Question: when is it acceptable for a married father to trek across the country and have steamy encounters with thousands of anonymous women?
Answer: when he's Usher Raymond and it's part of a tour called "One Night Stand," of course. After 5 CD's, 5 Grammy awards, millions in sales and nearly 15 years in the music industry, there's next to nothing left in entertainment that the performer hasn't accomplished. So in forming the idea for his next career move, the 30-year-old looked to his musical idols for inspiration, deciding to scale down his sprawling arena tours to smaller venues and adding more of a personal touch for his female fans. In spite of remaining pretty mum about his wife, 11-month-old son and the salacious rumors surrounding the two, Mr. Raymond was pretty open about the tour, the goal of his latest CD, Where I Stand, and how he's using his celebrity influence to fuel political and philanthropic ambitions beyond the music....
That's quite a departure for a star of your stature, going from huge arenas to smaller clubs like the House of Blues. What inspired such a change?
Usher- Well, actually, the concept of the show came from you know older performers like Teddy Pendergrass, Marvin Gaye, and Prince. These are all artists that I've respected very, very, very much, and you know they did things special like this for their female fans.
Are you gonna go all out----roses, teddy bears, giving fans sexy dances onstage or....?
Usher- There maybe a little bit of that - there definitely is going to be a lot of crowd participation, and I selected records that are like females favorites, from my catalog. The show changes, all depending on where we are. There's actually some surprises that are going to happen along the road - maybe a few special guests. But in terms of making it a night to remember, it is a one night stand, right?
How did you pick what songs are the ladies favorites? Did you have a Web site poll?
Usher- Well you know, historically, fans have given their comments in the past, online, as well as through letters. So a lot of it was collected from there, as well as on my Web site, usherwill.com - where people do comment about how they feel about specific songs.
Did you ever think that the smaller venues hinder your dancing ability or would be less exciting to the fans? Because you're very physical and very expansive with your moves.
Usher- No, no. It'll be actually even better, because it's condensed and now you'll get a chance to really see every move. In an arena, you're looking from you know some odd feet away....you can only see from a distance. But if you're in a smaller venue, you see everything. You're fully engaged. You're fully involved and it's more of an intimate experience. So that's why I chose these smaller venues.
How do you retain the 'bang for the buck' that your fans have come to expect from you?
Usher- I'm accustomed to playing in bigger places, but I was able to manage to build a show in smaller venues that still had the the lighting and other things that I needed. It's not just going to be a stripped down stage---I'm going to have my full band, background singers, dancers. Of course, there's not going to be any pyro-technics and stuff like that, but it's still going to be definitely very, very, very visually stimulating and give the people who bought a ticket a treat.
Can I prod you for another bit of detail, before we move on?
Usher- It's in the music selection more than anything. It's like a fantasy date in a way, and I'm telling the story through the music but also playing out certain pieces of it. The concept was intended to feel as though you were looking into my bedroom and...
Whoa---okay, I got you! Before we leave it completely though, I do have to tell you that many industry insiders dsee this type of show as testimony to the fact that CD sales haven't been as huge for Here I Stand as they were for 2004's Confessions. What is your response to that?
Usher- Well, I would definitely say that it's a much more mature and intimate album than the others. I'm building this story as I go. I don't know if Marvin Gaye or any of the artists that created a personal album view their projects in the light of 'well, I'm just going to look at this as an opportunity to sell more albums.' I would just sat that it was a creative journey and I wanted to do something more intimate for my audience, so I did. So, this tour goes right along with it.
Is there any track on your new CD that you love to perform the most, or that your fans especially identify with or flock to?
Usher- For me, "Trading Places" would be the one, and as for my fans, I'd say the title track: you know, the fan that was 18 when I was 18 is actually now 30. He or she probably is either in a dedicated relationship, a marriage or either had a significant other, and I think that there comes a time in a relationship that there is some doubt and a man or a woman needs to assure that partner that they're going to be there; that no matter what, no matter how far I go, where I am, I'm still here for you. You mean this to me. For me, as I said, it's a double entendre, one that talks to the relationship that you have, or that we have in the world as people. But then it's also, the way that I've spun it for this show, it's a dedication to my fans, to say no matter how far I go, where I've been, what happened, I'm still here for you and I'm not going nowhere..."Here I Stand."
Okay, I feel you. Would you tell us what inspired the song "Hush"? And where are you with your philanthropic work?
Usher- "My foundation work is separate from what I do in music, although there is one thing that I've done that bridges the gap between my music and my work and it is "Hush" - it's a single (available on iTunes) and it basically talks about certain issues that we have in America. Just to paraphrase a few lyrics from the song, a guy wakes up in his million dollar home, a guy who doesn't really pay attention to politics or to the world around him.
He jumps inside of his expensive car and he's driving around, once again looking at the world that he's seeing. But now he's beginning to see the world different, because you know the gas prices are beginning to come high - to go high and you know he's complaining about you know his six figure salary that's taxed to feed the poor. He doesn't understand issues of AIDS or HIV, you know and now all of a sudden these issues are more prevalent because he has an opportunity to change them or he has an opportunity to speak about them and he does that through is voice, through voting. You know everybody wants to touch the sky, but nobody wants to reach back for those who can't fly.
I also had a campaign that I put together, called "I Can't, But You Can." This is a public service program that I put together for voter's registration. It's with kids 17 and under who are able to go out and register voters who are eligible to vote, but that they can't. A lot of the decisions that are going to be made within our economy are going to affect them, as well as health care and even their education. So, I wanted to give them a voice and through "I Can't, But You Can," they have it. We actually registered close to 300 voters on that day, well actually in that two day span.
What do you attribute that side of yourself to?
Usher- It's really about service though at the end of the day. I actually attribute a lot of it to community service at the Boys and Girls Club growing up. My mother would take us on different rallies when they were mayor, et cetera, and those things came back. I really feel like my voice mattered you know on a ground level. November the 4th was honestly just the beginning. Everyone who gets involved with this campaign for the first time, or are voting for the first time, shouldn't just let November the 4th be the ending. It's honestly the continuation of public service. People need to get involved and continue to engage.
I know you consider the family off-limits for this chat, but I had to congratulate you on that great cover story you had with Essence----your son is gorgeous.
Usher- Thank you.
Is it harder to prepare physically and emotionally for a tour, now that you have a family?
Usher-Well, my focus has obviously shifted. I'm actually torn even more. I'm a young entrepreneur, so I talk to my partner, (Dan Giverd), on the telephone about making sure that I'm there for the opening, making sure that I don't miss my son's birthday, making sure that the tour is together, And yes, my focus is all over the place, but there's one, cohesive thing that brings it all together, which is happiness. You know I find happiness in all of these areas, whether it's philanthropic, whether it's my children, whether it's my music and performing, whether it's through my business. You know I'm enjoying myself. This is what it feels like, I guess, to be a man and to have many things that you you know that you have concern as well as a passion for.
These days, whenever you speak to a young artist that idolizes you, or somebody that's watched you and wants to be you know like you and have your kind of success, do you offer any tips about that regard?
Usher- Absolutely. One thing I tell them is that it's not going to be easy you know specifically to beat me. But what I will say is do this as a business. That's the one thing that these last years have taught me. And having the industry be where it is in terms of having direct contact with your consumer, it actually empowers you even more.
So, you have to definitely surround yourself around the right people. Own your masters. Own your music, you know. Begin to work your music. You have to view it as a business, not just as a creative outlet. You have to now think about the business aspect of it, as well as the creative at the same time. They say, well, it looks easy. This guy just goes all over the place, and he's dancing on stages and doing movies, et cetera. The job is actually a lot harder.
Are you doing any more movies any time soon?
Usher- I'm actually looking at a few movies, a few movie opportunities. After this tour, I plan on going back in and working on a new project. I'll be entertaining, doing maybe an ensemble piece. Not something where I'm leading. I'm not physically ready for that, and my schedule wouldn't allow it right now.
Before we wrap up, get a litle personal here: what do you do for your own enjoyment? Like on a day you have off and not doing your music, or no-shows, what do you do for fun or for your own enjoyment?
Usher- It used to be frivolous things, you know. Of course, I like to shop still. I think that that's something that'll never change. But now I'm getting enjoyment out of having children. I really enjoy my kids, because I work so hard, and I'm so dedicated to my music and to really perfecting what I do as an artist. So, when I do have those moments where I can really just relax, I like to spend it with my children.
I appreciate you making time for us, Usher. Anything else you want your fans to know?
Usher- Well, I want to encourage all of you guys to investigate my Web site, usherworld.com, and have fans enter the contest there that will allow them to have special rights, or actually enter contest to potentially meet and greet with me. Go to usherworld.com, and look for the link, Usher's one-night stand.
If you want to know more about my philanthropic efforts, please go to my Web site, ushersnewlook.org, where you'll be able to find out more about what progress we've made in these inner-city communities, as well as what we're doing in New Orleans.
I'll watch for the show when you come thru Dallas, Man.
Usher - It'll be a night to remember, and remember, what happens there, stays there - "One-Night Stand".
By Melody Charles