Behind the dark almond eyes, charming smile and the trademark voice ladies melt for, few experience first hand R’B vocalist Ne-Yo’s laidback presence and friendly personality.
As two tinted black Cadillac Escalades pull up through the barricaded Sierra Lawn on the day of the Big Show 7 concert at CSUN, Ne-Yo and his entourage step out and head toward his dressing room. Decked out in a white t-shirt, jeans and diamond-studded earrings, Ne-Yo’s warm welcoming hug is surprisingly unexpected.
His larger-than-life persona disappears as he pulls up a chair and transforms an interview into a comfortable conversation.
When asked about the origin of his stage name-his real name is Schaffer C. Smith-Ne-Yo quickly credits a “producer friend.”
“It’s a reference to the movie ‘The Matrix.’ He said in his opinion, I see music like Neo sees the matrix,” Ne-Yo said.
Despite his natural talent as a performer, Ne-Yo’s initial setback with Columbia Records led him to a successful career as a songwriter writing for artists including B2K, Mario and Beyonce. One song that Ne-Yo said he would have kept for himself had he been focusing on a performance career, would have been Mario’s “Let Me Love You.”
Under Def Jam Records Ne-Yo moved into the limelight and become a multi-platinum selling artist. However he holds no grudges as he realizes that timing is crucial in the entertainment business.
“It turned out to be a learning experience if nothing else. It just wasn’t a good situation. It was so bad in fact, that that’s what made me go you know what forget the artist thing right now and just write songs,” he said.
Although he has quickly risen to the top in mainstream music, his reputation as a songwriter/producer is widely respected among the biggest names in the industry. At the moment, he is working with Jennifer Hudson, Usher, Lionel Richie, Celine Dion and Michael Jackson.
In the midst of his hectic touring schedule, Ne-Yo is currently promoting two upcoming artists, R’B artist D. Brown and R’B and pop artist Shanell, under his new label, Compound Records.
“D. Brown is the kind of guy that says things that guys want to say but are afraid to say them for fear of what a woman might think,” he said.
On the other hand Ne-Yo describes Shanell as having a rock-edge to her.
In spite of popular belief, Ne-Yo’s taste in music is quite eclectic. He said his favorite artist is currently Amy Winehouse.
“I love her in all of her self-destruction. I listen to everything. I listen to folk, to country, to emo, to everything. Country artists are the best storytellers on the face of the planet,” Ne-Yo said. “There is a beginning, a middle, and end in a country song. You know what, I would be willing to write for a country artist.”
As an artist, Ne-Yo understands the constant scrutiny media places on celebrities. Though he admits to reading about himself in the tabloids, he does not take their criticism to heart.
“It’s weird. I mean it’s still weird that anyone would take time to really discuss me. I’ve been a regular dude. I do (read tabloids) from time to time. The media can be very cold-hearted, so I try to stay positive,” he said.
Besides staying positive, Ne-Yo refrains from letting the media get to his head. His down-to-earth perspective on fame is one of many reasons fans are attracted to him.
“If you get used to something, you start to expect it. I don’t want to ever get to the point where I am expecting someone to go, ‘Hey look, there is Ne-Yo,’ because that leaves room to get egotistical,” he said.
In his dressing room, not to far from the large crowd of loud and anxious fans, Ne-Yo denies being nervous. But like any other person, Ne-Yo hesitantly admits to getting tense right before performances.
“Honestly, I get nervous the second before I step out on stage, like when the intro is happening. That is when I am most nervous. After I get up there, it’s do or die at that point,” Ne-Yo said.
When he take the stage, songs such as “So Sick” and “Sexy Love,” are his favorite to perform because they get the audience pumped and singing along.
“That’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Ne-Yo said.
He acknowledged that the future of an artist is questionable and not guaranteed for a lifetime. But he has a back-up plan.
“People age and the world gets tired of you,” he said. “I am going to be an artist as long as people want to come see me, you know, but if the day ever comes that they don’t, I’ll write for somebody else.”
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