"That’s kind of what I’m doing right now," the singer-dancer-entrepreneur and would-be movie star says. "Stepping back from the music, a little, just to see what’s there."
He has a new three-disc DVD based on his "Truth Tour," with a behind-the-scenes documentary, which he narrates, and footage of his blockbuster concert stop in Atlanta, his hometown. There’s a clothing line, custom gift cards, and more copies of his hit CDs – Confessions, 8701 – to move.
And a movie, In the Mix, starring Usher just opened last week. The man gets around.
"You know, I was just in Orlando."
That’s right. And guess what he was doing?
It’s a standing joke among his fans. Usher runs late to this chat show or that autograph signing because the man loves to shop. He’s so personable, a funny blend of too-cocky and self-deprecating, that he manages this without being obnoxious. Even when he’s buying things his fans could only dream of.
Usher dropped in on Orlando’s National Business Aviation Convention, a trade show where he could sample the latest Gulfstream and Bombardier jets. A guy with this much going on, with this much coming in, has got to get where he’s got to go in style. If the president of this personal jet firm or that one gives him a tour of their wares, it’s no more than Usher has earned.
"Just looking, just looking," he says, and laughs again. But he’s seriously looking.
It’s good to be Usher, what with the Top Ten hits, the sold-out tours, and now a major motion picture.
The move to movies isn’t a sudden one. A performer since childhood, he has dabbled in films, from The Faculty (1998) to Texas Rangers (2001).
But In the Mix is a starring role, "a guy I could relate to, a guy I think my fans can relate to," he says.
Darrell, his character, is a New York club DJ who saves the life of a mob boss (Chazz Palminteri) by accident. The mobster puts Darrell on the job, protecting his fetching daughter (Emmanuelle Chriqui). And, as they say, the sparks fly. Ron Underwood (Tremors, Heart and Soul) directed, and veteran heavy Robert Davi is also in the cast.
"I want to be a little bit of everything on the screen," Usher says. "A little romantic, a little funny, maybe a little tough, too."
The romantic thing comes easily. An R&B singer famous for his onstage bumps and grinds and PG-13 pop – songs like "My Boo," "You Make Me Wanna," and the like are why he can play to packed, screaming, mostly female audiences from Atlanta to Adelaide.
The spectacle onstage marries "boundless energy" with great choreography, notes the BBC’s Brady Haran in a review of a recent Nottingham show. And costume changes and innuendo.
Usher has had sound advice as he branches out into more than just music. His godfather is Tony-winning "triple threat" Ben Vereen, an actor who could sing and dance as well as act.
"Ben gives me advice on everything," says Usher. "People talk about me doing things very similar to the way Will Smith did them. But as much as I respect what Will’s done in movies, I’m more about the music and the dancing, right now. Ben is my mentor."
The discipline it takes to polish dancing moves, to bend his voice to that perfect girls-will-squeal croon, is good preparation for the film world, he says. He has the focus to do the work, to manage a career that includes all manner of products, including his own record label with a growing stable of rising stars.
And he has the need for work. Any man shopping for jets has some pretty serious overhead. He has a line he likes to use in explaining that.
"I am, like the DVD says, a ‘single black male addicted to retail.’"
© 2005, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.