The Secret Side of Usher

Usher doesn't need a criminal record or bullet wounds to prove his credibility. He's had his share of hard knocks from loving too fast, to hard, too soon.

He began his recording career more than a decade ago as a spindle-legged pre-pubescent crooner, and he morphed into a chest-baring, ab-flexing showman before our eyes. This past year, Usher Raymond ascended to a level of superstardom we haven’t seen since the days of Michael. He sold 15 million albums to date, graced almost every magazine cover, made his own minimusical movie, and took home three Grammys for Confessions. But where Jackson lost us with his descent into androgyny and eccentric behavior, Usher wowed us with his boyish dimples and ready-for-anything physique.

Most young men (Usher is only 26) would be satisfied. But for Mr. Raymond, great is not enough. He’s a perfectionist—everyone will tell you so, from his mother to his producer to his bodyguard. And in the new-millennium world of entertainment, perfection is doing it all. So now, when he could be kicking back, basking in the afterglow of a fabulous year, Usher is hard at work building himself into an empire. To talk to Usher now means putting aside questions about the drama of his personal life—there just isn’t any. Instead of the confused and confessing young superstar of last year, Usher has morphed yet again, this time into an earnest businessman with a strong brand name and an agenda to uplift. Think Oprah with abs.

During our interview (which took four hours in a quiet hotel room, a fast drive down a Los Angeles freeway, and one overseas phone call), Usher refers to himself several times as “green,” claiming he’s “just getting his feet wet” when it comes to his new business enterprises. But his modesty is belied by the enormity of his ambition. No one but a man supremely confident in his ability to execute would undertake the array of projects Usher’s got in mind. Producing and starring in films (the upcoming mob romance Dying for Dolly, in which he stars opposite Chazz Palminteri), co-owning the Cleveland Cavaliers, launching a line of clothing–shoes–cosmetics–watches (he hasn’t decided which one he wants to start first) are all in the works. You thought 2004 was Usher’s year? Think again.

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