September 27, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

HOMETOWN Born in Auckland, New Zealand, raised in London

LATEST ALBUM ”Gotta Get Through This” (Island)

REASON YOU’VE NOTICED HIM After burning up U.K. clubs, his soul-fried dance track ”Gotta Get Through This” is finally getting through to American audiences, rising to No. 14 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart.

HOW HE WOULD DESCRIBE HIS SOUND IF HE WERE A MUSIC CRITIC ”Sting, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder jamming in the basement,” he says. ”It’s R&B-influenced, dance-influenced pop.”

HOW WE WOULD DESCRIBE HIS SOUND Sting, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder jamming their fingers in electrical sockets

TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC ‘N Sync fans on their first hit of Ecstasy

FASHION SENSE Fatboy Slim meets Dave Matthews

TRIUMPHANT TALE OF HOW HE BEAT THE ODDS ”Once, I got my hand stuck in a car door and it almost snapped my finger off,” he recalls. ”I wasn’t gonna be able to play the piano again, but it got better. Most people’s little fingers don’t heal too well from a crash like that.”

IF HE WERE A BREAKFAST CEREAL, HE WOULD BE Cheeri-Yos

STOCK QUOTE ON THE PITFALLS OF FAME ”Sort out who your friends are before you get famous,” he wearily recommends. ”And get ready to rebuild your life from the ground up, because everything gets thrown upside down.”

INSTANT CHARISMA FACTOR (OUT OF A POSSIBLE 5) 4

FUNKY FACT ”I record all my vocals in my underpants,” he reports. ”The less clothes I wear, the more free I feel, the more expressive I can get.”

ARTISTS WHO NEVER LEAVE HIS TAPE PLAYER The Beatles, Brit MC Ms Dynamite, and Coldplay

WHAT’S NEXT He’ll tour backed by a live band. Plus, he’s already begun work on a follow-up album that he says will be ”much more vulnerable, a lot more angry, quieter and louder.”

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