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A Minute With: R&B singer Miguel in the spotlight after Grammys

Recording artist Miguel performs at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California March 12, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Recording artist Miguel performs at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California March 12, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With two critically acclaimed albums and a Grammy award under his belt, American R&B singer/songwriter Miguel is starting to hit the mainstream.

The Los Angeles native, born Miguel Jontel Pimentel to a Mexican father and African-American mother, was thrust into the spotlight at the Grammy awards last month, delivering a soulful rendition of his hit single "Adorn," which won Best R&B song.

His second album "Kaleidoscope Dream" debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart last October and he kicked off his tour supporting Alicia Keys on her North American dates last week.

Miguel, 27, told Reuters about his Grammy moment, his love for throwback R&B, and gearing up to perform on "Saturday Night Live" next month.

Q: The Grammy awards was a big moment for you. How was the experience of performing on the Grammy stage?

A: As a kid you imagine those moments, something that you always aspire to be a part of. You want to be on the stage, but I think at that moment, it was really surreal as I was setting up keys and making sure everything sounded great, looking out amongst the crowd ... and seeing all of my favorite musicians (that) I grew up listening to, mimicking and admired, and have been musical mentors in some way. It definitely was surreal but at that moment, it was about having a good time.

Q: "Adorn" has been a big hit for you. What does the song mean to you and why has it resonated so well with audiences?

A: The song was written really because I missed my girl. That was all it was at the time. I suppose when you love someone so much, you wear their love with pride, and you want them to wear yours with pride, and I think that's where the whole concept comes together. I think it resonates with people because we all want that kind of pride in our relationship and when it is real like that, that's how I think two people treat each other.

Q: Your music has been described as throwback R&B, but why do you think it plays so well in current pop charts?

A: I think the one thing that is common between every song, what holds the album together, is that it's personal. The sound is personal, the expression is personal, and hopefully what people mean (by 'throwback') is that it feels less about how to make everyone else happy or how to please them or trying to chase what is the status quo for R&B right now. It's more about my perspective. That's what throwback R&B is to me.

There was a time when rhythm and blues music was diverse. It was adventurous and experimental. I think somehow we've gotten away from discovering our unique perspective in exchange for commercial success, or what we perceive to be commercial success. I also think it also has a lot to do with time. As a fan of R&B music, I'm tired of this superficial music that I've been hearing especially from R&B so maybe it's timing, it's just the right time.

Q: You've co-written songs for artists such as Alicia Keys, Usher and Asher Roth, but "Kaleidoscope Dream" was all you. What's the biggest difference in writing for yourself and for others?

A: The biggest difference is the position I'm playing. When I'm a part of someone else's creative process, it's all about facilitating their ideas and hopefully bringing their perspective and making it a part of a song ... I like that I can just fill in where I need to be when it comes to co-writing. But when it comes to writing and producing and making music for myself, it's really all about what do I believe, or how do I feel, and what is true and what is not.

Q: You're making your "Saturday Night Live" debut as musical guest with host Vince Vaughn on April 13. That show has launched careers but has also crushed careers, especially if something goes wrong. Do you have any worries about performing?

A: There won't be any miming! Every moment we get to play on stage is defining. It's classic. "SNL" is probably one of the premiere outlets that a musician can perform on that isn't obviously a music outlet. It's a legendary stage where legendary artists have played, but like you said, some have made their careers, some have hurt them. I just go out there and have fun, that's the whole spirit, to go out there and have fun.

(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

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