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Teddy Geiger is on the edge of stardom at 17

Self-taught musician used TV appearances to get recording deal
/ Source: The Associated Press

He landed a summer tour, a TV show and the cover of Billboard magazine, all before his debut album hit stores.

Can Teddy Geiger live up to the buildup?

"I don't necessarily feel any pressure," the 17-year-old high school senior from upstate New York says during a recent interview. "I feel like it would kind of hurt, to feel that much pressure rather than just kind of let it go and do what I'm doing."

Since signing a record deal with Columbia Records last year, Geiger has been aggressively tossed into the limelight, marketed as a singer-songwriter — all soul, no sneer.

A self-taught musician, Geiger sings and plays guitar, piano, bass and drums on "Underage Thinking," a mature collection of earnest pop-rock songs. It hit No. 8 in its first week on the Billboard Top 200 album chart in late March, and sales have remained solid.

He's the oldest son of nonmusical parents — John, an electrical engineer, and Lorilyn, a former high school teacher — and began learning piano at age 6 and guitar at 8. He says he wrote "ridiculous songs, trying to get kids to laugh" before dealing with teen angst and heartbreak by high school.

He was playing gigs to a devoted fanbase, known as Tedheads, and got his big break in 2004 as a finalist on VH1's "In Search of the Partridge Family," a talent competition aimed at plucking no-names to star in an update of the '70s series about a family band.

In the end, he got the boot. But he caught the eye of music producer Billy Mann, who's worked with Sting, Pink and Jessica Simpson. Geiger sent Mann more than 80 demos he had recorded in his parents' basement.

"He sees the musical matrix like no artist I've ever met before," Mann says. "He's just a floppy, natural, gifted kid ... He has such an insatiable appetite for the music, for the process."

Geiger, armed with Mann and a recording contract, was soon on a fast track to teen idoldom with his dark shaggy hair and sad blue eyes. Last summer, he performed for thousands of wide-eyed tween girls as the opening act for Hilary Duff's Most Wanted tour. Then came a featured role as whiz-kid rocker Wayne on the short-lived CBS dramedy "Love Monkey," which starred Tom Cavanaugh. (VH1 recently picked up the series, and will start airing the unseen episodes starting Tuesday.)

Geiger also was selected by America Online as an emerging artist to spotlight on "Sessions at AOL," an in-studio performance series.

"He was very quiet, and at the same point, he had a really strong presence — and we noticed that right away," says AOL executive Jack Isquith. "And when he played, we were really shocked at how mature he sounded. He's a great-looking artist and he's very charismatic and you can feel his presence in the room, but when he sings his songs, it's almost like a 30-year-old instead of a 17-year-old."

His limber, raspy voice and sensitive lyrics invite comparisons to John Mayer. This both delights and frustrates Geiger, who admires Mayer but insists "there are differences."

"Maybe at some point, some new (musicians) will come out and somebody will be like, `Oh, they sound like Teddy Geiger,'" he says.

Taking a cue from Mayer's 2002 music video for "Your Body Is a Wonderland," Geiger serenades a lovely lady — MTV's "Laguna Beach" vixen Kristin Cavallari — in the video for his first single, "For You I Will (Confidence)." In it, he and Cavallari share an underwater kiss in a pool.

Geiger has already become a household name for many females too young to drive.

"I think a lot of Teddy's appeal to teen girls is that he's absolutely gorgeous," gushes Teen People entertainment director Zena Burns, who picked Geiger as "The Next John Mayer" for a recent issue. "He's not that scary jock that you have a crush on that you can't approach. He's open about the fact that he was a nerd in high school."

Geiger says he was a wallflower — with "thick glasses" and "the worst haircut" — often rejected by the opposite sex.

"I used to be extremely shy," he says. "I used to not be able to borrow pens in classes, especially from girls. Like, I had trouble saying people's names ... And then, because you're shy, you become the weird kid who doesn't talk to anyone."

These days, Geiger can be a bit of a chatterbox. He says he's "not quite there yet" like heroes Ben Folds and Dave Matthews. And he writes tender love songs but reveals he's "not sure" if he's suffered a broken heart.

Now living in New York City, he plans to graduate from his high school this year. But he's skipping the senior prom.

"I went to my junior prom. It wasn't that fun ... And I don't dance," he says sheepishly.