved the family - which at this point included her second husband and a son, James, born in 1984 - to Atlanta, GA in 1991, hoping the more cosmopolitan city setting would offer a wider range of career possibilities. In off hours from her work as a medical technician, Jonetta entered Usher in a series of talent contests. It was on the nationally syndicated talent revue "Star Search" (1983-1995) that Usher received his widest exposure, singing a Boyz II Men song and breaking a program record for the longest note ever held by a child performer. In addition to being named Best Teen Vocalist, Usher came under the scrutiny of Bryant Reid, a talent scout for the Atlanta-based Sony Music Entertainment subsidiary LaFace Records. Reid quickly arranged an audition for the young hopeful with his brother, company co-founder Antonio "L.A." Reid.
Signed to his first recording contract, Usher debuted with the single "Call Me a Mack," recorded for the soundtrack of the John Singleton film "Poetic Justice" (1993) and released by Epic Records, a subsidiary of the film's distributor, Columbia Pictures. The song reached No. 56 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Meanwhile, Usher's mother left her job as a medical technician to manage his career full-time. In the two-year gap between release of this single and of Usher's self-titled debut album, the maturing singer's voice broke. The onset of puberty nearly derailed Usher's career before it had could start. While LaFace considered dropping the young artist from its client roster, Usher was taken to New York City by music producer-rapper Sean "P Diddy" Combs, who coached the singer towards a new, more mature and urban style of performing and later co-produced his debut album. In August 1994, Usher yielded three singles and charted at No. 20, selling an initially modest 250,000 copies.
When he was 16, Usher's mother enrolled him in North Springs High School, a performing and visual arts magnet school in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs. While enrolled at North Springs, Usher contributed to the soundtracks of the films "Jason's Lyric" (1994) and "Soul Food" (1997). After his graduation in 1997, Usher released his sophomore album, My Way. Although he had not written any of the songs on his eponymous first album, Usher did contribute several songs, co-written with producer Jermaine Dupri, with whom Usher worked to further refine his image, moving away from Combs' image of a hip-hop bad boy to that of an old school R&B crooner. Released in September 1997, My Way featured three platinum-selling singles and was itself a worldwide success, debuting at No. 4 on the Billboard 200, selling eight million copies and earning a record-breaking six platinum certifications from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). For the single "You Make Me Wanna," Usher was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
Usher's popularity as a recording artist, combined with his Adonis-like good looks, made him a natural crossover to actor. He made his television debut with a four-episode arc on the UPN sitcom "Moesha" (1996-2001), playing a love interest to series star Brandy Norwood. The guest spot led to his first feature film role in Robert Rodriguez's science fiction thriller "The Faculty" (1998), in which he was cast against type as a small-town high school bully. The performer played a thinly-fictionalized version of himself, a flashy pop crooner named Raymond, on the CBS daytime drama "The Bold and the Beautiful" (1987- ); although the character bedded series regular Adrienne Frantz, who later discovered she was pregnant, another actor was used to close the story arc due to Usher's unavailability. Usher also appeared in a 2002 episode of the rebooted "Twilight Zone" (UPN, 2002-03) series and played soul singer Marvin Gaye on a first season episode of NBC's "American Dreams" (2002-05), which regularly tapped contemporary singers to play chart-toppers of the 1960s.
Usher enjoyed his only starring role in the 1999 feature film "Light it Up." Produced by LaFace Records cofounder Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, "Light it Up" recouped only half of its budget at the box office, while its hip-hop soundtrack reached No. 19 on the Billboard 200. The film's failure kept Usher's focus squarely on his music and live performances, although he did contribute smaller performances to such films as "Texas Rangers" (2001), "In the Mix" (2005) and "Killers" (2010). In 2004, Usher's album Confessions was certified diamond after selling over 10 million copies. The multiple Grammy Award, MTV Video Music Award, World Music Award and American Music Award winner was named both "The Sexiest R&B Artist Alive" by People magazine and one of the "50 Sexiest Men Alive" by Glamour. In August 2006, Usher made his Broadway debut as Billy Flynn in the long-running revival of Bob Fosse's "Chicago." Linked romantically in years past with TLC singer Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas and fashion model Naomi Campbell, Usher fathered two children with stylist Tameka Foster, to whom he was married from August 2007 to November 2009. In June 2009, Usher - a longtime Michael Jackson fan - gave a stirring, tearful performance at the King of Pop's very public memorial at L.A.'s Staples Center, causing the deceased singer's brothers to comfort him as Usher stood next to the casket, struggling to finish the song.
Meanwhile, he performed alongside Shakira and Stevie Wonder at the inauguration celebration of President Barack Obama on Jan. 18, 2009. The following year, Usher released his sixth album, Raymond v. Raymond (2010), which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 while featuring the hits "Hey Daddy (Daddy's Home)," "Lil Freak" and "There Goes My Baby." The album also featured a collaboration with will.i.am on the song "OMG," which received its share of criticism for overuse of the metallic-sounding Auto-Tune effect. In 2011, he made a surprise appearance during halftime at Super Bowl XLV to sing the song with The Black-Eyed Peas. From there, he released his seventh album, Looking 4 Myself (2012), which incorporated R&B and hip-hop with the more Euro-sounding dubstep. Unfortunately, the album performed poorly in the United States, peaking at only No. 64 on the charts. Meanwhile, Usher suspended part of his worldwide tour in support of the record when it was announced that he would join fellow incoming judge-coach Shakira for season four of "The Voice" (NBC, 2011- ) in 2013, replacing outgoing judges Cee-Lo Green and Christina Aguilera, who left the show in order to focus on their respective music careers.
By Richard Harland Smith
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CAST: (feature film)
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"I'm looking to be a triple threat: acting, singing and dancing." --Usher quoted in USA Weekend, August 7-9, 1998.
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