NEW YORK (Billboard) - It’s a familiar narrative: wunderkind with a gift for music takes it seriously, and lands a major-label deal before he gets his driver’s license. Usher, Chris Brown and Britney Spears all fit the formula. Now, Justin Bieber can add his name to the list.
“Things are amazing right now,” says the 15-year-old singer, who debuts on the Billboard charts this week with his single, “One Time.” The puppy-love song is No. 13 on Heatseekers Songs and No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“People don’t hear it and think, ‘Oh, it’s a little kid’s record,’” says Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun, who also manages the rapper Asher Roth. “He’s a young kid who sings with a lot more soul than he should.”
Raised by a single mother in Ontario, Canada, Bieber started singing just three years ago but took up percussion at age 2 when, as he puts it, “I was basically banging on everything I could get my hands on.” Bieber’s mother bought him a drum kit, guitar and keyboard, and he taught himself to play all of them.
The turning point came in 2007, when Bieber’s mother set up a YouTube account so that friends could watch her son sing Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” at a local competition. She continued to upload clips of Bieber performing R&B covers, and a fan base was born.
Bieber is No. 23 on YouTube’s most-subscribed-musicians list, and the music video for “One Time,” which features him clad in a grey hooded sweatshirt and grinning mischievously into the camera, has been viewed more than 2 million times since June 13. “It was really cool going from my webcam to professional videos,” he says.
Among Bieber’s first fans was Braun, who reached out to the young singer -- 13 at the time-- after finding him online. “He was very, very persistent,” Bieber says. “He even called my great aunt and my school board.” Braun flew Bieber to Atlanta and met with Usher, who then took Bieber to sing for Island Def Jam CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid. Braun says Reid found it uncanny that “Justin was the same exact age as Usher when he was signed.”
“He was an amazing talent and find,” Usher says. “Given my experience, I knew exactly what it would take for him to become an incredible artist.”
Bieber signed with Island Records and RBMG, a label imprint on which Braun and Usher are partners. He’s now recording his debut album, “My World,” for a fall release, and an EP will come out August 11. Usher recorded guest vocals for the song “First Dance.”
It’s a fairy-tale beginning for a kid who had little more than a popular Web video profile two years ago, but Bieber still has plenty of big dreams to fulfill. “I would love to collaborate with Beyonce,” he says. “She’s beautiful.”