'CHRISTMAS IN WASHINGTON'

Teen singer Justin Bieber uses YouTube to make it big on the pop music scene

BUBBLE GUM POPULISM: Justin Bieber sings with some famous faces.
BUBBLE GUM POPULISM: Justin Bieber sings with some famous faces. (Alex Brandon/associated Press)

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By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 20, 2009

Justin Bieber is belting out Stevie Wonder's anti-war carol "Someday at Christmas" at the National Building Museum with a nonchalance that offers no hint of the esteemed audience for which he's preparing to sing.

It's the first rehearsal for the taping of "Christmas in Washington," the annual concert special that airs Sunday on TNT. Just as Bieber is about to launch into the song's big finish, he digs into the pockets of his jeans, pulls out his cellphone and starts clicking away.

Is he really checking his texts right now? Nerves of steel, this kid. In a few hours, he'll be singing for President Obama and the first lady. Click-click-click.

At 15, Bieber seems poised to reach the same pop stratospheres where Timberlakes fly. Last week, his delightful debut disc "My World" rose to No. 8 on Billboard's albums chart and the newcomer recently upstaged Taylor Swift and a couple of "American Idols" at New York radio station Z-100's annual "Jingle Ball" at Madison Square Garden. After a solid year of tween acclaim on YouTube, the singer's success is just now transitioning into real-life album and ticket sales.

And small-scale riots. Pandemonium broke out at a Long Island mall last month as a crowd of 3,000 grew antsy waiting for their heartthrob. In August, false rumors of Bieber's death sparked a full-scale Twitter-panic. Now, with a legion of fans and a second album due in March, a shaggy-coifed kid from Stratford, Ontario, appears ready to make an unprecedented leap from YouTube to ubiquity.

At the rehearsal, he hobbles across the stage, wearing a clunky plastic boot on his right foot that dwarfs the high-top sneaker on his left. Bieber broke his ankle onstage in London last month, but he hasn't let it slow him down. His "Christmas in Washington" performance will be the singer's fifth gig in 72 hours -- two Friday shows in New York, a Saturday television taping in Las Vegas, a Saturday night concert in Chicago and Sunday on F Street NW, performing alongside Mary J. Blige, Neil Diamond, Sugarland, Rob Thomas and his "big brother," Usher.

After the sound check, Bieber retreats to his dressing room for some increasingly rare alone time, but eventually emerges, fidgeting again with his cellphone. Turns out he wasn't texting during rehearsal. "I was reading the lyrics," he says -- something he won't be able to do during the program's singalong finale of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

"You know that one, right?" asks manager Scott "Scooter" Braun.

Bieber shakes his honey-brown shag.

"Just put the mike up to your mouth real close," Braun suggests. "Nobody will be able to see."

Bieber suggests another idea. "I know 'Deck the Halls,' " he says, then sings, "Deck the halls with poison ivy, fa-la-la-la-la. . . ."

'Just for fun'

Bieber could easily pass for 12 -- the age when he first started posting home videos of himself singing on YouTube. Before that, he would croon around the house while learning to play the guitar and drum kit his family had stashed in the basement. His favorite songs are still up-tempo anthems by Michael Jackson and down-tempo slow jams by Boyz II Men.


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