Let’s face it: A lot of r&b heartthrobs are out there vying for our attention. But even though he’s in a crowded house, singer Mario doesn’t need to fight for his place in the spotlight — he commands it on his own merit.
In 2004, Mario saw his breakthrough with “Let Me Love You,” a sultry Ne-Yo penned track that remained at the No. 1 Billboard spot for nine weeks. Mario might have seemed like an overnight star, yet his coup was far from sudden. Like many stars, Mario had been grooming himself for the big time since he was a child.
Growing up in and around Baltimore, Mario dreamed of being a recording artist as early as four. His mother bought him a karaoke machine. He learned piano. At 11, Mario got discovered; he sang Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You” at a talent show held at a local college. By 14, Mario had signed a deal with Clive Davis’ J Records. He contributed “Tameeka,” with rapper Fabolous, to the Dr. Dolittle 2 soundtrack in 2001. Not long after, he sang Stevie Wonder’s “You and I” at Clive Davis’s coveted Grammy party — a rendition guests at the event still call captivating. He got to work on a debut album.
Mario, his first album, introduced his arrival. Lead single “Just a Friend 2002,” an up-tempo, teen-pop jam, used elements from the Biz Markie classic. Naturally, the single struck a chord with young adults. By his 16th birthday, Mario was on the road, wooing young ladies (and likely some of their adult parents) as part of the Scream III Tour. His debut album went gold.
Mario’s overall debut — the single, the album sales, the tour — was certainly impressive, but his follow-up was even better. Turning Point, his second album, was aptly titled, considering “Let Me Love You” broke Mario out of the teen-pop ghetto and into the adult big time. Some reviewers compared the song to vintage Michael Jackson, and it became a chart-topper in Europe as well as the States. Although “Let Me Love You” was the album’s shimmering diamond, the compilation featured more well-received songs and production from studio stars including Scott Storch and Lil Jon. Nevertheless, the point had been made: Turning Point went platinum. Mario had become one to watch both metaphorically and literally; movie roles in Step Up and Freedom Writers followed.
In October, Mario will release his third album, Go!, with an A-list roster of contributors. Jermaine Dupri, Ne-Yo, Alicia Keys, The Neptunes and Akon are just a few of the big names on board, all but guaranteeing that the much-anticipated project will be a blockbuster. It could in fact be the project that completes Mario’s career trajectory: from child phenom to teen sensation; bona fide star to household name.