It doesn’t take long to recognize that Luke James was blessed with the intangibles needed to reach superstardom. His versatile voice, talent for songwriting and model good looks have already caught the attention of industry power players like Beyoncé Knowles, who featured Luke in her video for "Run the World (Girls)," and Frank Gatson, the creative force behind Knowles, Michael Jackson and countless others. Now that the music industry has taken notice of his potential, it’s time for the New Orleans native to deliver on the expectations. Currently touring with Estelle and Stacy Barthe on the BET Music Matters Tour and putting the finishing touches on his debut project, Luke is dedicated to making the most of all of his blessings. Tonight, he will take the stage at the 2012 BET Honors show to perform his single “I Want You” for the nationally televised audience. In anticipation of the big moment, BET.com spoke with James to find out more about this promising young artist’s path to this point. He touched on his relationship with Gatson and Knowles, his connection to New Orleans and how he deals with the pressures of being music’s next big thing.
BET.com: How are you feeling about your BET Honors performance?
Luke James: I’m super excited, I’m ecstatic about it. I’m elated. It will be my first televised performance on BET. In front of that stature of people, on that program for that network, it’s amazing. It’s definitely a dream come true, right away.
You already have a strong relationship with BET as a selected Music Matters artist. How has that program helped your career thus far?
It’s given me a lane to jump in. Getting on tour with someone like Estelle, who’s been doing it for a few years now. Just being able to showcase what it is that I do — I always say that I’m running for president. I’m trying to make everyone a believer in what it is that I have to offer. Music Matters is also something I stand behind. I believe that music does matter in life. Me growing up in a single parent household with no siblings, music was my getaway. Music was my brother and sister. When I didn’t feel like anyone had any answers, music did. So I truly stand behind the idea of putting music back in the schools and having more activity that involves music as far as education. I’m a big advocate of this program and I’m just happy to be on it. Shouts out to Stephen Hill.
Tell the folks who might know, who is Frank Gatson and how has he helped you in your career.
Frank is a visual director. He is one of those guys you call when you need a little help finding — if you are a particular artist, he helps find whatever that artist is. He helps that artist hone in on whatever makes them great and helps them bring that out. Frank has been doing it for like 30 years; he’s worked with Michael Jackson, R. Kelly, Chris Brown, En Vogue, Toni Braxton. He worked side-by-side with Beyoncé throughout her career and Destiny’s Child. And he’s my manager, God bless.
How did the two of you hook up?
I was in a group a couple years ago out in New Orleans — I’m from New Orleans. He was managing Tyrese at that time. My partner and I decided to go to the backstage entrance and start singing hoping that someone would notice us, the classic Boyz II Men story. And he did. So we signed with him, graduated from high school, and then we moved to California and started singing background. He helped develop us individually as artists and having us meet different people. That’s basically how we met Frank.
His specialty is helping artists hone in on their talents, what kind of guidance is he giving you to get the most of yours?
He’s a big believer in being honest, and I am too. But it’s one thing to just say that’s what you are, and then another thing to get in front of 15,000 people and truly be honest, without thought — to truly live in that moment and give yourself. That is something that he’s taught me over the years. Watching him work with different artists and being in the presence of people like Beyoncé, Usher, Justin Timberlake, who really have honed in to their artistry, I’m just privileged, man. I’m a sponge. I’m just blessed to be around people like that.
How did you end up in Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)” video?
That happened because of Frank Gatson. He just put me on set, and it was OK with Beyoncé. It just worked out, getting that shot, getting that look. Her and her other sisters from Destiny’s Child were big supporters of mine since day one. They always look out for me whatever way they can.
Destiny’s Child is a pretty big co-sign. What’s it like to have someone that talented say they’re fans of what you do?
As an artist, it’s amazing. You go through a lot of things. You can have the attitude like, “I don’t care who likes my music, I like my music.” But it’s another thing to have people who really have bought into your artistry and who you are and see your potential, and really want to be there from the beginning. Not wait til you blow up and then say, “Yeah, yeah, that’s my boy!” It’s an amazing feeling to know I can call on someone like that and just ask for advice.
What steps are you taking personally to make sure you deliver on your potential?
Man, to be really honest, I just pray a whole lot. I just think about people from when I was a baby who saw so much in me. I just think about those folks and that’s what kind of fuels me. Just thinking about people who are like me and are looking for a way. I’m just trying to further along this little door for creative artists. I’m not the only one. There’s other brilliant artists that are now coming of age. Miguel, Frank Ocean, Kevin Cossum, people who are really artistic and really awesome. It’s a blessing that people feel I’m one of those people. It’s my duty to stay focused and work hard and work harder. Really give it all that I have, because this is my only shot and I don’t want to let God down. Nor do I want to let down my mother or anyone else who’s put so much into me.
You’re obviously a musician first, but you have the ability to enter into a lot of different areas of performance including acting and modeling. Do you have any intentions of exploring those options later down the road?
Originally I probably didn’t intend for any of that. But lately I’ve just been living a little bit and learning entertainment and show business. Also, I know you can’t knock your blessings. If God puts it there for you, if the universe puts it there for you, try it. It doesn’t hurt, just try it. So music is the train I’m on, it’s going to help me get through the door and open up a lot of other avenues for me, which will probably be acting, modeling and so forth. I just want to help people. I want to be in a position to shed light on things that I believe in; my city, single parent households, kids who feel alone. So keeping my mind open to things like that, acting and all that, would be great because there’s other things I can do. So I do look forward to all of that if that’s for me.
You’re living in L.A. now but you still seem very connected to your hometown. What is New Orleans to you at this point in your life?
New Orleans is my mother. My brothers, my friends from school and everything, that’s New Orleans to me. The people who got me this far. It’s not the same as it was before Katrina, of course. But it’s still New Orleans. I go down for special events; I go down for every Christmas. L.A. is where I live, but New Orleans is my home.
Check out Luke's stand out performance below.
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