November 21, 2005

Usher has a new movie and big plans

By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - By any measure Usher is a big
global star, but the R&B singer, whose album "Confessions" has
sold more than 15 million copies, wants to get bigger.

Usher Raymond, 27, has a record label that is launching new
artists, his own concert DVD currently in stores and he owns
part of professional basketball team Cleveland Cavaliers.

But his movie "In the Mix," a romantic comedy, hits
theaters on Wednesday, and it's movies that Usher expects will
supercharge his one-man entertainment machine -- creating a
"triple threat," he calls it -- of singing, dancing and acting.

"I've always wanted to pattern myself after those artists
who were capable of being legendary," he told Reuters, listing
celebrities like Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Michael Jackson,
Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.

Usher first gained attention as a singer and dancer in the
mid-1990s, but this past year proved to be his biggest yet.
"Confessions" not only sold millions of CDs but earned him
numerous awards including three Grammys.

He toured Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe. He sold out
London's Wembley stadium three times and one concert in Africa
got so out of hand, it had to be stopped, he said.

"You know, what's strange is, maybe in other regions the
music doesn't connect so well, but the entertainment does," he
said. "No matter where you go, people like a good show."

Usher sits in a lavish Beverly Hills hotel suite wearing
blue denim jeans, a pressed dress shirt and wool cap pulled
down just right. He smiles the infectious smile that has won
hearts, minds and rhythmic souls around the world.

"Kids watch Usher, adults watch Usher, even senior citizens
know and watch Usher," he said.


But Usher cannot ascend to the heights of a Sinatra, Kelly
or even his contemporary Will Smith until he acts in movies and
rakes in major box office bucks.

He has acted before, in guest roles on television or in
small parts in films with ensemble casts. He was in high school
thriller "The Faculty" in 1998, high school comedy "She's All
That" and high school drama "Light It Up," both in 1999.

But "In the Mix" is the first movie in which he stars, and
in which his name is expected to bring thousands of fans to

Is the pressure on?

"Of course," he said. "But that's part of the reason why I
chose a film like this. I felt like with the fan base I have, I
wanted to make a film that everybody could see."

In this new movie, Usher plays a popular club DJ named
Darrell who is as hot with the ladies as he is with a music
mix. But Darrell, also, is straight-up guy who spends time
watching after the little girl next door and hangs out with
neighborhood folks at backyard barbecues.

Darrell's life grows complicated, however, when mafia boss
Frank Pacelli (Chazz Palminteri), who once treated Darrell like
a son, asks him to be a bodyguard for his daughter Dolly
(Emmanuelle Chriqui) who has returned to town from law school.

Dolly, as one can imagine, is a doll. And Darrell, being a
player, can't help but fall for her. The problem is, a mob war
has erupted in the city, and Dolly is targeted for a hit.

"In a romantic comedy you can go in any direction," he said
about his movie. "It's about love, it's about the suspense,
it's about the drama."


Usher's fans know he has become a first-rate showman in
concerts singing hits like "Yeah!" and "Burn."

"In the Mix" director Ron Underwood said he has a natural
ability on movie screens, too.

"In most of acting you are bringing parts of what you are
to any role ... (but) everyone will be surprised by his range,"
Underwood said. "He understands character, building a
performance and being consistent within that performance."

Usher's fans also well know his background. He was raised
by a single mother in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and moved to
Atlanta, Georgia, when he was young. His mom manages his

His mother and grandparents, he said, instilled in him the
idea he could do anything and be anybody he wanted if he
applied himself and never gave up.

At age 14, after singing in the church choir, he was signed
for a record contract and in 1994 he released his first album,
"Usher," It was co-executive produced by rap mogul Sean "P.
Diddy" Combs, who took the young singer under his wing.

He has since became a sex symbol with washboard abs, and he
survived a very public breakup with former girlfriend and TLC
member Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas.

In fact, he said, "I did this film more for the ladies more
so than anything."

But Usher has an altruistic side, too. This past summer he
sponsored Camp New Look in Atlanta where kids could hone their
singing, dancing, acting or sports skills and learn about the
business side of their endeavors too.