Story by Yvette Caslin
Photos by Keith Major for Steed Media Service
Miguel was running on autopilot when he arrived at Keith Major’s Manhattan studio. But that didn’t deter the young star from bestowing this writer with a double cheek-to-cheek Parisian-style kiss before making his way to the delectable catered lunch.
It was less than 12 hours after his performance at a Cricket mobile event in Houston, and Miguel was looking forward to a show later in the evening at New York’s legendary SOB’s, which had already sold out.
His wild-haired baby brother, Nicholas, had rolled in at least 30 minutes prior with a larger-than-life suitcase containing Miguel’s attire for the shoot. Even though rolling out had hired wardrobe stylists, Miguel had called ahead, confident that his own gear would suffice and rightfully so. His fashion sense reflects a certain cool — modernly futuristic.
The young talent’s given name is Miguel Jontel Pimentel, and he hails from Southern California, specifically the San Pedro community in Los Angeles. The crooner grew up listening to classic rock, hip-hop, funk and R&B and has been engaged in music since his early teen years.
Miguel first caught my ear at a Mary J. Blige concert last fall. While on the cusp of releasing his debut album, All I Want Is You, he was the opening act for her “Music Saved My Life Tour.” Shortly thereafter, he joined Usher’s “OMG Tour.” Miguel credits both artists for being instrumental in teaching him how to engage audiences during live shows. He’s performed his hit title single, “All I Want is You,” in venues of all sizes from Atlanta and New York to the Bay Area.
It doesn’t take long for the 24-year-old to decompress after his long flight. Once his grooming is done, he sits down and opens up about his journey and shares what he’s learned from veterans in the industry.
You sing in high-pitched falsetto, a sound that made Prince a star and a sex symbol. Tell us about your groupie stories. I know you have at least one.
I have plenty of groupie stories. They start in Kansas City and Philadelphia.
Is that it? I see you’re mum on that.
[He nods and blushes.]
Do you remember your first kiss?
I am a late bloomer. It was with my first girlfriend when I was in college. Aside from it being unexpected, I had really strong feelings for her.
When did you know you had a passion for music?
I’ve always been passionate about music. I fell in love with it long before I can remember. I don’t know if it was a discovery or if it was inherent. I just always knew I loved music.
How did you tell your parents you were going to pursue music?
I told my parents early about my decision to be a musician. I was 13. My mom said, “If that’s what you want to do, I’m not going to push you. You have to push yourself and keep your grades up.”
Are you biracial?
Yes. My father is Mexican, and my mother is black.
Has being biracial affected you in any way?
Being of Mexican and black descent was challenging at some points in my life. I grew up in San Pedro, and at the time, [there] was a lot of tension among Mexicans and blacks. It isn’t in my nature to be very aggressive. At times, it was pretty hard to avoid being caught in the middle. I have actually had to defend myself.
How did you come up with your first single?
“All I Want Is You” is a song about a time in my life when I had to make a really hard decision to break up with my girlfriend. It was not the right time for us, despite the connection. I’m sure there are people who can relate. I made the decision to break up.
I flew to Miami to work with Salaam Remi. I was daunted by his reputation, being a fan of his and not knowing what I should do, say, sing or write. He said something very simple and profound to me, which was, “Just be honest.” I was living in the moment, questioning my decision, and it was that moment I wrote the song. So, here we are.
I hear you’ve worked with super producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
I worked with mostly Terry Lewis and Usher.
What was that experience like working with Terry?
Aww, man! Not only because of who he is and what he means to music, I mean … Terry Lewis wrote some of Janet Jackson’s most influential music, which made her who she is now. But, based on the fact that everything that comes out of this man’s mouth sounds like it should be on a Hallmark card or in a poem or that he pulled it from some yet-to-be published book, he’s very insightful.
What about Usher?
As far as being a musician, touring, writing and still being relevant, working with Usher and being a part of his story, he’s really one of those individuals who has so much to offer. He took me under his wing and was really adamant about giving me good advice and guidance on a professional level. He is very cool.
So, you’re really cool with him?
It’s so funny how you are brought into a circle of people and that circle of people is connected to another circle of people and how that circle views the person who is the [connector]. It’s almost a direct reflection of them and vice versa. Usher basically took me under his wings. I met him through Mark Pitts and Jive Records. He’d heard a song I wrote, “Sure Thing,” that made him really want to work with me. Interestingly enough, it was after I was signed. He was wrapping up his Here I Stand album and looking for the last few records, and we hit it off. When you’re on the outside, you hear a lot of things about artists. All of the negative things I’ve heard were null and void. Terry, Usher and I co-wrote three records on his album. Since then, he took me on tour. I opened for him, and since then, he’s been amazing.
Do you play any instruments?
I practice the guitar daily.
What is most played on your playlist?
“Good Thought, Bad Thoughts” by Funkadelic. The song lasts seven to eight minutes. The first half is [instrumental] guitar, and the second half is the message. It came out in ’73, and it is about the power of your subconscious mind. It will change your perspective.
Let’s talk about your MySpace success.
It had a big impact on people discovering me. “Sure Thing” was the song they loved.
Name your favorite movie or movies.
Closer and Shawshank Redemption
What inspires your creativity?
I am emotional.
With all of this touring, when do you sleep?
Whenever I can. I learned that being on tour.
Why is it a big deal to be in control of your music and your style?
Everything is an extension of who I am. My music is my thought process and my vulnerability. It’s what people expect from me. It should carry through energy, aesthetics or anything that is a direct reflection of the person I want to be and who I am. All of my music is personal to me.
Where do you shop?
I don’t like to go shopping. I’m lazy and very particular. But when I do go shopping, L.A. and New York are my favorite cities. If you ask me in a few months, that may change.
What’s up with your kicks?
I love Android sneakers. I like them because certain things don’t look right on me. So, when they do look right, I make it a point to keep them around.
What’s your favorite scent?
How do you define true beauty?
True beauty is a firework in the middle of the day.
What is love?
Love is everything. I remember this quote: “All actions are the result of one of two motives: love or fear.”
Miguel’s a rock star. There’s no denying it. The Grammy-nominated singer has a quirky style and an eclectic sound that fuses many genres: hip-hop, funk, electro and classic rock. Blogger extraordinaire Perez Hilton is quoted as saying that he “reminds us of old-school Prince,” and others have labeled him a smooth blend of Pharrell and Maxwell. Still others say he’s “before his time.”
If you get a chance to see him live, fasten your seatbelt. He’s known for wowing audiences, fusing skateboard style with his musical performance of spinning, stirring his hips and dropping into splits.
So humble and cute, an almond-eyed Miguel, who loves to flash that high-wattage smile, gets it.