Sam I Am

Young Singer Catches Ears Of Pros

He just turned 13 and his single I Like It went gold, selling more than half a million copies. He may be young but Sammie Bush has his future all figured out, and he has a lot of people behind him with an interest in making those dreams come true. Correspondent Troy Roberts reports on the young recording artist's experiences over the past year.
"I just want to be big...whatever I do, and be the best," says young Sammie.

"Making him a star is our job," proclaims talent manager Joyce Irby.

Many were counting on the success of Sammie's first CD to make it all happen.

"This is something I've wanted since I was 8," Sammie notes.

Sammie began singing at home in South Florida with his mother Angila Baxter, a single parent, and his younger brother and sister. And in church, at school, and between ball games, Sammie kept on singing. "I was singing at recitals, proms, dances and everything else," he says.

Then when he was in fifth grade, his music teacher sent an audition tape to Harlem's Apollo Theater, and Sammie got his first big break: exposure on national TV.

Talent manager Irby was drifting off to sleep with the TV on when she heard Sammie sing. "I just sat up," says Irby. "I was speechless," she adds. "You can't teach what he was doing."

"All I could think about was, I got to get to him before a horde of people do," she adds.

Irby took Sammie under her wing and put him in touch with Grammy award-winning producer Dallas Austin.

"Just because a kid can sing it doesn't mean that you know they have the ability to be a star," says Austin, who has scored platinum record hits for Boyz II Men and TLC. "There's a lot of great singers, and if they don't have the confidence and the personality to go along with, then it's not the full package, but with him you could tell he's got the full package," Austin says.

Austin signed Sammie to a six-year recording contract with the backing of Capitol Records. As part of the deal, Austin moved Sammie's family to his studios in Atlanta last summer.

"I was well aware of the sacrifices; I knew it wasn't going to be easy," says Sammie's mother Baxter. She left her job in community economic development to devote herself full time to her son's career. "Who wouldn't get excited at the idea of your son making millions?" she asks.

But Sammie and his family were not going to see millions anytime soon. At first they lived off advances. If Sammie's music were to take off, the first dollars would go to repay his team of producers. (And it would take more than one successful album to pay that back.) It's time for Sammie to pay his dues.

Sammie Surfing
Find out more about Sammie at this site.
Sammie had to undergo a crash course in the mechanics of show business called Marvelous Enterprises. It's known as boot camp.

"This is a place (where) we can get him into shape," says talent manager Irby.

"When I enter Marvelous, I know it's going to be hard work," Sammie says.

For nearly 10 hours a day, five days a week, Sammie undergoes voice training, live performance training, choreography and even managing the media.

"You've got to learn to project," says a media trainer. "Your listeners want you to smile. They want excitement. They want energy."

He's under a lot of pressure. But is it too much for a 12-year-old?

"It's too much for most 12-year-olds," said talent manager Irby at one point. "But Sam is not your average 12-year-old."

But no one is as hard on Sammie as Sammie himself, especially when he was in the studio recording songs for his first CD. "I'm not pushing myself like I should. I can bring out more," Sammie says.

"It can go til 12, 1 o'clock in the morning. There are long hours," said Baxter.

"He's driven...,dedicated,...and he puts his soul into it," adds talent manager Irby.

"You have to love what you're doing. I love singing," Sammie explains.

Austin is so confident in Sammie's potential, he's taking a million dollar gamble. His label was prepared to invest at least $1 million launching Sammie.

"I don't care how much money is involved. Bottom line, that's my baby," says Baxter, who also worries about something one can't put a price on: Sammie's childhood.

"Sammy is 12, and first and foremost I want him to just be a child," she said of her son.

Still, the hard reality of the music business isn't lost on anyone.

"You are here right now, because they see millions," says his mother.

And for his part, Sammie says, "I know I'm on the market but I feel like I have to be sold." He adds: "By that I mean, I have to do this, and I have to do that. So I don't want to feel as if I'm an object or that I'm a product waiting on sale.'"

Then, after three labor-intensive months, 12-year-old Sammie Bush's first single hit the streets of Atlanta.

"Just got my fingers crossed, and I'm praying that I Like It and everything blows up," says Sammie.

Soon, it appears that the song has the makings of a hit. "The ladies (were) feeling it. And a long as you got the ladies behind it, the fellas automatically are going to jump on it," says one club DJ.

But if the single was to be a success across the country, Sammie's team had to create the image behind the voice. Production began on Sammie's first music video. "I'll let it all out during the video shoot..., give out energy and be excited," Sammie says.

"The image that we want to put in people's minds - we start right here," says manager Irby. "Sort of innocence - natural innocence."

"He's just adorable. I'm, like, 'Oh my God, my baby's leaving me. He's becoming a little man,'" Baxter says.

On the set, Sammie's mother stayed by his side every step of the way. "I just want to make sure they keep it on a child's level," Baxter says. "He's a baby to me still."

Keeping things at a child's level was more difficult than she had expected. For example she didn't want him to kiss a girl in the video: "It wasn't going to happen," Baxter says. "There will be plenty of time for him to kiss."

It turns out, the air of innocence worked just fine for Sammie.

Four months after its release, the single I Like It catches on and reaches No. 1 in sales on Billboard magazine's R&B chart. To build on the momentum, Sammie went on tour. "When I would leave the state of Florida and go to L.A. or Washington and see how the girls react to the song," Sammie says, "I was, like, 'whoa!''"

Has he gotten a big head? "He gets there from time to time. But as soon as I see it I grab hold of him and say, 'Hey calm back down,'" says Baxter.

Sammie has met some of his financial obligations to the record company, and now he's beginning to see some reward.

Does he understand that he is a breadwinner? "We have sat down and discussed some things regarding financing and what you have to do in order to survive in this world," Baxter says.

But does he feel pressure? "I try to avoid it if possible. Because I believe if I actually realized there was so much pressure on me, I'd crack," he says.

But avoiding the pressure becomes difficult as the weeks wear on, with the performing and the autographing. "Everything is pushy, pushy. I have to do this and that. Really no time for play," says Sammie.

Sammie discovers the pursuit of fame has its price. "I love to sell records; I love making people happy," Sammie says.

But is he happy? "I'm happy at times," he says.

Baxter has had conversations with him about ending this whole thing and giving up his musical career. She would support him no matter what his choice, she says. "I will not allow his childhood to be taken. I won't do it," she says.

Not many 13-year-olds have a gold record on their walls, and very few make it on to the Tonight Show.

Although Sammie knows one gold single doesn't make a career, you couldn'ask for a better start.

"It's just a blessing from God, I believe," he says. "Now my dream is finally coming true in a positive way. So I'm just thankful."

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