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Sean Kingston keeping it clean, keeping it real

Sean Kingston discusses his path to success in the music industry, including how he overcame homelessness as a teenager and spammed his way to a recording contract. The 17-year-old tells TODAY's Matt Lauer that he won't use foul language in his songs because he wants to be a role model for his young fans.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

It’s safe to say America hasn’t seen anything quite like 17-year-old singing sensation Sean Kingston before. From his schoolboy clothes to his doo-wop backup singers to songs that have become wildly popular without the benefit of raunchy language and vile intent, he’s broken just about every formula of the industry.

“No foul language,” Kingston told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer before performing his hit single, “Beautiful Girls,” for a cheering audience Tuesday on the Plaza at Rockefeller Center.

“I’m going to stick with that, man, because I think I’m a role model to the youths and the kids out there. There’s a lot of kids out there that like what I do, so I don’t feel like me putting profanity in my lyrics is the right way to go,” he said.

Kingston set a new MySpace Album Listening Party record with more than a million plays in one day, and has been the top artist on MySpace for six straight weeks.

“Beautiful Girls” is the most-played song on radio, is the No. 1 video on iTunes, the No. 1 song on both AOL Music and Yahoo! Music, and for three weeks was the No. 1 Verizon ringtone, with more than a million sales. It was set to move to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 as of tomorrow, according to his record label Beluga Heights/EPIC.

And his debut CD, “Sean Kingston,” is being released today.

So, asked Lauer, “What are you gonna do when you’re 18?”

“I’m just planning on dropping good new albums and making great new albums for the fans, because I make feel-good music,” he said.

Overcoming challengesKingston writes all his own music, saying he draws his inspiration from a life that has seen its share of trouble.

“I’ve been homeless,” he told Lauer. “I’ve been through so much, I feel I’ve got a lot to express.”

At the age of 15, Kingston found himself homeless when both his mother and his sister were imprisoned on federal charges of tax evasion and identity theft. He slept on a bench in a bus stop for a week until he found refuge with an aunt in Boynton Beach, Fla.

Though he appears an unlikely candidate for the judicial system, Kingston himself spent 21 days in detention when he was 11 years old for breaking and entering.

Bubbling over with enthusiasm, the super-sized Kingston somehow manages to blend reggae, doo-wop, rap and bubblegum. He dressed in slacks, a short-sleeved white shirt open at the collar and untucked at the waist, and a designer-label gray pullover vest. With his fresh-scrubbed face and close-trimmed hair, he needed only to lose his bling-some watch and a thin platinum necklace encrusted with diamonds to be mistaken for a kid on his way to parochial school.

His backup group looks as if it were plucked from a doo-wop revival. The three singers were dressed in steel-gray blazers, dark slacks, white shirts and slim black neckties. His instrumentalists were similarly attired and played violins, an acoustic bass, grand piano and drums.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Kingston is the way he found stardom.

He did it all online, where he learned that J.R. Rotem, the Los Angeles-based producer whose clients included 50 Cent, Rihanna, Dr. Dre and Britney Spears, was looking for artists for a new label, Beluga Heights, he was starting in a joint venture with Epic Records.

Instead of repeatedly calling Rotem, Kingston e-mailed him, sending the same message five times a day until Rotem finally replied.

Spammed his way to fameKingston tells the story more colorfully on his MySpace video: “I sent him a message like 'Yo, please take your time out to check out my music, man. That's all I'm asking for. I'm not asking for much. I just really want you to listen to my music and tell me what you think. I mean, I've been through a lot. I mean, I just really want you to take your time out to listen to my music.' I copied and pasted that message and I sent it to him five times a day until one time he hit me back and was like, 'Yo, you've been sending us a lot of messages. We're really going to take our time out to check out your music or whatnot, and we're going to tell you what we think.’”

When Rotem said he liked what he heard, Kingston and his brother went to Los Angeles and set up an audition. Rotem signed him on the spot to be his flagship artist.

It was an impressive accomplishment, but Kingston is an impressive young man. Born Kisean Anderson in Miami, he spent his first six years in Jamaica before his family moved back to Florida. His grandfather is Jack Ruby, who produced Bob Marley, and reggae artist Buju Banton is a close family friend.

Music, he told Lauer, “is in my blood.”