Justin Bieber's popularity has record companies searching for similar singers
Sixteen-year-old Justin Bieber has one thing in common with musical icons Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Nirvana and Britney Spears: They all, at one time or another, inspired record company executives en masse to aggressively sign up artists who sound, and sometimes even look, like them.
Dylan's brilliance sparked the signings of folkies from Donovan to Steve Forbert; Springsteen led to Joe Grushecky and John Cafferty; Nirvana minted Radish, Candlebox and countless others; Spears begat Willa Ford. But in the case of Bieber, the pace at which the search is happening appears as frenzied as the girls who bum-rush the pop star for autographs.
Perhaps the most extreme example is Greyson Chance, who in less than a month has secured two A-list managers and motivated a major TV personality to launch a record label. On April 28, Chance posted on YouTube a video of himself covering Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" for his sixth-grade classmates in Oklahoma. Ellen DeGeneres booked the 12-year-old -- who sports a swooping, Bieber-esque haircut -- for a May 13 appearance on her syndicated daytime show, then brought him back last week to announce that she'd launched her own record label, eleveneleven, and signed Chance as her first artist.
Though Chance was rumored to have signed with Interscope the week of his first "Ellen" visit, a representative for DeGeneres says "a partnership with a major label is still in the works." Chance is co-managed by Guy Oseary (who also manages Madonna) and Troy Carter (Lady Gaga). A source familiar with the deal says no material has been recorded, but Chance's team is searching for music in the vein of Coldplay's "Viva la Vida."
Comparisons between Bieber and Chance are inevitable given their age and online origins. But a more fitting comparison can be made with Cody Simpson, a 13-year-old from Australia signed to Atlantic. Simpson also started playing guitar and singing at a young age and was discovered last summer on YouTube by producer Shawn Campbell (who also has produced music for Missy Elliott and Ciara).
"My parents thought it was some weirdo trying to get to me," Simpson says, "but he seemed legit, and I've been wanting to make music since I was 7, so I told my parents to let me try this."
"I've never worked with anyone this young before, but Cody is so focused," says Campbell, who helped Simpson get signed to Atlantic through Executive Vice President of A&R Mike Caren.
Caren says there's room for more than one teen male artist in the marketplace. "Justin Bieber opened the door for teen music on rhythm and pop radio," he says. "The really talented ones can break through."
Simpson's debut single, "iYiYi," featuring labelmate Flo Rida, will be released Tuesday, and a full album is in progress. Caren says it will be "more up-tempo, energetic pop" than Bieber's R&B-driven material. "It's reminiscent of the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync sound."
Meanwhile, even Simon Cowell appears to be on the hunt for the next Bieber. During an interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" before his departure from "American Idol," Cowell said that "The X Factor" will come to the United States next fall with a lower age limit:14.