NEW YORK R&B singer Sammie feels a special kinship with the adolescents among his fans, and no wonder he's one of them himself.
The Miami-born singer who has ridden an enthusiastic blend of light pop, masterfully mature vocals and a reverence for the young black singers of the past to fame at age 13 said he wouldn't do anything to jeopardize his standing with young admirers.
"Being a singer, you sorta have that authority over [children], where they would listen to you," Sammie said last week, bedridden with a 102-degree fever.
The songs on Sammie's debut album, From the Bottom to the Top, released this month, leave the romantic longing to the grown-ups. The disc's aesthetic lies on the playground, in the lunchroom, between the hops and skips of a double-Dutch session, brought forth by the voice of a fan of video games and jewelry.
Regarding his call on the album's liner notes for children to care for the environment, Sammie said, "I'm just letting kids know that that's the truth and it's from the heart."
Such songs as the album's hip-shaking, breezy first single, "I Like It" (RealAudio excerpt), are the stuff of good little boys and girls, which is exactly what Sammie said he thought they should be.
"I wouldn't do anything that was ... out of a 12-,13-,14-year-old range," he said.
Nevertheless, group Joyce Irby, his manager, said, "Sammie has the mind of a 30-year-old in a 13-year-old's body. Sammie can sing something and be really convincing to older people, because he does it so well."
But she also said helping Sammie through recording and promotional demands and the swarms of adolescent autograph-seekers at his junior high school is of utmost importance.
"I just tell Sammie, 'Do it because you love it,' " said Irby, once the lead singer for '80s pop group Klymaxx. "If we're out doing interviews, there's a signal he gives me. If it becomes too much for him to handle, then that signal means we have five minutes to get out of here." From the Bottom to the Top debuted last week at #86 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, selling more than 18,000 copies. Not bad for a kid who was discovered after a televised amateur performance at New York's Apollo Theatre less than two years ago.
Sammie's vocals, especially on the soaring ballads "Hero" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Count," recall those of the young Michael Jackson. But Sammie said he relates more to another R&B prodigy who also has done pretty well for himself Stevie Wonder.
"He's my main idol," Sammie (born Sammie Bush) said about the singer/songwriter who, as an adolescent, was billed as Little Stevie Wonder. "He knows what he hears. He's always on pitch, always on key. He can do things the producer can't hear, and he has his own flavor."
Dallas Austin, best known for his work with TLC, wrote and produced six songs on the album and, with Irby, oversaw its making.
Recalling last summer's recording of From the Bottom to the Top in Atlanta, Sammie said Austin was patient and laid-back. He also said it was fun being in the spotlight, which he first embraced as a 4-year-old.
"I used to see my mom and my uncles and everyone sing at church," Sammie said. "I really started liking to do that. ... I finally had to get up. I did it. I got a standing ovation. It's a great feeling."