WEST HOLLYWOOD, California — Chris Brown got used to hearing his name over speakers — not as an R&B star but as a high school troublemaker constantly being called to the principal's office.
These days, though, the self-described former class clown has his act together and praised the importance of education to a group of high school students invited to watch his soundcheck Thursday at the House of Blues.
In a question-and-answer session with Blair High School students organized by the Grammy Foundation and the Los Angeles chapter of the Recording Academy, Brown said he spends about four hours a day with a tutor and plans to balance online college courses with his recording career. Not exactly what you might expect from a graffiti artist, krump dancer and basketball star who once hit a teacher with a water balloon.
"It was an accident, though," Brown insisted to the room full of laughing teenagers. "You know how you have those last few days before school ends for the summer and you're just wildin' out 'cause you know you already passed? Well me and my homeboys would fill up our backpacks with water balloons and try to get each other. ... And one day my homey walked around the corner and I threw one, but he ducked out of the way and it hit my teacher in the face. I tried to play it off all cool, but the tattletales told on me. And I got three days of suspension for the next year."
When he wasn't earning detention time, Brown was trying to earn respect as a singer. "I just started working with local producers, letting people know I could sing," he told the students. "And what I used to do was go around to different parties, dancing."
And Brown continues to dance. For the first 30 minutes of his soundcheck, while his band worked out volume levels, Brown used the time to work on some new moves. When it came time to test his own mic, Brown rehearsed several tracks, including "Run It!," joining his stage dancers for each one.
About the only time Brown isn't dancing is when he's working with his tutor from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day.
"Obviously I can't go to a public school, but I'm still in school as a junior," he told the crowd. "I want to go on to study fashion design, business development and just things that are going to help me out in my future and that deal with my career now."
Brown, who said his nickname in school was Charlie Brown, does hope to go to prom, although he's still looking for a date. ("I'll take you!" several girls instantly replied.)
He used to spend a lot of time on MySpace until someone got a hold of his password. Now it's all about his own Web site (ChrisBrownWorld.com).
"I watch the gossip that's going on about me," he said. "Sometimes I respond to the fans and talk to them and thank them for all their support and let them know how I am. They make me who I am."
At the start of his career, Brown said he felt he had to go out and prove at every show that he was as good as peers like Usher. "Now people are coming to see me, and I'm more comfortable," he told the students. "I can go out there now and go onstage and feel like I'm at home and just have fun."
Brown plans to open more of his soundchecks to students during his tour, which wraps April 27 in Atlanta (see "Chris Brown Lines Up 20 Dates For First Headlining Tour"). And according to Blair High School teacher Rodney Douglas, who brought his class to see the singer Thursday, it's the perfect motivation for students.
"It's great because they can see that you can do it. If you want to do it, there's a way," Douglas said. "He really nailed it [in discussing the importance of education], and did it with a sense of humor, which is important. I did tell my kids, though, not to do the water balloon thing. That wouldn't be too cool."