Jamie Foxx’s turn as a music star might have seemed “Unpredictable” to some. But Foxx, who made his mark mostly as a comedian and actor, isn’t one of them.
With a path into music paved by his Academy Award-winning performance as Ray Charles in 2004’s “Ray,” Foxx released “Unpredictable” in late 2005 and watched it go double-platinum and launch hits such as the title track and “DJ Play a Love Song.” It was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Album, while his duet with Mary J. Blige, “Love Changes,” received a nod for best R&B performance by a duo or group with vocals.
It’s an impressive move into another show biz avenue, but Foxx is quick to note that it was hardly his maiden voyage into music.
“I’ve been playing piano since I was five,” notes Foxx, 39, who was born Eric Bishop and was raised by his grandmother in Terrell, Texas. There, in addition to quarterbacking the high school football team, he led a church choir and also embraced secular R&B and pop — surreptitiously, however.
“I grew up in a very strict, religious atmosphere,” he says. “My grandmother just didn’t want me playing any music outside of Christian music in the house.
“I once got caught dancing; I was in the seventh grade, and she was like, ‘Boy, I saw those pictures. I saw you out there dancing. You’re going straight to hell!’ So that’s how strict it was, man. So in church, when you got to play those chords and sing a little bit of Ray Charles on top of it, that was always tasty.”
Foxx initially saw music as a career path when he received a scholarship to study piano at United States International University in San Diego. But after getting up an open-mike night in a Los Angeles comedy club in 1989 and winning the audience over with his comic impressions, he decided to shift gears. Besides a burgeoning stand-up career, he landed a spot in the cast of TV’s “In Living Color” and appeared in the sitcom “Roc.” He did release a modestly successful album, “Peep This,” in 1994 but mostly kept the focus on his acting career. “I just knew there was something very special about acting,” he explains. “I think the movie ‘A Star is Born,’ the Judy Garland version. ... This dude said to her ‘Have you ever dreamt?’ And she said, ‘I just dreamt of being in a band and singing,’ and he said, ‘You gotta dream bigger.’
“That’s what he told her — ‘You gotta dream bigger.’ So you start to dream bigger. You start to really see that it is possible to do great work and have great work combine with commercial success and everything.”
Foxx’s film career started small, with 1997’s “Booty Call” — “Just to get something,” Foxx says with a laugh. He broke through in Oliver Stone’s 1999 football drama “Any Given Sunday” — for which Foxx also composed some score music — and subsequent roles in “Collateral” and then “Ray” cemented his name in Hollywood.
“Ray,” of course, is a project that will always hold a special place.
“I was so happy to do the part, because it gave me a chance to do everything I wanted to do — music, a little bit of comedy, a little bit of drama,” says Foxx, who went on to “Miami Vice” and “Dreamgirls.” “It had everything. And it’s a great story, a beautiful, heroic story.”
And being able to meet and work closely with Charles — who died a few months before the film’s release — also was a treat.
“He just told me, ‘Yeah, man, all it is is taking the time to find the right notes. The right notes are underneath your fingers; don’t be lazy, and try to find out where they are,’ ” Foxx recalls.
“I used that as a metaphor throughout the movie — life is like notes underneath your fingers, and we just got to take the time to find the right notes to play and figure out what our music is gonna be.”
He applied that lesson to “Unpredictable” as well, using the philosophy to fortify his approach to smooth and polished R&B love songs.
“I wanted to do something that means something,” Foxx explains. “I wanted to make sure that ... it would be a life album. It’s real stuff, you know?”
Foxx is mixing music and stand-up comedy on his current tour — “I’ll never stop doing that (comedy),” he says — but he’s already plotting his next moves in the acting arena, including what he describes as “a (reality) TV show in reverse, give someone $1 million and roll the camera and see what they do with it.” But there also are, he says, plenty of other opportunities on the table.
“We’re getting the right offers,” Foxx says, “ ’cause we have allowed ourselves to dip into both sides of comedy and drama and everything in between. Now people feel confident in sending me the script and knowing I can handle the work.
“The cliché phrase is ‘beyond your wildest dreams,’ y’know. You really do start to dream bigger.”
Jamie Foxx and Speedy perform at 8 p.m. Saturday (March 3) at Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $59.75-$79.75. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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