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How Usher gave the world Bieber Fever

How do you learn to become a superstar? Well, the best way must surely be to ask one who did it. Even better, get them to be your mentor.
And Usher, with 45 million record sales, is undoubtedly a superstar. Justin Bieber may have a way to go — but his ascent already looks certain at the tender age of 16.
Bieber’s success may partly be down to the business deal the pair struck in 2008 when a former music executive brought the youngster to Usher’s home town of Atlanta, Georgia.

Bieber’s YouTube ­performances of songs by Usher and ­Justin Timberlake were yet to become an ­internet phenomenon. But Usher instinctively knew he was in the presence of a precocious talent, not unlike his younger self.

Usher, 32, is contemplating this as we talk ­backstage at London’s O2 Arena, where he is performing for five nights as part of his UK tour.
‘The day I met Justin was special,’ he tells me. ‘I saw that he had a raw ­talent — and he was cute, girls would like him. I thought OK, if this is properly nourished it could become huge. But I didn’t know how huge.
‘At that time, there was a pop phenomenon that was all very Disney and Nickelodeon. But here was a guy who was the antithesis to all that. He had introduced himself to the world online. I knew if we could guide him then we’d have a product that is the Justin you see.’


Usher, who glows with the confidence that only true success can bring, started out at the same age as Bieber — 13 — signing with respected producer Antonio ‘L.A.’ Reid.
But even then, he still insisted on entering a TV ­talent show called Star Search.
‘I didn’t have to do the show. Reid asked me: “Are you sure you want to do this, as you can actually lose?” I said: “I’m not ­planning on ­losing, I’m going there to win.” ‘Nobody pushed me to do anything. Aged 12, I told my mother: “Listen, this is what I want to do with my life and I need your ­support.” I felt I had a great talent.’

Usher has never been troubled by self-doubt — though his career and life have not been without hiccups.

His father left home when he was one-year-old and later died as a result of cocaine abuse. But aside from this, his childhood was stable. His hard-working mother Jonetta, a former medical technician, took her son’s ambitions seriously, moving the family from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Atlanta, Georgia — then a hub of rhythm and blues music.
‘I didn’t have a rough childhood. I’m not from the ghetto,’ he says.


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