Foxx living a dream

  

January 5, 2007

BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC

Jamie Foxx is the first to admit that if he hadn't become a successful comedian and actor -- with credits including his Oscar-winning role in "Ray" and his recent turn as the used car salesman turned music manager Curtis Taylor Jr. in the hit film "Dreamgirls" -- he might never have had the chance to perform as a musician on a headlining tour that brings him to the Allstate Arena Saturday night.

But the 39-year-old star actually got his start in the music world. And while many fans may think his 2005 album of R&B slow jams, "Unpredictable," was his recorded debut, it was actually the follow-up to a credible 1994 disc called "Peep This."

I spoke to Foxx about his musical career in between his many promotional obligations for "Dreamgirls," as he geared up for the current tour, which includes former "American Idol" champ Fantasia as the opening act.

Q. I know you have a movie that's making a lot of headlines right now, Jamie, but I'm a music critic -- let's talk about what's really important!

A. Amen! It's really been hectic, because I've had to promote the movie, and in between, I've been rehearsing. Last night, we ran the show a few times, and I tell you, man, it's musically cooking! That was my main thing: I wanted the music to be great.

I had a chance recently to see the Rolling Stones. I go to a lot of urban shows, but I got to see the Stones, and it gave me some inspiration, because of how Mick Jagger puts it down. He is not playing around; for the whole two hours, it's just non-stop.

Q. So are you playing with a live band?

A. Yeah, brother -- no canned music here! I told all the guys, "We are gonna hang out on this tour and have some fun!"

Q. Since I'm from Chicago, I have to ask about your relationship with Kanye West. Channeling Ray Charles and singing the hook for the hit single "Golddigger" really raised fans' awareness of your musical talents.

A. Kanye isn't just what you would consider a hip-hop artist; he is just absolutely taking it to another level. I saw the "Touch the Sky" tour in L.A., and it was so over the top, people's heads were knocked off. They're still raving about how that was the greatest show they've ever seen.

Q. Can you give any insight into Kanye's personality? He seems to be having a hard time dealing with the spotlight, always shooting his mouth off, whereas you have a reputation for being the sort of celebrity that everybody loves.

A. I think that's just part of Kanye's thing. I love Kanye no matter what he does; I'm always there for him, and all these other things in the press, it just is what it is. I know a lot of people who deep down are great people, with great qualities and great minds, and then in the press, they'll be dogged, or they'll say something that will blow up on them. These days, and I'm on MySpace all the time, people are so close to you, and when you do something, it winds up on 10,000 blogs. You have to be careful, and Kanye does realize this, but if he does knock people for a loop on certain things, maybe that keeps it open for him, like 'I just don't want to be confined in any way.' Whatever he does, I'm with him.

Q. You released your first album, "Peep This," in 1994. Are you going to be doing songs from that disc on this tour as well as "Unpredictable"?

A. I'm trying, but right now, the show is so thick with everything else, and the surprises we have, it's pretty tight.

Q. But I heard you're also doing some comedy.

A. Yeah, we're weaving it in. We've got some fans of the comedy who want to come out, so we give them a little of that; I think with me, it's expected. But what we're really doing is concentrating on the music.

Q. What's the difference between making a movie and singing onstage?

<A. The difference is that the people are right there when I'm singing. I get my grade right away -- they let me know if I got my A-minus or A-plus -- and I can feel and build on their energy.

Q. I have to be honest here, Jamie: As a music critic, most of the actors I've ever seen who've tried to sing -- Keanu Reeves, Juliette Lewis, Russell Crowe -- have failed miserably.

A. I know what you mean, but I think I cheated: I came from music. I went to college on a music scholarship, and when I got to L.A., I was trying to do that, but the next thing you know, I got onto television and into the movies. Everything kind of took off unexpectedly, which I love, and I never got back to the music. In order for me to get back, I needed the comedy, and I needed a Ray Charles kind of role.

After that, I was able to get into music with some real heavy people, producers like Timbaland and Kanye. If it hadn't worked out the way it did, I would have probably still been out there doing msic, but maybe I wouldn't have been successful at it. Hip-hop killed the R&B singer for a while, and I don't know if people would have been listening.

Q. Are you making another album?

A. I'm doing another album now, and it's really cooking. We've got some songs that go deep into relationships, with the most real emotions I can share.

Q. It sounds as if you approach songs the way you'd approach a role as an actor.

A. Yeah, and I want to build a theme to the next record, so it's more of an event. I'm not trying to find hits; I'm trying to find songs that dig deep.

Q. There's an interesting contrast between some of your best-known movie roles. In "Ray," you played an artist who was able to take control of his career in an almost unprecedented way, while in "Dreamgirls," you play a typical music-industry weasel who's busy exploiting the talent.

A. You know what? The crazy part about it was that was one of the reasons I wanted to play that role in "Dreamgirls." I wanted people to really understand how serious this thing is with Curtis. At the same time, every music executive, after seeing the movie, has come up to me and said, "Curtis was misunderstood! He did what he had to do for those artists to make it!" It's been weird, but I really wanted that to get across: Those guys never think they're bad guys, and in a sense, they're not. If they were loving and kind, they might not be able to do what they have to do, and the artist might not be successful.

Q. Still, it must be nice for you to be in a position where you don't have a Curtis pulling your strings.

A. Oh, they still pull my strings! But I try to make sure I always do what I want to do.

 

JAMIE FOXX; FANTASIA

 8 p.m. Saturday
 Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont
 Tickets, $39.50-$79.50
 (312) 559-1212

 

 

 

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