Born Mario Dewar Barrett on August 27, 1986, in Baltimore, MD. Addresses: Record company--J Records, 745 5th Ave, New York, NY 10151. Website--Mario Official Website: http://www.mario2u.com.
By the time he was 16, Mario Barrett had been performing for 12 years. The R&B teen heartthrob's self-titled debut album reached Billboard's top ten immediately, and soon after that went gold. Barrett has since released a second album, Turning Point. In 2005 he was nominated for two BET Awards.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Barrett grew up performing. "I was always a child of the business," he told Naomi West in the London Daily Telegraph. He began singing in public when he was four, at the urging of his mother, who thought he had a good voice, and spent much of his childhood competing in talent contests, dreaming of becoming a superstar. Barrett told Bhava Malkani on the Situation website that he didn't really begin taking singing seriously until he was "ten or eleven years old. The talent shows really inspired me. It made me believe in myself as everyone was telling me how I could really do this."
Barrett signed with his first manager when he was eleven years old, after being spotted performing a Boyz II Men song at a local talent contest. When he was 14 he was offered a deal by Clive Davis of J Records. Davis, who was in his seventies at the time, had signed such greats as Janis Joplin and Whitney Houston; the young Barrett looked at him and, according to West, thought, "Wow, he's old." However, as he told Dimitri Ehrlich in Vibe, he also knew that Davis was "gonna push me all the way." He added, "And I'm gonna make sure I get that push."
Barrett told Malkani that his inspirations in music were Stevie Wonder and Boyz II Men. On his debut album, Mario, which Malkani described as "a catchy disc filled with up-temp jams and puppy-love ballads," Barrett sang about simple pleasures in songs such as "Braid My Hair" and "Just a Friend 2002." Both songs spent time as top ten singles. The album also featured performances by labelmate Alicia Keys. Barrett told Malkani, "I think my album is kinda laid back. One of those albums you can listen to when you're reading a book or something like that." However, he noted that the album also featured "club bangers" such as "Just a Friend 2002," "Put Me On," and "C'Mon." A Business Wire article quoted a Los Angeles Times reviewer who wrote, "On his debut Mario glimmers ... recalling the more innocent days of Michael Jackson or Prince at his most sweet-talking."
Most of the songs were written by others, although Barrett co-wrote "What Your Name Is" and created the concept for "Braid My Hair." He also wrote "Girl in a Picture." "Just a Friend 2002" was a remake of a 1989 hit by Biz Markie; perhaps this is why Mario added the date to its title. Mario debuted at number nine on the Billboard top ten and went gold just a few months after its release. Barrett starred in a half-hour special on the Nickelodeon channel, and was featured in a USA Today article about the next wave of urban pop stars.
Although this was his debut album, Barrett already had a highly polished stage image. Caroline Sullivan wrote in the London Guardian, "He is already an expert manipulator of emotions, holding hands with girls in the front row for a moment too long, and ... cuddling a quaking teenager who probably cried herself to sleep later." In the Baltimore City Paper, Bret McCabe noted that Mario was "a closely handled budding pop presence." Perhaps because he was so closely coached, Mario seemed to adjust easily to the intimidating world of the recording industry. He told McCabe that Alicia Keys took him under her wing and offered him advice: "She was just trying to help me out, telling me how everything was going to be crazy and that there was going to be a lot of stress with that, but to have fun doing it at the same time. You know, this is my job now."
Barrett took a couple of years off from recording to finish high school, working with a tutor instead of attending school. He then returned with a new album, Turning Point, which described some of his life and career experiences up to that point, including songs about "girls up to 25 chasing me" and "the ghetto Kama Sutra." As Denise Boyd remarked on the BBC website, "Being 'Just a Friend' is definitely not on his mind." Jem Aswad commented in Entertainment Weekly that the album was clearly targeted at female listeners, and noted that it was "plenty catchy, but so full of sugar that the spoon stands up." In Vibe, Angie Romero noted that on this album Mario "flexes a deeper, more masculine voice."
After the release of this album, Naomi West noted in the Daily Telegraph that Barrett at times came across as slick, as if his record company had coached him on his behavior: "His chat, peppered with buzz phrases about 'staying humble' and 'keeping grounded,' makes him sound as if he has had more interviews than ordinary conversations."
In addition to his musical work, Barrett began looking at potential movie scripts, perhaps hoping to have the same kind of film success that Will Smith enjoyed. He told West, "I want to be an icon. I want young artists to look up to me and say, Wow, I wanna be like that." He received some television exposure with appearances on shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, One on One, and That's So Raven, as well as appearances at the TMF Awards and the Grammy Awards in 2005.
In 2005, Barrett was nominated for two BET Awards: Best Male R&B Artist, and the Viewers' Choice Award for his song "Let Me Love You." He told Malkani that throughout his career, he would like to be remembered as "a person, who loves what he do, loves his fans ... and a person who is dedicated to music."
by Kelly Winters
Signed with J Records, 2000; released Mario, 2002; released Turning Point, 2004.
- Business Wire, September 24, 2002, p. 2379.
- Cincinnati Post, November 16, 2002, p. B14.
- Daily Telegraph (London, England), March 31, 2005, p. O18.
- Entertainment Weekly, December 24, 2004, p. 71.
- Guardian (London, England), June 5, 2003, p. 28.
- "Mario: Interview," Situation, http://www.thesituation.co.uk/features/Mario/Mario.html (May 22, 2005).
- "Mario: Sweet Sixteen," Vibe, http://www.vibe.com/modules.php?op=modloads&name=News&file=article&sid=152 (May 25, 2005).
- "Mario: Turning Point," Vibe, http://www.vibe.com/ (May 25, 2005).
- "Mario: Turning Point," BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/urban/reviews/Mario_turningp.shtml (May 25, 2005).
- "Mario," TV Tome, http://www.tvtome.com/tvtome/servlet/PersonDetail/personid=119991 (May 25, 2005).
- "Teen Scream," City Paper, http://www.citypaper.com/music/review.asp?rid=7151 (May 25, 2005).