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Conor-ing the market
7:00am Saturday 28th July 2012 in NewsXtra
With screaming fans everywhere he goes, and millions watching him sing online, Brighton boy Conor Maynard is poised to become Britain's answer to Justin Bieber. He talks to Andy Welch about his dramatic rise from performing in his bedroom to being flown to Miami to work with Pharrell Williams.
Teenagers are well known for spending a lot of time in their bedrooms.
While most are locked away chatting to their friends online, playing video games or keeping away from their parents who 'just don't understand' them, Brighton's Conor Maynard, 19, was using his time more wisely: filming videos of himself singing, uploading them to YouTube, and winning millions of fans.
It all started when a school friend overheard him singing during a lunch break and urged him to pursue a career as a singer.
"Up until that point I'd really wanted to be an actor," begins Maynard who, when he was 15, attended a drama school at weekends.
"She made me sing in front of virtually everyone in the school and that got me thinking. From there I decided to start recording myself singing cover versions in my room."
At first Maynard sang his favourite songs, mainly album tracks by the likes of RnB stars Mario, Chris Brown and Usher, or Stevie Wonder classics.
His friend then filmed him lip-synching to Usher's OMG and, after other friends posted the links online, it ended up with about 100,000 plays.
"That was a real shock, it came out of nowhere," says Maynard.
Before he knew it, there was a fanbase ready and waiting for another cover, and, after covering Beautiful Monster by Ne-Yo, he'd soon amassed more than a million views.
"And now I have 100 million views altogether. It's insane. I think I've got some mental fans who probably account for half of that total. Or maybe I've got like, 100 fans who watched the videos 100,000 times each?"
There's something pleasingly down-to-earth about Maynard. He talks about caravan holidays with his family and how, despite being in talks with managers and record labels and winning the praise of huge American stars, his mum still nags him to carry on with his homework.
Among the artists to contact Maynard was singer and producer Ne-Yo who, upon hearing his song Beautiful Monster had been covered by a British schoolkid and was being watched by fans in their millions, wanted to talk to the lad in question. A Skype video chat was duly set up, which Maynard conducted in his pyjamas at 1am while his family slept.
"It wasn't the coolest way to talk to someone like, for the first time," he admits, "but when you've never been involved in the music industry it's hard to know how to be or how these things work.
"But Ne-Yo was really cool with me, and the first thing he said was, 'So this is the kid that's singing my songs better than me, is it?'"
If he felt unsure of himself, Maynard learned quickly, and shortly after that initial chat was flown out to the US to meet Ne-Yo, with the Champagne Life star insisting he sign a recording contract.
"That was the start of everything for me, really," he says. "After that, lots of other people - managers, labels in the UK - were interested. They all wanted to see what the fuss was all about."
Fast forward almost two years and Maynard has finished his first album, Contrast. It will be released on July 30 and features guest appearances by Ne-Yo and rising star Rita Ora.
Frank Ocean, who released his own album Channel Orange recently, and - perhaps bravely considering hip hop's overtly homophobic culture - declared himself bisexual, wrote a song for Maynard.
He's also won the plaudits from super-producer and global star Pharrell Williams, who said Maynard could change the face of pop music.
Williams flew the teenager out to the US so they could work together on a couple of songs.
"It was a real learning curve watching him write and produce in the studio," he says.
"And he's been so complimentary about me, which means the world coming from an artist I've loved and admired for so long."
The resulting album is as slick a pop record you'll hear all year. Debut single Can't Say No went to No 2 earlier this year, with follow-up Vegas Girl, released on July 22, likely to go one better and top the chart.
There are nods to Justin Timberlake all over the album, while comparisons to Justin Bieber abound, although that's more to do with the Brighton boy's rise, going from internet sensation to backing by big-name star, bearing many similarities to that of the Canadian wunderkind, than it is with their respective music.
"It's understandable," Maynard says of the comparison.
"I just have to strive to live up to it. To reach that would be incredible, he's pretty much the biggest artist in the world now. To get to that level would be insane, but as long as people are loving my music, whether it's a million or 200 million, that's great."
That Maynard says 'a million or 200 million' is telling of the world he's now part of. The stereotypical stock answer in indie circles when it comes to ambition is, 'We're making music for ourselves and if anyone else likes it, it's a bonus.' For Maynard, the minimum he'll accept is a million fans.
"You've got to have a level," he says, smiling, when picked up on the figure.
In fairness, considering the team behind him, his songs and, let's not forget, his fantastic voice, it's likely he'll achieve his aim. His existing fans, labelled - as is the way in modern pop circles - the Mayniacs, will see to that.
"They're pretty full-on," he says.
"I was in Liverpool at a radio station this one time and I wanted to go out to talk to all of the fans. Security said I couldn't go, so the fans broke into the car park, and when they were turned away again, followed me back to our hotel where they waited all night.
"In the morning, all they wanted was a photo or an autograph. Seems a lot to go through for a quick pic."
You'd at least think they'd want a lock of hair. "Don't give people ideas," he says.
There's a tour around the week of the album release, and Maynard's really looking forward to it.
"The proof is in the pudding when it comes to live shows," he says. "It's where you really show people what you can do. Plus I get to go back to play in Brighton and play in my hometown.
"I've made the album now, and yeah there are lots of fans waiting to hear it but I've still got so much hard work to do. My job now is to make sure as many people as possible hear it."
Extra time - Conor Maynard
:: Conor Paul Maynard was born in Brighton on November 21, 1992.
:: Last year it was announced he'd won MTV's Brand New For 2012 award, beating the likes of Michael Kiwanuka, Lana Del Rey and Lianne La Havas to the title.
:: In June this year, Maynard performed to 80,000 people at Capital FM's Summertime Ball.
:: He says he'd like to work with Drake and Labrinth on his next album.
July 26: Liverpool O2 Academy
July 27: Edinburgh Liquid Rooms
July 28: London G.A.Y.
July 30: Bournemouth Old Fire Station
July 31: Falmouth Princess Pavilions
August 1: Brighton Concorde 2
:: Conor Maynard releases his debut solo album, Contrast, on July 30.
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