Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox
November 11, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Light It Up

Current Status
In Season
Judd Nelson, Usher
Craig Bolotin

After bit parts in two suburban teen flicks, Usher Raymond is playing the lead in an inner-city high school drama, ”Light It Up” (now in theaters). The 21-year-old singer, whose 1997 album ”My Way” has sold more than 5 million copies, canceled an overseas tour with Janet Jackson to take the role of Lester Dewitt, a troubled teen who takes a school security guard hostage. ”I wanted to take a break from acting,” says Usher, ”but when my agent brought me the script, I thought, ‘This is a role that can open doors for me.”’

Unlike fellow singer-thespians Will Smith and Whitney Houston, who tie in music deals with their movie roles, Usher refused to contribute to the ”Light It Up” soundtrack. ”There was pressure to do a song, but I wanted to be taken seriously as an actor, and I didn’t want to get distracted,” he says. Acting — Method acting in particular — became a 24-hour job. ”I couldn’t pull from my experiences, since fortunately I went to a great school. So I learned to create a world for Lester. From the moment I left my hotel room, to the moment I walked back in, I was that character.”

Despite Usher’s new focus on acting (you’ll see him soon in the TV-movie ”Geppetto” and the neo-Western ”Texas Rangers”), he has no plans to abandon his career as an R&B star. He finds satisfaction in performing music that he can’t get on a movie set: ”When you do a concert, it’s like a soul ceremony. You can see what your audience wants, and give it to them.”

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