By Ashley Zimmerman
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Austin Mahone is a teenaged dreamboat. The perfectly adorable 17-year-old pop sensation went from YouTube cutie to VMA winner in almost record time. Signed to Cash Money Records, he was voted 2013's "Artist to Watch" by the formerly musical channel and named the new Justin Bieber by everyone else. Mahone and his mom made their way from San Antonio to Miami about a year back, and now he's thriving in the ridiculously hot Florida sun, though he says he misses Whataburger. He has 4.3 million followers on Twitter, and when he goes to the mall, preteens melt like butter at his Nike-clad toes.
But Mahone seems like a sweet kid who appreciates the adoration of his fans, whom he affectionately named Mahomies. He's careful with his words but not phony. Mahone is rehearsing in the studio, getting his new album ready, and "working really hard just trying to get it perfect," he says. And with such an amount of support behind him and danceable pop tunes like "What About Love," it's likely this kid is really worth watching. We spoke with the young singer about the perks of South Florida, Drake, and whether he prefers blonds to brunets.
New Times: What are your thoughts on Miami?
1700 Washington Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Category: Music Venues
Region: South Beach
Austin Mahone: I love it. I think it's more fun than Texas, for me. Maybe it's because I lived in Texas all my life. The beach is nice. The girls are pretty. The weather's nice.
During your MTV award speech, you thanked three of your friends. Do you hang a lot with them in Miami?
Yeah, definitely. They travel with me a lot everywhere. Keeps the road interesting. Keeps me having fun. It's a good time.
You're not a typical Cash Money artist. What's it like being signed to them?
Well, I mean, being signed to Cash Money is really cool. They paired up with Universal, and they're doing this joint thing together. It's really cool. And I get to work with a lot of amazing artists, some of the artists I grew up listening to. They're really supportive and helped me through this past year.
Did you always sing and dance? Did one come first?
I started singing when I was about 14. I loved it so much that I just kept doing it. I kept getting better. Once I moved to Miami and started doing shows and stuff, I decided to learn how to dance and learned to perform and put on a show.
I read that you picked songs popular at the moment to cover on YouTube. Did you like the songs, or did you just pick them because they're popular?
I mean, most of the time I really enjoyed the songs that I was covering, but I knew that the songs that were on the top of the Billboard charts, I knew that those songs would get the most views. Sometimes I wouldn't be the happiest with the songs, but a lot of times, I loved them.
What's your favorite song to cover?
I would probably say "Let Me Love You" by Mario or "Human Nature" by Michael Jackson.
How has it felt to gain all this attention? You've been named one of Billboard's 21 under 21. Was there a moment in the public eye where you felt famous?
Definitely, when I won the award. I definitely felt like that, like people are watching me now. I'm the "artist to watch." All these things are happening, with Billboard. You know, I'm just taking it one day at a time. I'm just ready to put out my album, I'm ready to put out my music, and just keep the ball rolling.
Do you feel like your fans are always approaching you, or do you feel like you still have a level of anonymity that you're comfortable with?
There are a lot of times I see my fans at the mall, in a store, or the movie theater. So it's really cool. It doesn't bother me. I actually enjoy seeing my fans and taking pictures. It's all part of it. I like it.
My editor's daughter is a big fan, and I asked her what she'd ask you. She was very concerned with your level of privacy. Do you think there's a reason she'd be concerned about that?
Privacy is cool, and sometimes I have girls waiting outside my condo. It's pretty cool, but sometimes, like I said before, it doesn't bother me. I like seeing them, and they support me, and it really means a lot to me. I don't really have a problem with it.
She wanted to know when you go to your favorite restaurant, what do you order?
I usually get a pizza, because that's my favorite food. When we go to Olive Garden, I'll get the chicken Alfredo pizza, or I'll get spaghetti or something. I'm a big fan of Italian food.
She also wanted to know if you have stuffed animals.
I don't have any stuffed animals with me now. But back in Texas, in my old room, I used to get so many stuffed animals in the mail. And my meemaw would put them on my bed for me. So I would sleep in a bed with a hundred stuffed animals around me.
Is there a dream person on Cash Money you'd like to collaborate with?
Probably Drake. He's one of my favorite artists, and I'd love to work with him.
What makes Drake your favorite?
For me, honestly, he's one of the biggest artists of my generation right now. He puts out amazing music. I see him everywhere. He's all over the place. I feel like his music is real. I feel like he doesn't just rap about money and girls and all that. He's actually really lyrical. He raps about real life, and I really appreciate that and respect that. So I want to do a track with him.
When you're sitting down to write music, what's your process? Do you draw from experience like Taylor Swift [with whom he toured], or do you just think in general terms?
I would say, a lot, when I write songs, like you said, I'll take stuff from personal experience. Like things that happened in the past or things that I would want to happen, like use my imagination and be creative, because I think that's like what writing songs is all about. Being creative and making things up. But definitely, it's a lot of fun, keeps my imagination going.
What are things about you that people might not know?
My favorite sport is basketball. I love to swim when I have time off. I love to go shopping. I'm a very impatient person. Like, I hate old-people drivers on the road. I think people over the age of 75 shouldn't be driving.
What would you say about being here in Miami — has it helped your career, or do you feel isolated not living in L.A. or New York?
That is one of the reasons I like Miami. Because I feel like everyone in the music industry is either from L.A. or New York. When I was in Texas, if I wanted to progress, I shouldn't live in Texas, because there's not a lot of music that's going on there. So I thought Miami would be a great place. You have a lot of great artists. I thought Miami was the perfect place for me to move to and start recording.
When you turn 18, what's the first thing you're going to do?
When I turn 18, I'm going to start looking for my own house. Because then I'll have been living in the same condo for about three years. So hopefully by 18, I'll be making a good amount of money to where I can afford a decent house for me and my friends and build a bunch of stuff on it.
OK, and blonds, brunets, or redheads? Do you have a favorite?
I don't particularly have a favorite. But some days, I'm feeling blonds, some days I'm feeling brunets, some days I'll be feeling another hair color. Doesn't really matter to me.