Fame can be overwhelming, even for seasoned entertainers, let alone those that aren’t even old enough to drink legally.
Justin Bieber, the young singer almost more renowned for his perfect hair than his (nevertheless impressive) singing, was “discovered” by the music industry at only 13 years old, after his mother posted videos of him covering famous R&B tunes on YouTube.
While the story of Justin Bieber’s meteoric transformation into a music star and teenage heartthrob is similar to the stories of dozens of other child entertainers, his story bears surprising similarities to an entertainer six decades his senior: 1950s doo-wop sensation Frankie Lymon.
Like Bieber, who started his professional music career at 13, Lymon broke into the business at the age of 12 when he joined local doo-wop group the Coup De Villes. After Lymon joined the group, they became The Premiers, then the Teenagers. When the group had an opportunity to audition for record producer George Goldner, original lead singer Herman Santiago was late, so Lymon sang the lead instead. The rest is history.
Bieber’s success story is different, of course, because his was a solo career from the very beginning. But his age is not the only trait he shares with Lymon.
Both singers became teenage sex symbols. Frankie Lymon was known for liaisons with women twice his age. While Bieber presumably hasn’t been involved with any such relationships, only someone living in the middle of the woods wouldn’t know the effect he has on preteen women. A skit on Saturday Night Live even poked fun at older women fawning over Bieber’s boyish good looks.
The two singers even have similar voices — obviously, since they both started their careers pre-puberty, they have distinctively high voices. In fact, Bieber’s voice deepened between his first and second albums. Regarding his voice, he once stated, “”It cracks. Like every teenage boy, I’m dealing with it and I have the best vocal coach in the world. […] Some of the notes I hit on “Baby” I can’t hit anymore. We have to lower the key when I sing live.”
Of course, Lymon’s voice wasn’t immune to puberty either, and it may have contributed to the demise of his career. The Wikipedia article on Lymon says, “Lymon’s slowly declining sales fell sharply after his voice changed and he lost his signature soprano voice. Adopting a falsetto. Lymon carried on.”
And that marks the most interesting distinction between Bieber and Lymon. We’ve already seen how Lymon’s life turned out. Bieber still has an unwritten future ahead of him.
Lymon died in 1968 of a heroin overdose. He was only 25 years old. Drug abuse and other improprieties are all too often an unfortunate side effect of child stardom, it seems, but one hopes that Bieber’s life will turn out better. Wikipedia states that, “Usher comments that while he and Bieber were both signed at the same age, “I had the chance to ramp up my success, where this has happened to Bieber abruptly.” As a result, Usher, Braun, Bieber’s bodyguard Kenny, and other adults surrounding Bieber constantly coach him on handling fame and his public image.”
Let’s hope that’s enough to give Bieber a long, promising career and, more importantly, a rich and fulfilling life.