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How Usher Went from Teen Music Prodigy to The Voice and the Super Bowl
The R&B singer has been serving up hits for three decades and is now headlining football's biggest night.
Usher is a musical force to be reckoned with, delivering powerhouse R&B hits since his rise to fame om the '90s, and no party playlist is complete without one of his infectious bops.
He has come a tremendous way since his "Star Search" days, and will be the proud performer at the 2024 Superbowl Halftime Show after an incredible Las Vegas Residency.
Usher's career is as prolific as it applauded, having released several studio albums that have reached platinum status and delivering some of the best club tracks of the past three decades. Known for his pitch-perfect falsetto and libidinous dance moves, Usher has run the gamut of musical styles, embracing pop, R&B, EDM, and hip-hop in his sprawling discography.
As an accomplished singer, dancer, actor, and entertainer, Usher is a tour-de-force of talent, and fans never tire of his electrifying energy. Read on to see how far Usher has come within his supernova career.
How did Usher get discovered in the music industry?
The star power of Usher, born Usher Raymond IV, started young — and, technically in church. But in 1991, the 13-year-old gave a life-changing performance for the talent showcase Star Search, seizing attention with his rendition of Boys II Men's "End of the Road." He delivered the longest note ever sung on the show by a child at the time during that performance.
The rendition earned him a record deal with LaFace Records, where he began working first with producer L.A. Reid and then with Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs.
Usher's First Song: "Call Me a Mack"
In 1993, Usher recorded his first single, "Call Me a Mack," for the film soundtrack of Poetic Justice. The John Singleton film starred Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur, with Regina King (who has since won four Emmys and an Oscar), Maya Angelo, Q-Tip, and Tone Loc in supporting roles.
Usher's First Album: "Usher"
Usher released his self-titled debut in 1994. The album generated the beloved track "Think of You," the first of his many songs that would reach the Billboard Hot 100.
Usher's My Way
Usher followed up his debut with 1997's My Way, the album that many consider to be his breakthrough record. It was the one on which Usher began to flex his lyrical pen, co-writing six of the nine tracks. With saucy singles like "Nice & Slow," "You Make Me Wanna..." and its titular hit, Usher's sophomore release established his niche whilst simultaneously creating an R&B smash.
"The thing that happened in My Way was the establishment of the artist," Usher told Complex in honor of the album's 25th anniversary. "The establishment of me not being afraid of being bold enough to share who I am and what my experience was in an authentic way,”
Usher kept the ball rolling in 2001 with the release of his third studio album, 8701. (Usher had stepped away from recording for a few years to take on acting opportunities.) The infectious singles "U Got It Bad" and "U Remind Me" became No. 1 hits on Billboard's Hot 100, dominating the charts for several weeks.
The album was also responsible for scoring Usher his first two career Grammys — in 2002 and 2003 — for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "U Remind Me" and "U Don't Have to Call," a track written by now-fellow Voice alum Pharrell Williams.
Usher had already established himself as one of the emerging R&B performers of the early 2000s by the time he released his fourth studio album in 2004, but Confessions scored Usher meteoric success. Achieving global superstardom with the sensational tracks "Yeah." "Burn", "Caught Up," and his (now-fellow Voice alum) Alicia Keys duet "My Boo," Usher delivered a grand slam that still receives ample radio play to this day.
Confessions also scored Usher 8 Grammy nominations in 2005, and he won three: Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("Yeah!"); Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals ("My Boo"); and Best Contemporary R&B Album. (He was also nominated the following year for the track "Superstar.")
Confessions was a resounding triumph, certified platinum 10 times over.
Usher's Here I Stand
Usher's 2008 album, Here I Stand, was a continuation of his success, kick-started with the sultry lead single "Love in This Club," with Young Jeezy. The frisky track reached No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 and stayed there for 3 weeks.
The tracks "Moving Mountains," "Trading Places," and a sequel song to Here I Stand's lead single, "Love In This Club Part II" featuring Beyonce & Lil Wayne, also landed on the Hot 100.
The album inspired Usher's third concert tour, One Night Stand: Ladies Only.
Usher's Raymond v. Raymond
Taking inspiration from his 2004 magnum opus, Usher's 2010 album, Raymond vs. Raymond, is another confessional album, this time exploring the pleasures and pitfalls of marriage. Usher described the album to the New York Times as a "tug-of-war between man and woman, and the honesty a man has to have."
"Papers," the first single (about divorce), "Hey Daddy (Daddy's Home)," "Lil Freak" with Nicky Minaj, "OMG" featuring will.i.am, and "There Goes My Baby" all hit the Billboard Hot 100.
The album and the track "There Goes My Baby" won Usher two Grammys in 2011.
“The feeling of it is if you have a true connection with somebody, no matter what happens in life, it will always come back,” Usher explained. “No matter how long it takes to make it through whatever issues pull you apart, something pulls you back together. The rest is between the lines.”
Described as the last chapter of Raymond vs. Raymond — with the songs appearing on the later extended edition of the album — the 9-song EP Versus released in 2010 contained three major collaborations: the "Somebody to Love" remix with Justin Bieber and benny blanco; "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love" with Pitbull; and "Hot Tottie" with Jay-Z. The latter two also made the Billboard Hot 100 for Usher.
Usher's Looking 4 Myself
Usher's seventh studio album, Looking 4 Myself, was released in 2012 and served as an exciting remix to the "Confessions" singer's formula. The record is a dance-pop album with strong electronic and dubstep influences as Usher seamlessly shifts genres with expert precision. "Lemme See" featuring Rick Ross, "Dive," and the Grammy-winning track "Climax" were some of the energizing singles to come from Usher's deep dive into EDM.
Usher's Singles from 2014- 2016
Between his 2012 and 2016 studio albums, Usher released a series of singles, including: "Good Kisser"; "She Came II Give It II U" with Nicki Minaj; "Clueless"; "I Don't Mind" featuring Juicy J; and "Chains" featuring Nas and Bibi Bourelly.
He also collaborated on Lin-Manuel Miranda's The Hamilton Mixtape, performing the song "Wait for It" from the Broadway musical.
Usher's Hard II Love
Usher's eighth studio album was his 2016 release Hard II Love, an introspective record that the singer told Rolling Stone was made for “men who don’t think love is cool to do.” Boasting collaborations with Young Thug and Future, the album featured several hailed singles, such as "No Limit," "Crash", "Missin U," and "Rivals."
The Japanese edition of the album also includes Usher's Grammy-nominated single "Good Kisser," which was originally released in 2014.
In 2018, Usher released his collaborative studio album, A, which featured tracks with Future and Gunna. It was produced entirely with Zaytoven.
Usher's Singles Since 2019 and his 2024 Album Coming Home
True to his prolific nature, Usher has continued to release more singles... and promote his next album.
In 2019, he released the single "Don't Waste My Time" with British artist Ella Mai, which he said was expected to be on his next studio album.
In April 2020, he released "SexBeat" with Lil Jon and Ludacris, after Lil Jon performed the then-unreleased track on the music battle show Verzuz.
As part of NBC's songwriting competition show Songland, he also released the track "California" featuring Tyga in April 2020.
Shortly thereafter, he released the single "I Cry."
In September 2020, he released "Bad Habits," said to be the second track off his forthcoming studio album.
He then began the first of two residencies in Las Vegas
In March 2023, he dropped his first single in nearly two years: "GLU."
He released “Good Good” featuring Summer Walker and 21 Savage on August 4, 2023, promoting it as the lead single off his forthcoming studio album.
He announced in September 2023 that his long-awaited ninth studio album, Coming Home, would be released in February 2024 to coincide with Usher's Super Bowl Halftime Show. It will definitely feature the track "Good Good."
“I’m coming home, I’m back with my team,” Usher told Apple Music after revealing he's working with his LaFace colleague L.A. Reid again following his 2022 split with RCA. “Even when you see the artwork, you will understand it... You understand where I’m from and what we’re doing.”
“More than anything, it’s a celebration of music," Usher continued. "Coming home in many other ways as you get more acclimated. When I put out more records and also to put more visuals, actually begin to really understand it. But I think that it is something to be celebrated.”
Usher's TV and Film Roles: Moesha, She's All That and The Faculty
Shortly after Usher began stealing hearts with his angelic vocals, he caught the attention of Hollywood and began exploring an acting career.
He scored his big break in 1997 in the series Moesha alongside singer-actress Brandy, playing her boyfriend, Jeremy Davis. In 1998, Usher landed the role of Raymond in the drama series, The Bold and the Beautiful.
The same year, Usher made his film debut in the horror film The Faculty as Gabe Santora. In 1999, Usher appropriately appeared as a disc jockey in the teen rom-com She's All That and as the leading role in the drama Light It Up alongside Forest Whitaker and Rosario Dawson. He went on to appear in Geppetto (2000) and Texas Rangers (2001).
Usher also appeared in a a delightful lineup of guest roles starting in 2002, including the Twilight Zone revival, the period drama American Dreams as Marvin Gaye, 7th Heaven as Will, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch as a love doctor. In 2003, Usher took on the recurring role of Cameron Marks in Season 4 of Soul Food.
"Acting is definitely a very relevant part of my future..." Usher told HipHopDX in 2007. "When I look at what Gene Kelly, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Fred Astaire did with their careers acting, singing, and dancing, that’s what I’ve always wanted to be. I want to be a triple threat."
He later appeared in 2005's Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, Killers (2010), and 2013's Scary Movie 5 as Ira the Janitor.
In 2016, Usher returned to the big screen as the boxer Sugar Ray Leonard in the biographical film, Hands of Stone. The film follows the life of Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán and also stars Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin, and Ana de Armas. Some of Usher's recent film roles include the 2018 drama Burden as Clarence Brooks and the 2020 satire horror film Bad Hair as Germane.
Usher's Stage Roles and Broadway Debut in Chicago
In 2006, Usher took his acting chops to the stage with his Broadway debut in Chicago as the seedy lawyer Billy Flynn. Upon reviewing his performances, The New York Times wrote, "The presence of Usher has instantly revitalized the box office for Chicago."
In 2012, Usher returned to the stage in the Off-Broadway play Fuerza Bruta, performing for two nights as the lead role, Running Man, which flaunted his preternatural dancing talent.
Usher's Reality Television Roles
After gaining global superstardom through his music, Usher began guest-starring as himself, including in Mad TV (1998), The Saturday Show (2001), Punk'd (2003), Sesame Street (2014), and 2023's Soul of a Nation, to name a few.
He's also popped in as a contestant or guest judge for several game shows and competition series, including The X Factor, So You Think You Can Dance, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Britain's Got Talent, Ellen's Game of Games, and America's Got Talent.
Usher's charm and magnetic energy have led to several guest appearances over the years, but he upped the ante in 2013 after giving The Voice a little red chair remix.
Usher on The Voice
Joining the ranks of many legendary music icons who've sat down in the coveted red chair, Usher became a first-time Coach of The Voice in Season 4 alongside fellow newbie Shakira, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton. After failing to see a Team Usher Artist take home the glory in Season 4, he returned as a Coach in Season 6.
Usher's team won Season 6 of The Voice after stealing Josh Kaufman from Team Adam during the Playoffs. He currently holds the record for most Artists stolen by other Coaches during the grueling Battle Rounds.
Usher returned to The Voice as a Top 8 Advisor in Season 8, helping Levine's team of Artists through the late stage of the game. He hopped back into the action in Season 17 as a Battle Advisor for John Legend's team and again in Season 19 as an Advisor to all of the Artists.
Usher's Las Vegas Residency
After decades of chart-climbing hits, Usher took his archive of bops to Las Vegas for his sexy and exciting residency. "My Way - The Vegas Residency" first opened its curtains in 2021 at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace and then relocated to the Park MGM in July 2022. The sold-out shows and explosive reception led Usher to extend his residency several times.
“Las Vegas is very important because it actually speaks to my career, to be in a place where I can dream, where I can incubate ideas,” Usher told GQ after the outlet dubbed him the "New King of Vegas." Usher said he designed the residency to be the ultimate girl's night, a place where ladies could relax and rewind with a lineup of beloved hits.
“I really wanted to give women something to look forward to, something to come here to Las Vegas with their friends for,” Usher shared. “They’ve been saving up all year and were able to manage to get away from their kids or get away from their problems... They come out and really enjoy themselves for the entire weekend. They want to be able to really get away and have an experience.”
With so many catchy tunes within his arsenal (and the option of attending his "Taste of Passion" after-party), Usher knows how to keep the party dancing into the late night.
The "Yeah!" singer went viral for the sensual serenades he'd sing to lucky ladies in attendance at his shows, delivering swoon-worthy numbers to the likes of Gabrielle Union, Doja Cat, Issa Rae, and Saweetie, to name a few. The 100-show residency concluded in December 2023.
Did Usher get a key to Las Vegas?
The success of Usher's residency inspired the singer to be awarded the prestigious honor of a key to the city of Las Vegas on October 17, 2023 — which was officially dubbed Usher Raymond Day by city officials, forever cementing Usher's Sin City legacy.
"This city has really represented something of belief to me. Belief that the impossible could happen," Usher said upon receiving the key, as reported by Vegas' KTNV Channel 13. "That wasn't just about me, I'm a man for the people. I'm a man for entertainment. And entertainment has been my tool. But that belief that was placed the moment that I came here, the roots that now have grown to a Super Bowl moment is something to be recognized."
Usher's 2024 Super Bowl Halftime Show
As one of the most accomplished singers in R&B, Usher will secure yet another prestigious milestone in 2024 when he headlines the Super Bowl Halftime Show in Las Vegas. It takes incredible notoriety and tireless effort to earn a space on that stage, and Usher couldn't be more ecstatic about the opportunity coming out of his celebrated Vegas tenure.
“It’s an honor of a lifetime to finally check a Super Bowl performance off my bucket list. I can’t wait to bring the world a show unlike anything else they’ve seen from me before,” the singer said in a statement via Billboard. “Thank you to the fans and everyone who made this opportunity happen. I’ll see you real soon.”
Usher's Awards and Hollywood Walk of Fame Star
With three decades of music, movies, and television under his belt, it's no surprise Usher has been the recipient of dozens of honors and awards even outside of his key to the City of Las Vegas.
In 2016, Usher captured legend status after being honored with the 2,588th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He has recorded 53 singles that have made of the Billboard Hot 100, nine of which became beloved No. 1 hits.
To say Usher has been gilded for his music industry achievements is a vast understatement: The R&B icon has taken home nine Soul Train Music Awards, eight American Music Awards, and 18 Billboard Music Awards, to list just a few. He is also the recipient of a whopping 23 Grammy nominations, proudly winning eight awards throughout his impressive tenure.
Aside from his Hollywood Walk of Fame tenancy, Usher has also been inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the Black Music and Entertainment Walk of Fame, and in 2023 became the first-ever inductee into the SoundExchange Hall of Fame.
"Usher has been making incredible chart-topping music for almost 30 years, and it is an honor to acknowledge his rightful place among the greatest artists of the era,” SoundExchange's President and CEO commended. “As his ‘My Way’ residency showcases, Usher is without a doubt one of the preeminent performers of our time. We are honored to acknowledge his impact and longevity.”