Being different is a key trait if you want to make yourself stand out in the musical arena.
It is not a prized attribute, however, during those awkward adolescent years.
Mika, the latest singing sensation from across the pond, found out both lessons at an early age. Beirut-born and Paris-raised until he was 9, he found himself an outcast after his family moved to London. His interest in piano and singing, along with his dyslexia, further distanced himself from classmates, and he became the prey of bullies.
Away from school, he began to perform, and that became his respite. There, he found his flamboyance was celebrated, not taunted; he got respect for singing; and better yet, got paid for it.
So no wonder the first single in the U.S., the piano-heavy, falsetto-crooned "Grace Kelly," celebrates his refusal to conform. Like the musicians he idolized as a child — Prince and David Bowie among them — the 23-year-old does best when he stands apart from the pack.
The Associated Press: You gotten a lot of buzz in advance of your U.S. debut CD, "Life in Cartoon Motion." How has that affected you?
Mika: I think I'm lucky. Hype can be good and hype can be bad. The good thing that's happening to me is that the hype is about the project, it's about the music ... I'm not the son of anyone famous, I haven't really slept with anyone particularly well known ... it's really just about music, and that's something I think is very healthy.
AP: You got your start in a somewhat unusual way.
Mika: From a very early age I used to gatecrash parties and just get to the stage and perform, or I would just kind of walk around and push my face into everyone's face. But then when I started to try and get a serious deal, up until about a year and a half ago, I was just going around and playing the piano just about everywhere ... I climbed up the music executive ladder kind of quickly, because I was willing to perform for anyone and everywhere, so that's kind of how I got my deal.
Mika: People were saying to me, if you just become a little bit more commercial, or you become a little bit more like what's selling at the moment, whatever that was at the time, whether it was Robbie Williams or David Gray, then you can make it. But to me, it was never an option. I think I figured out that I would rather be a total failure but be myself and at least give it a shot than be moderately successful, pretend to be someone else, only have it last a certain amount of time and be happy as a result.
AP: Were you surprised that you turned out to be so successful?
Mika: I'm surprised at the speed in which I've been embraced ... I think anyone deluded enough to go into the music industry as an artist has to have some kind of self-belief. But at the same time I was surprised that I got to No. 1, I never expected to get to No. 1 in the U.K. ... I never knew it would be a commercially bankable career.
AP: There are songs on the CD that are sexually ambiguous. That's gotten a lot of people asking about your sexuality. Were you hesitant to put records like that out for that reason?
Mika: I have no taboos about what I can use to tell a story or what stories I can actually tell, so I kind of gave myself that freedom. I certainly didn't think about it. It never even crossed my mind. I didn't think about the repercussions nor did I think about getting attention. Sexualizing music as part of getting sexy with music is amazing, but politically sexualizing music and making the artist's sexuality the defining point of someone's music is so boring. So as far as enabling myself to tell and use any kind of tool that I want to tell a story or use in my lyrics, I'm totally into that. As far as laying myself out on the table to almost a tabloid level and kind of sharing my entire personal life, I'm really not into that.