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Usher: Five things to know before his Super Bowl Halftime show

Here are some key facts to know about the American icon who is about to headline one of the most important shows of the year

Usher at the pregame and halftime show press conference in Las Vegas, february 8.
Usher at the pregame and halftime show press conference in Las Vegas, february 8.Ryan Kang (Getty Images)

Usher won’t make his Super Bowl debut on the 53rd edition of the championship game of the NFL. The American singer played for the first time on the Halftime Show during the 45th edition, back in 2011, joining the Black Eyed Peas on stage. Recently, he talked to Entertainment Weekly about the experience, highlighting “how amazing it felt to be in front of that many people and feel the energy.”

He’s about to live a different experience as headliner of the Halftime Show, where he is expected to make a complete retrospective on his career from his eponymous first solo album until Hard II Love, which was released six years ago. Although he just released his new album Coming Home by surprise, it’s unlikely he will perform any new songs.

His fans are ready to witness this historic presentation, and it could be the perfect opportunity for others to know his work and his career, which has spanned three decades full of hits, achievements and even activism. Here’s a few lesser known facts about the artist:

His early mentorship in New York

Usher started performing when he was 9 years old. His mother, Jonnetta Patton, moved to Atlanta, Georgia from Chattanooga, Tennessee, in order to find better opportunities for him. There, he was discovered by a talent scout named A.J. Alexander whose connections got Usher an audition with legendary producer and LaFace Records President Antonio “L.A.” Reid, who signed him on the spot.

However, after recording one of his first songs, he lost his voice due to puberty, and he was at risk of being dropped by the label. However, then young up-and-coming producer Sean “Puffy” Combs — better known as P. Diddy — saw his potential and asked L.A. Reid to send him to New York in order to be trained for the rockstar lifestyle.

Usher moved in with Combs and became his pupil. In Driven, a documentary broadcast on VH1, it was revealed that, although Usher was only 15 at the time, he witnessed wild parties and “even wilder sexual escapades”, which led to him creating a “Bad Boy” image. With this new energy, he released his self-titled debut album. However, the album was criticized because the lyrics were too sexually explicit for a teenager, and Usher decided to make a change, abandoning the “Bad Boy” look and creating his own unique image.

Usher Raymond IV backstage at the U.I.C. Pavilion in Chicago, in December 1994.
Usher Raymond IV backstage at the U.I.C. Pavilion in Chicago, in December 1994.Raymond Boyd (Getty Images)

His stint as an actor

After releasing his second album, Usher made is acting debut on the American sitcom Moesha, which starred R&B singer Brandy Norwood, later joining the long-lasting soap opera The Bold and Beautiful as part of the regular cast. His film debut was in Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty and he appeared in several films during the early 2000s.

Hands of Stone, a sports biopic based on the life and career of Panamanian former boxer Roberto Durán, shows Usher in his best acting work playing iconic boxer “Sugar” Ray Leonard. Although the film got mixed reviews, the singer showed his acting chops by playing the famous athlete, who at the time said the following to the Chicago Tribune: “I spoke to Usher and he told me how he really wanted to make me proud and wanted my assistance. So I said, ‘Yeah, I can make you be me. I’m pretty good at that.’ And he was on balance.”

Despite his acting chops, Usher has left his acting career mostly behind him. His last role was in the satirical comedy horror Bad Hair, directed by Dear White People filmmaker Justin Simien.

Endless awards

Usher has won over 300 awards throughout his career. As of 2014, he was one of the most awarded recording artists of all time, according to Fuse. His list of accolades includes eight Grammy Awards, 18 Billboard Music Awards, and 8 American Music Awards, and has received important honors, as well as being inducted in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Although he has received many Grammys he recently spoke against the awards: “Historically, I think that the Academy, for many years, got it wrong… whether that’s [because of] the system that was there or the lack of inclusion or the lack of consideration of the industry. We watch your show for you to celebrate our artists, and you put us in [top] categories, but then you give it to someone else.”

Outside of music, he received the President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2008. He was honored for his extensive philanthropic work and community service efforts, particularly through his New Look Foundation, which focuses on empowering youth through education and leadership development. Because of this work fighting for equality, he has also received the Freedom Award from the National Rights Museum.

The Presidential Committee for Arts and Humanities

Since the mid-2000s, Usher has been active in politics and activism. In 2007 he launched his “Change in the South” campaign in Atlanta, Georgia, in support of then presidential hopeful Barack Obama. For his commitment to the causes he promotes, the singer was selected for the Presidential Committee for Arts and Humanities of the United States to Cuba, which aimed to strengthen cultural ties between the two countries. However, since 2016 he has not supported any political figures.

Touring and residencies

Throughout his career, Usher has headlined six massive tours, starting with the Evolution 8701 Tour of 2002, which took him to Asia and Africa. At the time, Randy Lewis — a critic from the Los Angeles Times — said: “The choreography was sporadically dazzling, and in a brief solo number near the end of the show, he suddenly pulled together a routine hinting that he might give Prince or Michael Jackson of yore a run for their money.” This was the first of many comparisons between Usher and the King of Pop that critics and fans have made during his career.

This tour was followed by the Truth Tour, the One Night Stand Tour, the OMG Tour, the UR Experience Tour and the RNB Fridays Live, which was his last. He later decided to perform in a series of residencies that have been critically acclaimed and that have challenged him more onstage. Following a successful stint at the Colosseum at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace in the summer of 2021 with 20 shows, he continued his residency at Dolby Live at Park MGM until late October. In 2023, Usher returned to Dolby Live to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his influential album My Way. He has not announced a follow-up or a new tour after his Super Bowl performance.

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