Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Entertainer gives exclusive on music, acting and fatherhood

by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud

Las Vegas is known globally as the entertainment capital of the world, with lights so bright they can be seen from outer space. One of the brightest of those lights is the superstar R&B singer and actor Ne-Yo, a homegrown talent who proudly credits his Las Vegas upbringing with his status as one of today’s most sought-after artists. Fresh off his well-reviewed role in the historical drama “Red Tails,” and with a new album due out soon, he sat down with with Las Vegas Black Image Magazine to open up about the realities of the entertainment business, growing up in Las Vegas and the joys of fatherhood.

Did you predict that your career would be where it is today?
I have always lived my life knowing that the struggle is temporary. There were those moments when my mom was working five and six jobs taking care of me and my sister. Sometimes there would be no food to eat, and I would always say, “Ok, we don’t have food today, but it will be alright tomorrow.” I can honestly say that I expected to be here — but I had no idea that it would be what it is.

What has impressed you the most about the entertainment industry?
One thing that I really didn’t know about this business was how powerful music is. I remember the first time I performed in Japan, at a festival. There were 40,000 people there who didn’t speak English. I was a little shaky going onstage because I didn’t speak Japanese and I like to interact with my audience with jokes so we can laugh together. But, I knew this time I wouldn’t be able to do that with this crowd. I went on the stage and just gave a thumbs-up, and the audience gave me thumbs-up back. The first song I sang was “So Sick.” And when the band played the opening — “Ding, Ding, Ding” — the audience started singing the whole song. That showed me that music is one of those things that breaks down all barriers — language and race. I had no idea that music would take me on the other side of the world, and would have people over there singing my songs. That was a pleasant surprise.

Were you born in Las Vegas?
No, I was born in Camden, Ark., and came to Las Vegas when I was 8 years old. I grew up in Las Vegas.

How does it feel being a person from Vegas who really made it big?
It feels really good. I love coming back to Vegas, letting it be known that a hometown boy went out into the world, made good and brought it back. I still have family in Vegas who I visit as much as I can. Some people understand and some don’t. I still have some friends in Vegas who don’t understand sometimes that I can’t be in the club with them every weekend. I do kind of have a job, you know. I don’t come back as much as I would like to. But when I do, it’s all love — and I try to give some love back.

What high school did you go to?
I went to the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing and Visual Arts.

What new projects are you working on?
I just recently put the finishing touches on my fifth album, “The RED Album.” The R-E-D stands for “realizing every dream.” This is what I am absolutely doing. It is a mixture of R&B and I am doing a little pop music and some step-dancing music — I have also built up a fan base in that area. This album is Ne-Yo trying to please everyone at the same time. And I think I can do it.

Were there any memorable behind-the-scenes moments you can share from the set of “Red Tails”?

There were times when the cast had to really depend on each other and build friendships. We had to go through a rigorous boot camp even before we began shooting the movie. There was a spirit of camaraderie that we had to develop. In the time that “Red Tails” took place, the fighter pilots had to depend on their wing men while in battle. This is the man you would die for, so we had to develop that same type of friendship and trust with each other that would penetrate the movie screen. It was hell on us in boot camp, but it was necessary, and I am so glad that the public didn’t see it — because I didn’t want them to see me cry. (laughs)

What is the secret to your success?

It might sound a little cliché, but it’s true — working hard. Understanding that anything you truly want, you are going to have to work for it. Anything truly worth it will be a little difficult, but you have to expect that and get past it. Doing what you love from the heart and making sure that is the reason you are doing it. Art is an expression of self. So many people in the music business are just ([in it]) for a quick buck — and you can hear it in the music, because it sounds like everybody else. That means one person did a hit record and others follow, trying to make a quick dollar. But what they don’t understand is that it has already been done. I do what I do from the heart. I love it. If there was no money in it, I would still do it. That is why people like my music, because you can hear that my music comes from a sincere and genuine place.

How are you enjoying fatherhood?
I love being a father to my two children: Madilyn Grace Smith (1) and Mason Evan Smith (six months). I really enjoy being a father — and I would say it’s a little more difficult leaving the house now, because they realize when I have to leave for work and they cry. It breaks my heart, but the time I do spend with them is the best time there is. There is nothing that can be compared to it.

What would you say to men who reject their responsibilities of fatherhood?
This is something that has puzzled me from the day I became a father. I was there when both of my children were born. And from the second I laid eyes on them, it never once crossed my mind to ever leave or not be a part of their lives and accept the responsibilities that come with it. It was an instant love for my children from the moment I saw them. I can’t fathom what would make a person look at their children and say, “You know what? I can’t do this.” I don’t understand that. It is difficult for me to say anything to a person who thinks like that, because I don’t know where you are coming from. I don’t get it. I don’t understand how a father can look into the eyes of their daughter or son and decide not to be there. I don’t get that. I don’t know what to say to the playa other than, “You need to get your priorities straight.”

Do you have other passions?
Absolutely! I have a passion for fashion and my new hat line out, called Francis Ellargo. It is a line of fedoras right now, but we plan to also offer ties and shirts for men. Just trying to make the men on the planet look as good as I do. I also have a Malibu Red drink out that I personally created … that combines a Malibu Rum with tequila. It is a party starter. Many celebrities are entrepreneurs and go into business ventures. That is what you are supposed to do when you have the attention of the masses. It is your responsibility to make sure you capitalize on every moment. If you have people paying attention to you, then you have to keep giving them something to pay attention to.

What do you remember most about growing up in Vegas?
Do you know that McDonalds that is located by Circus Circus hotel and by the Stardust hotel? That is where I got my first job ever, and received my first paycheck. I only worked there for two weeks and got yelled at over the french fries. I got mad and quit the job. I remember going to the Strip on the weekends when I was in high school, and Circus Circus was the place to be. The upstairs area is where all the kids would meet because you could see the circus acts and play the games and walk around the upstairs circular ramp. There was always someone new to meet because Vegas is a tourist town and every weekend you could meet a new girl from somewhere else who had it in the back of their mind that, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” I will stop right here and keep this PG-13. (laughs)

Is there anything else you would like to say to Las Vegas?
I just need Las Vegas to know — and I get some slack sometimes — that even though I was born in Arkansas, Las Vegas made me what I am today. My love and admiration for the music came from Las Vegas. It came from my mom working at various hotels on the Strip, and providing a living for me and my sister. We never needed anything. My music comes from the historic impact of the Rat Pack, and what that whole time period was all about. All of this came from growing up in Las Vegas. So, if it wasn’t for Las Vegas, Nev., there would be no Ne-Yo. I want people to understand that I know this, and I love the people of Las Vegas for being there to support me as long as they have. If there is anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps, if you are willing to work for it, if you are willing to not sleep for a little while and deal with some difficulties, you can do it too. I am the walking, living, breathing proof.

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