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Ne-Yo gets used to the spotlight

Former behind-the-scenes songwriter now is firmly in taking center stage

After suffering a major disappointment when he first tried to make an album, singer-songwriter Ne-Yo decided to drop the “singer” off his resume and just focus on being a songwriter.

And he was so successful — writing the smash “Let Me Love You” for Mario last year — that for a while he was prepared to live out his artistic dreams out of the spotlight.

But executives at Def Jam Records had other ideas once they got to listen to some of Ne-Yo’s music. He was signed to a record deal and the result, his album “In My Own Words,” arrived last month. It debuted at the top of the charts, thanks in part to the sizzling success of the album’s No. 1 single, “So Sick.”

The 23-year-old recently sat down with The Associated Press and discussed what it’s been like to focus once again on the singer part of his resume.

AP: Did you always want to be a performer?

Ne-Yo: I always wanted to be on stage and all of that stuff. For a minute I went through the stage where I didn’t want to do the artist thing because I had a deal previous to this one with Columbia Records that went sour. It just made me step away from the music business as a whole. I met up with my current manager and my current production company, which is Compound Entertainment. They really reminded me that music is not what I do, it is what I am. I got back into it. I was still kind of shy about the whole artist thing.

AP: Was it hard seeing other artists [such as Mario] become well-known by singing the songs you wrote?

Ne-Yo: Not at all. A success for him is a success for me. I wrote the song. It was good. I actually got the chance to meet Mario and have a conversation with the dude. When the song did what it did we became friends. I was happy for him.

AP: Do you consult with the artists before writing songs?

Ne-Yo: It sometimes depends. It happens both ways. With Mario I met him after I wrote the song so I didn’t really get a chance to get in his brain at all. If at all possible it helps to sit down with the artist and ask them how they would handle situations so I can use words they would actually say, phrases they would actually use. A lot of times when people come to me for a song, I take it they’ve heard what I do and they’ve heard my sound. They want my sound so they say, “Do you. Just give us something hot.”

AP: Talk about the inspiration behind your single, “So Sick.”

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AP: How much have you suffered in your 23 years?

Ne-Yo: I like to put it this way: I’ve lived a life you can write a book on, but I don’t write books, I write songs. Instead of making a book, I made an album.

AP: Have you adjusted to your newfound fame?

Ne-Yo: It took some getting used to, to adjust. As a writer you can be a normal guy. You can go home when you feel like it. You can do all of that stuff that regular people do. You are behind the scenes. You are not the celebrity. At least you are not trying to be. As an artist you don’t really get that privilege. I can’t just get up and go to the movies by myself. Or one thing I didn’t even realize is that now that I’ve got a little bit of status people are looking to do me harm. They see me on the radio and in the video. The automatic assumption is that you are rich. It’s like OK, let me wait until this guy goes to the bathroom in this club to see if I can’t take him for what he’s got. Stuff like that. The lack of personal privacy and freedom took some getting used to. I am slowly but surely coming to love what it is.

AP: Do you want to go back to being a full-time writer?

Ne-Yo: Not at all. Not at all. If you would have asked me that question three months ago, I would have said maybe. Honestly, the vibe, the high that you get from being on stage and as soon as the song comes on you go crazy, and you put the mic to the crowd and they sing the song back to you. There is no words for what that feels like. I couldn’t give that up if I tried.

AP: What is the best part of fame?

Ne-Yo: I can’t put my finger on one best part. Everything that is happening right now is so incredible. I got to go on tour with John Legend. That was an amazing experience for me. Everything that’s going on, with the song doing as well as it is. It’s cool for me to be somewhere and someone to recognize me and say, “You are that guy that sings that song. Sign this.” I love that. I am having a ball with this whole thing.