BEVERLY HILLS, California — "American Idol" fans were shocked when suave R&B crooner Nikko Smith was ejected from last year's competition. But nearly a year after his departure, the "Comeback Kid" — so dubbed by judge Paula Abdul — is by no means down for the count.
Smith, son of Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, was sent packing not once but twice during season four's competition (see "Nikko Smith Voted Off 'American Idol'... Again"). He missed placing in the top 12 by a nose but was brought back a few weeks later when audience favorite Mario Vazquez left the show for personal reasons (see "Mario Vazquez Quits 'Idol' — 'It Wasn't Right For Me' ").
These days Smith is finishing up his debut album, tentatively titled Got to Getcha. He says he hopes to release the disc by the end of summer on his own record label, the N Music Group, which he launched late last year.
"I've got a team of people [from my hometown, St. Louis,] trying to do their thing [on the album]," the 23-year-old Smith explained."
Smith has signed three up-and-coming artists to his label, including rapper D-Miles, singer/songwriter Kane and fellow R&B singer Alanna. He says he started the label because he wanted to be his own boss and to retain creative control over his protégés' projects.
Both D-Miles and Kane appear on the singer's debut single, "Getcha," a club track infused with thumping beats and smooth rhymes.
"Tell me, are you feeling my flow?/ 'Cause if you want to we can get out on the floor/ So get your body moving/ Don't be scared/ Just lose it to the sexy music, baby," Smith croons on the track. It's a big departure from his squeaky-clean "Idol" image.
"You can't really get buck wild and say what you want to say on a family show like that," Smith said. "This album will give you a bit more insight into who I am, what I do and the music I love. [It's] a little edgier."
Still, Smith isn't veering too far from his "Idol" roots. He's been talking with former "Idol" contestants Anwar Robinson and Scott Savol (see " 'Idol' Finalists Anwar And Nikko Record On The Road") about some potential collaborations.
"I want to get [them] on [the album], but it's something I'm still working on," he said.
Smith wrote most of the tracks on the disc with friends. The tunes, he says, "have a lot to do with love and relationships, breakups and make-ups," he said.
Smith also wants to write a book based on his experiences growing up in St. Louis and to try his hand at acting. But for now, he says, he's remaining focused on his true passion: singing.
"I'm just taking it slow right now and [doing] one thing at a time," Smith said. "I'm going to start with the music and then start building from that."