Jason Derulo, on the brink of fame (AP)

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(Miami Herald – Lydia Martin) – When Jason Derulo was 7, he panicked backstage at the James L. Knight Center. He had been hamming it up in relatives’ living rooms from the time he was 5, but now he was about to sing on a real stage for the first time. The show marked the end of performing arts summer camp. Derulo considered it his first serious gig.

“I remember being backstage and saying `I’m not going out there. There are people out there!’ This guy had to pick me up and literally place me on the stage. Then the music came on, and I started singing Ben by Michael Jackson, and I was fine,” he says.

On New Year’s Eve, the Haitian-American Derulo, who grew up in Miramar, will take the stage at the James L. Knight for a second time. He’ll open for Lady Gaga. And he’ll sing his own hit, the synth-heavy Watcha Say, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart this fall. His second single, In My Head, recently debuted among the top 20 singles on iTunes.

“Maybe I’ll be a little nervous again when I open for Lady Gaga. But I think I won’t have a problem getting on the stage this time,” says Derulo, 20, who attended Broward County performing arts schools since he was in the third grade. He graduated from Dillard High’s performing arts program and attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York.

“When I was in New York, I came back literally every month. I was one of those kids who couldn’t be far from home. I’m still like that,” he says while kicking back in the living room of the house where he grew up.

His publicist had suggested he do interviews at the glitzy Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. But he just wanted to hang out at the house.

“I just got here from Los Angeles, where I had been working in the studio for the last five months. That’s the longest I have ever been away from home.”

Dad Joel, who works for Social Security, brings sodas and cheese and crackers while mom Jocelyne, an immigration officer, takes care of a grandbaby in the background. When she’s out of earshot, Derulo whispers that he plans to buy her a Mercedes-Benz for Christmas.

“When I was 5, I saw Michael Jackson performing live on TV, and I told my mom that I wanted to be just like him. I never really doubted myself even when people told me I was being crazy and that I needed a backup plan. My mom always supported me. She always said, `If this is what you want to do, you do it.’ ”

At 8, Derulo wrote his first song. The house fills with his powerful vocals as he offers the first few lines: “24-7 days of the week, my mind is on you, and it’s getting to me. I’ve got a crush on you, I’ve got a crush on you. . . .”

“It was really exciting to find a way to express what I was feeling. I had this big crush on a girl in school. Her name was Amy Hulme. She was the `It’ girl. She was smart. She was beautiful. I just made fun of her all the time. But I don’t know what happened to her,” says the softspoken Derulo.

He began his professional songwriting career when he was 16, co-writing Bossy for hip-hop artist Birdman. Other songwriting credits include Pitbull’s My Life and Iyaz’s Replay, which earlier this year hit No. 1 on the Top 40 chart.

Derulo, who won the grand prize on the 2006 season finale of the TV show Showtime at the Apollo, has been locked in a recording studio with producer J.R. Rotem (Rihanna, Sean Kingston) putting together a debut album, which is scheduled for release in early February.

“I actually wrote 300 songs for the album, and we started whittling down from there,” Derulo says. “When Watcha Say hit No. 1, it was surreal. I don’t even remember that day. I haven’t really gotten a chance to let it all sink in. I’m just going a million miles a minute. But I’m not complaining. I’m more motivated than ever. This is what I’ve always wanted. Success is a feeling that you don’t ever want to go away.”

Just the night before, he and his family went to dinner at a nearby Friday’s.

“All these fans kept coming up to the table. My mom burst into tears. I’ve been working for this my whole life. To see it come together is amazing. I mean, this is just the beginning. But it’s finally happening,” says Derulo, whose name was Desrouleaux until record industry folks suggested a change.

His father is his biggest fan, he says. But he especially wants to succeed for his mom’s sake.

“I was lucky. I grew up in a two-parent home. Both of my parents did pretty well for themselves. But my mom was a manager for Bank of America, and then she decided to go to law school. It was just a dream of hers. She definitely taught me the meaning of hard work. I remember her working and going to school at the same time.”

But when she was almost finished with her courses, Derulo and his older brother and sister pitched fits.

“We were spoiled brats. The three of us told her, `Mom, we never get to see you!’ And she started crying and stopped going to law school to spend more time with us.”

She’ll be in the front row at the James L. Knight show Thursday.

“Everyone will be there, the whole family,” Derulo says. “I’m starting with Lady Gaga in Miami and will tour with her for a month and some. I wish I had a cool story about how I wound up opening for her. We share the same agent. I guess that had something to do with it. And there’s talk about me going through the U.K. with Rihanna. It’s just all crazy.”

Original Source: Miami Herald

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