By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
When the purveyors of pop culture want to know who'll be hot the next year, they usually look to the dubious cast of characters known as experts. But that title gets thrown around like dollar bills at a strip club. The chance that they'll be on the money is usually Nicole Richie-slim. But last year's predictions about R&B in '06 were different. Why? It's all because of a 22-year-old singer-songwriter out of Las Vegas named Ne-Yo.As the first new star of 2006, it might have been easy to write him off as another failed forecast. But in the year since Ne-Yo joined the pop culture game, he's already become a giant in the world of contemporary R&B. And with the set of tour mates Ne-Yo's bringing to town this Saturday--Chris Brown, Dem Franchize Boyz, Lil Wayne and Cherish--not even Nostradamus would predict bad things for the young singer.
Born Shaffer Smith, Ne-Yo didn't exactly bust down the doors of the music industry from the jump-off. His first single, "Stay" (which featured rapper Peedie Crakk), debuted in late 2005 and saw only moderate success in urban radio, reaching number 36 on the R&B charts.
With all of his success in the realm of love songs, it was ironic that Ne-Yo's breakout single would be "So Sick," which features the line, "I'm so sick of love songs." Like scarlet fever, "So Sick" was red-hot, contagious...and maybe even a little nauseating. The single climbed up the charts, finding its way to the top of the Hot 100 for two weeks.
On the heels of this success, Ne-Yo released his debut solo album in February. Titled In My Own Words, the album scaled the charts like R. Kelly climbing on...let's just say the disc went platinum.
Prior to his solo efforts, Ne-Yo made a name for himself within R&B circles as a songwriter, penning tracks for the likes of singer/actress/really hot chick Christina Milian, urban boy band B2K and American Idol's Ruben Studdard (you thought Studdard wrote 'em?). But Ne-Yo's most notable joint as a songwriter was the one he penned for fellow crooner Mario--"Let Me Love You," a nine-week Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper.
Although Ne-Yo's artistic success is well-documented, rumors concerning his personal life seem to be just as pervasive. On more than one occasion, the singer has found himself smack in the middle of quite a bit of chatter throughout the blogosphere. Following an interview in the May issue of Vibe magazine--where he revealed having sex with "every girl in his 11th grade class"--the chatter grew louder. Soon, talk was circulating that Ne-Yo was a sex addict, à la Wilt Chamberlain (OK, maybe not on that level). Who wouldn't want to be a fly on the wall of that high school reunion? But Ne-Yo's admissions didn't end there. He also admitted to having sex "three to four times a day." Not surprisingly, some backtracking was in order; the mini-Wilt has since denied an addiction to intercourse.
But despite such denials, the rumor mill kept churning. In fact, if one were to type the term "Ne-Yo rumor" into Google, it would return more than 100,000 results, and not all of them would be ads for porn sites. The latest blog chatter surrounding Ne-Yo has him coming out of the closet and on the receiving end of a sexual act from one of his female backup dancers. Even Vibe magazine got in on the action, asking the question, "Is Ne-Yo Gay?" Within the span of a week, there were hidden-camera shots taken on a Sidekick 3 of his female dancer going downtown and a report of him saying he is homosexual to Essence magazine. Come on now--is this really what Al Gore had in mind when he invented the Internet?
Regardless of the cyber gossip, one thing is certain: Ne-Yo has become a bigger star than anyone--expert or otherwise--could have predicted.
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