‘Austin Mahone Will Be Bigger Than Bieber’


Austin Mahone Megapost. DETAILS interview. TOUR DATES UNDER!

The next floppy-haired, gonna-be-huger-than-huge teen idol has totally arrived. He doesn’t smoke weed or drink, ‘I hate the taste of alcohol. It’s disgusting’, and as for girls and relationships and sex, that will have to wait, too.’

Yeah, I’m a virgin,’ he says without a trace of embarrassment or calculation. ‘I think it’s important to wait until you find that special person and not have it be just any random girl. I’m here because of God, and He has a plan for me.’

Unlike his spirit animal, Justin Bieber, with whom he shares an origin story and a swoopy hairdo, Austin doesn’t radiate obvious star power or ambition. He’s a little mumbly, monotone; he doesn’t readily make eye contact. He is, in other words, a teenage boy, albeit one who just might be on the verge of global pop superstardom.

Before slipping on his T-shirt and hoodie, Austin steals a moment in front of a full-length mirror and poses, shirtless. It’s as much curiosity as vanity: He’s been working out with a trainer for the first time, readying himself for impending celebrity (not to mention dating), and he’s never had muscles before.

“He’s proud of himself,” Michele says. Late one night a few weeks back, Austin couldn’t sleep. As he often does, he picked up his phone and reached out to his fans, in this case posting a shirtless selfie to Instagram. Within an hour, the pic had 20,000 likes. Michele, who co-manages Austin, made him take it down, right now, young man. “As a mom, I can’t help but worry about what other moms would think when their daughters saw that picture,” she explains. “Austin’s fans are so young.” Austin, who attends Catholic church most every Sunday with Michele, didn’t argue with her. “I get it,” he says. “My fans are, like, from 2 to 21. I definitely want to please the parents.”

At Dillard’s, the only 21-year-olds in sight are sales clerks; the sea of girls lofting rhinestone-encased cell phones and homemade posters—MAHOMIE 4 LIFE!; ANGELA: FAN SINCE 2011!; GO TO PROM WITH ME!!!—are squarely middle-school and younger. As Austin primps upstairs, they sing along to the DJ’s repeated spins of Austin’s third single, “Say You’re Just a Friend,” a perky, Bieberesque, puppy-love twist on Biz Markie’s horndog classic. Despite the backing of the major label Republic Records, which signed Austin to a reported seven-figure deal in August, the song hasn’t made much of an impact on the radio—it’s too wholesome, like a stick of kale-flavored bubble gum. “It’s mushy,” Austin admits.

Try as it might, “Say You’re Just a Friend” is no “Baby.” Not that Austin necessarily wants it to be: He finds Bieber comparisons both gratifying and frustrating. “Justin’s inspirational,” he says, “and it’s flattering to be compared to him. It’s cool. But I don’t want people to see me as a copy of Justin Bieber. Sometimes I can’t breathe without being compared to him. If I wear a certain hat: Justin Bieber. Wear a certain shirt: Justin Bieber. It’s so annoying.” Fortunately for Austin, Bieber doesn’t seem to wear shirts in public anymore, just one indication—along with weed busts, canceled concerts, Holocaust trivialization, and hair unrest—of his headlong rush away from child stardom. Suddenly, there exists a vacuum in the hearts of tweens. Austin and his team mean to fill it.

Girls love Austin Mahone for a variety of reasons—”His voice his songs his eyes his hair his nose his smile . . . ” says one representative 13-year-old without breath—but the unspoken reason they love Austin is this: He is theirs. Like nearly all the devoted Mahomies here, Maddie, 14, discovered Austin on YouTube, where his bedroom covers of Top 40 hits—beginning in January 2011 with Jesse McCartney’s “Beautiful Soul,” then moving on to the likes of Bieber, Bruno Mars, Chris Brown, Drake, Ne-Yo, and Adele—drew hundreds, then thousands, then millions of views. “I would go on the iTunes chart and see the hottest songs, then I’d cover them,” Austin says. “People would go on YouTube and search for those songs. That’s how I got my views. I’d post two or three songs a week.”

Maddie followed Austin everywhere she could: on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Austin’s online army isn’t the largest—he has 2.5 million Twitter followers (and about the same number of Facebook fans), compared with, say, Bruno Mars’ 16 million—but it may be the most engaged and active audience in all of social media. Over a 10-day period at the end of March, for instance, Austin’s Instagram posts received a remarkable 70,000 comments. “As a marketer, I know how devoted and powerful the Mahomies are,” says Charlie Walk, the executive vice president of Republic Records, which handles marketing and promotion for Team Mahone. “You can laugh at the Mahomies, but they’re serious. They’re snipers.”

Maddie and her fellow Mahomie Alyssa, chaperoned by Maddie’s mom, have road-tripped from Dallas to whoop for Austin tomorrow at Houston’s Reliant Stadium and to have their pictures taken with him this afternoon. “I have a very unhealthy obsession with Austin,” Maddie says with a nod and a smile, comparing cell-phone snaps with Alyssa. Maddie’s mom winces a little thinking about the hugging surcharge, but she smiles, too.

The previous day, I meet Austin and Michele at the modest condominium they’re renting in Hollywood, Florida. Austin is recording his debut album in nearby Miami, where his management firm is based, and so the Mahones have decided to relocate here from San Antonio. Crates of unopened fan mail are stacked in front of the living-room sectional, the only visible sign of Austin’s teen-idol standing. “He’s getting so much I had to hire a girl to open it all,” Michele says. She calls to Austin, who’s tucked away in his bedroom playing NBA 2K12 with his videographer, like I’m his coach picking him up for Little League. “Awww-stin . . . The wriii-ter is here.”

Austin, in a Red Wings snapback and Nike sweats, leads me back to his room, notable only for a walk-in closet filled floor to ceiling with sneakers. “I like to have a pair to match every outfit,” he says nonchalantly before slumping into a chair. This is the first time Austin has lived outside Texas. He was born in San Antonio and has lived in or around there all his life. Austin’s father, described by Michele as a “real cowboy” who rode bareback at a near-pro-rodeo level, committed suicide when Austin was 2. Michele would remarry, divorce, and then, when Austin was in sixth grade, remarry again and move to La Vernia, a small town 30 miles east of San Antonio. “There’s no bowling alley in La Vernia,” Austin recalls. “There’s no movie theater. There was nothing in that town for me to do.”

Out of sheer boredom, in the summer of 2010, Austin and his school friend Alex Constancio began making videos and posting them to YouTube. Inspired by a young YouTube demi-celebrity named Ryan Higa, whose doofy comedy clips have now attracted 8 million subscribers, Austin and Alex would film themselves horsing around: shooting hoops, dancing like fools, whatever. “The first video was us fighting in his bedroom,” Austin says. “We were just punching each other.”

In January 2011, Austin, who’d had no training or experience as a singer, set up his own YouTube channel and started posting his music videos. “People came up to me in the school hallways,” he says, “people I didn’t know, telling me, ‘Wow, you’re so good, please post another video.'” He went from 800 subscribers to 20,000 in a matter of weeks. As word of a “baby Bieber” spread, Michele fielded requests for Austin to appear at local birthday parties and teen clubs. The day after performing at one fan’s Sweet 16 party in Chicago, Austin tweeted that he and his mom would be hanging out at a nearby coffee shop in an hour, so why not come say hi? He says he expected no more than a handful of girls to show. “I walked around the corner to the Bean,” he says, “and one girl jumped out of the bushes and screamed, ‘Ahhhhh!’ Once that scream let out, all these girls started sprinting as fast as they could, over bushes, around poles. The cops said there were over a thousand girls there. They had to sneak me into a police car and take me back to my hotel.”

After that, what had been a lark turned into a career. Michele left her job as a loan officer in the fall of 2012 to tend to her son’s burgeoning enterprise full-time. She pulled Austin out of public school in favor of homeschooling, then went shopping for a professional management company, eventually settling on Chase Entertainment, which represents the Auto-Tune savant T-Pain. Austin now splits his days between homeschool study, vocal coaching, choreography lessons, rehearsals for his first tour (a 13-date sprint opening for Taylor Swift), and recording his debut album, set for a fall release. The original plan was to drop it in April, but Austin’s manager Rocco Valdes says they were having trouble figuring out what the debut should sound like. “We were getting tracks in from so many great writers and producers”—established hit-makers like Max Martin, RedOne, Steve Mac, and Savan Kotecha (One Direction) among them—”and it was all over the place,” he says. “I think Austin’s lane is pop. I want this album to sound like the pop I grew up on—’N Sync, Backstreet Boys, Britney—only updated.” To provide some cohesion, Valdes has persuaded RedOne, who produced the Lady Gaga breakthroughs “Just Dance” and “Poker Face,” to executive-produce. “It’s been a little challenging,” Austin says, “but I know my fans are gonna love it.”

Austin’s wall-to-wall itinerary leaves little time for more pedestrian teenage pursuits, which seems to suit him fine. He misses seeing his friends in school but says, “What I’m doing now is way cooler. I could care less about prom.” He doesn’t smoke weed or drink—”I hate the taste of alcohol. It’s disgusting”—and as for girls and relationships and sex, that will have to wait, too. Moms, pinch yourselves. “Yeah, I’m a virgin,” he says without a trace of embarrassment or calculation. “I think it’s important to wait until you find that special person and not have it be just any random girl. I’m here because of God, and He has a plan for me.” Is there anyone out there currently who may fit into this plan? “Nah,” he demurs, fidgeting with his ball cap and staring down at the carpet. “I’m too busy right now.” Earlier, however, he did make a confession of sorts: “I think Kendall Jenner is really cute, though.”
Forty-eight hours later, in the bowels of Houston’s Reliant Stadium, Team Austin huddles in a pre-show prayer circle minutes before taking the stage for the biggest concert of their lives. Locked arm-in-arm are Austin’s four male dancers, a DJ, a vocal coach and choreographer, a videographer, a couple of childhood friends, assorted management reps, Michele’s dad, Michele, and Austin. Rocco Valdes leads the benediction: “This is our first stadium show, one of many to come. Let’s go out there and kill it—murder it!” Austin tells everyone to go out there and have a great show. They bow their heads, pray, and end with a chant: “1-2-3 . . . Mahomies for life!!!”

The day began less glamorously. In the morning, Austin met contest winners at a bowling alley as part of a local radio promotion. Later, in a large conference room at the stadium, he performed a short acoustic set for VIP fans, fielded a few questions (Q. “Do you like tall girls?” A. “I like all girls”), and gamely crooned “Happy Birthday” to one lucky, sobbing preteen. After sound check, as Austin thumbs away at a video game, I ask Valdes if the singer is anxious about tonight’s performance; this is maybe his 15th show ever, and it’s in a megadome. He shakes his head. “The kid doesn’t really get nervous,” he says.

It turns out that Austin’s stage show isn’t yet on a par with his social-media skills. The stadium swallows his vocals, and the dated choreography could be lifted from a Vanilla Ice video. But mostly, it’s hard to get a sense of who Austin is, or what, if anything, he wants to say or project. You could argue that these are totally reasonable shortcomings in an artist only a year removed from playing birthday parties, but they’re ones that his new class of showbiz peers, such as Bieber and Demi Lovato, have never suffered from. “I’m 16,” Austin points out, shrugging his shoulders. “I’m still a kid.”

The Mahomies truly perk up only when Austin reaches for an acoustic guitar, grabs a stool, and returns to his bedroom roots. Before launching into impressively raw-nerved versions of two of his biggest YouTube hits, Jesse McCartney’s “Beautiful Soul” and Mario’s “Let Me Love You,” Austin offers an understated intro. “You guys may know these,” he says modestly. With the very first familiar chord, the young girls in the stadium stand and hug themselves, screaming in full-throated ecstasy whenever their hero’s face appears in close-up on the stadium’s giant video screens. As the set ends, Austin sits still on the stage, taking a moment to acknowledge the adoration. He gazes out over the thousands of tweens and teens and tells them precisely what they came to hear: “I couldn’t do this without you.”

Austin Mahone is ready for his close-up! And thanks to Big Time Rush, he’s getting it. The VMA-nominated singer is slated to make a cameo on the season finale of BTR’s Nick sitcom airing Thursday (July 25). While he admitted his role wasn’t challenging, he did get some on-the-job training from the foursome. “I had such a great experience filming with Big Time Rush. I play myself so it wasn’t too difficult but it was my first time doing any sort of acting, so it was a little scary!” he told MTV News in a statement about the appearance.

Having gained popularity from YouTube, it’s not the least bit surprising that some “Beliebers” think Austin Mahone is a copycat of Justin Bieber. Yet, this hasn’t fazed Mahone the least bit. In fact, Austin counts the comparisons as a big sign that he’s about to be the biggest star.

“You know, it’s cool,” says Mahone, adding, “I want people to give me a chance to show that I’m different. I’m not trying to copy him or take anything from him. I’m a person. My music is different and I’m just trying to do my own thing.” Another thing Austin shares with Bieber, apart from coming from YouTube, is his share of overly attached and obsessive fans. Like “Beliebers”, “Mahomies” can get too clingy and scary.

On his album: “We don’t have a name for it yet,” admits Austin, adding, “It’s coming out sometime in the fall – I can’t tell you exactly when, but really, really soon. Basically, my album is going to have a lot of songs on there like ‘What About Love’ – like that kind of dance-feel – and also some really good slow ballads. I’m really excited to put it out and I think my fans are really going to enjoy it.”

Then, in October, he will kick off his headlining tour, sponsored by MTV’s Artist to Watch. It begins on October 17 in Miami. The 10-city trek will include his opening acts Becky G, Midnight Red and W3 the Future. It wraps up on October 30 in Royal Oak, MI. Austin Mahone’s tour dates are as follows. Check out AustinMahone.MTV.com for ticketing info.

»10/17 – Miami, FL @ The Fillmore Miami Beach

»10/18 – Orlando, FL @ Hard Rock Live

»10/19 – Tampa, FL @ Jannus Live

»10/20 – Atlanta, GA @ The Tabernacle

»10/23 – Silver Spring, MD @ The Fillmore Silver Spring

»10/24 – New York, NY @ Hammerstein Ballroom

»10/25 – Philadelphia, PA @ Electric Factory

»10/26 – Boston, MA @ Orpheum Theatre

»10/29 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE

»10/30 – Royal Oak, MI @ Royal Oak Music Theatre