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Usher is on top of the heap, and he likes what he sees

He doesn't need you to tell him. Usher already knows he's a superstar, an "ultimate entertainer."

Grammys, multi-platinum albums, fans all over the world, a net worth estimated at $35 million - at 25, the Tennessee-born singer is sitting on top of pop right now.

Calling from Miami, Usher says, "As a stage performer, I feel like I'm at the top of my game. More than just a microphone and a light, there's a whole production. ... I don't think I'll ever stop being an ultimate entertainer."

And there's no need to remind him of his accomplishments this year: In March, Confessions, his latest and fifth album, sold more than a million copies the first week out. Three singles from it - "Yeah!" "Burn" and "Confessions Pt. II" - quickly rose to the coveted No. 1 position on the charts. ("Yeah!" spent 12 weeks there.) Last May, all three sat in the Top 10 - a feat matched only by the Beatles and the Bee Gees.

Again, Usher - whose summer tour, The Truth, stops at 1st Mariner Arena tomorrow night - is fully aware of this.

"There were four Beatles, there were three Bee Gees," he says, "but there's only one Usher."

No one will argue that he's the Hot Boy of the moment. And his success has been consistent since My Way, his 1997 breakthrough album. But with a performance style that borrows generously from Michael Jackson's, Usher isn't the most original entertainer around. He is handsome, and he shows off his chiseled body in videos, on award shows and on magazine covers every chance he gets. Vocally, he's strong, his charisma undeniable, but a first-rate interpreter he is not. Certainly not in the league with his two chief influences: Luther Vandross and Marvin Gaye.

"As a child, I was introduced to Marvin Gaye by way of my grandparents," he says. "As I grew older, I began to get more into his catalog ... and really fell in love with his style and music and just realized how honest he was able to be."Usher's charm and talent (not to mention the tight production and melodic songs on his CDs) make him one of the most accessible pop stars in the game - one whose music appeals to teens and adults, folks in the 'burbs and in urban areas. His latest album, though, reveals more of the evolving artist. Confessions has been called his coming-of-age album where Usher shakes off the mannish boy-isms of My Way and 2001's 8701, his last album. Now, the singer and budding songwriter is vulnerable, honest and, uh, confessional.

"I wanted to make sure this album just wasn't about my experience but real talk," he says, "something everybody can relate to. It was about just being real."

Though Usher is ambiguous about which songs on Confessions are autobiographical, he says that his up-and-down relationship and eventual breakup with Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas of TLC inspired his songwriting and lyrical scope. But the heartfelt "Burn," a ballad about letting go after the love has gone, was written before the breakup, the singer says. And he refuses to discuss the origins of "Confessions Pt. II," a song in which Usher learns that the chick he's been "creepin' with" is "three months pregnant and keepin' it."

"In making the album, I wanted to be a vessel," the Atlanta resident says. "I wanted people to feel like they could relate to it like I'm singing for you. Females can listen to it and understand their man. And men can listen to it and understand their woman. It's a breakup-to-makeup album and a baby-making record."

As for The Truth tour, which took four months to fine-tune, Usher promises an extraordinary show every night. ("Choreographically, you're gonna see stuff that blows your mind, you hear me?") He's an intense performer, a perfectionist, he says. He was involved in every aspect of the production: costumes, choreography, the elaborate set design. He picked platinum-selling rapper-producer Kanye West as the opening act. ("Just look at the amazing year that he's had." )

Wrapping up in early October in Hartford, Conn., the Truth tour will probably be one of the hottest tickets this summer. But, of course, Usher already knows that.

He says, "Each moment of my show is a piece of history."

Usher and opening act Kanye West play 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St., tomorrow night at 8. Tickets are $35 to $59.50 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or by visiting www.ticketmaster.com.

Hear Rashod Ollison on the radio, Tuesdays at 1 p.m. on Live 105.7 and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on WTMD-FM 89.7.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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