Heartbreak tale pays off for singer Jason Derulo

NEW YORK (Billboard) - On the strength of powerful storytelling and the clever use of sampling, “Whatcha Say,” the debut single from singer/songwriter Jason Derulo, is burning up mainstream radio.

The song is currently sitting at No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart; it’s also No. 2 on Hot Digital Songs with 775,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

While the track’s chorus puts an electro-pop spin on a sample of Imogen Heap’s 2005 song “Hide and Seek,” Derulo displays vocal skills that have pegged him as an exciting new artist to watch.

“The sample was just magical, and the song itself is so real,” the 20-year-old Derulo says. “I’ve been singing and dancing since I was 5 years old. So to see everyone’s reactions and hear them singing along is incredible.”

Before Derulo established himself as a solo artist, the Miami native spent his youth studying opera, theater and ballet, as well as different musical genres. He wrote his first song when he was 8 years old. After attending performing arts schools and honing his talents as a singer and dancer, Derulo won the grand prize on the 2006 season finale of the TV show “Showtime at the Apollo.”

Despite the opportunity to write tracks for artists like Lil Wayne, Pitbull and Cassie, Derulo was intent on becoming a solo performer. “It was killing me.” he says. “I had a huge attachment to the songs I was writing, but I had to give them up to make a quick buck. Being in music, I was just hoping something would happen, that somebody would notice me.”

Among those who noticed the would-be artist were producer/label executive J.R. Rotem and “American Idol” judge/Warner Bros. senior VP of A&R Kara DioGuardi.

Rotem, the multiplatinum producer responsible for hits like Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls” and Rihanna’s “S.O.S.,” realized Derulo’s potential after the two recorded six songs together on the night of their first meeting. Rotem signed Derulo to his Beluga Heights imprint through Warner Bros. Records and also signed on to produce the artist’s debut album.

The use of the “Hide and Seek” sample for the chorus of “Whatcha Say” may have been a collective decision between Derulo and Rotem. But the singer’s brother, who called Derulo right after his girlfriend left him, inspired the song’s heartbroken lyrics. “He told me, ‘If she gave me another chance, I’d be the man she needed me to be,’” Derulo says. “People experience something like this every single day. The song goes through feelings that are common in a lot of relationships, and I think that’s why people are connecting to it.”

Now Derulo’s brother is engaged to the same woman, and “Whatcha Say” has clocked more than 12 million listens on MySpace. Derulo will likely release another single by year’s end as well as appear as himself in MTV Films’ “Turn the Beat Around” early next year. He will also spend the fall performing club dates across the United States.

While the release of his debut album isn’t expected until first-quarter 2010, Derulo has written and recorded hundreds of songs for it. He says the release will be well worth the wait.

“I really don’t feel any pressure to follow up ‘Whatcha Say’ because that song is just an appetizer for the album,” he says. “After working so hard and spending every night in the studio until 6 in the morning, it’s exciting to see it all come to fruition. I can’t wait for the world to hear more.”