LONDON — Being called the new Justin Bieber has put British singer Conor Maynard on the music world's radar.
The 19-year-old from Brighton has gone from uploading videos of himself singing at home to working with Pharrell Williams on his debut album in Florida.
Maynard realized that by putting up covers of current tracks, people would stumble across his own versions. The results were impressive — NeYo offered to work with him after watching his version of "Beautiful Monster" and Chris Brown retweeted the video of his "Yeah 3x."
Maynard couldn't believe his luck.
Actually, he was so skeptical he insisted on a chat with NeYo, to make sure it was the real R'n'B deal, rather than his friends joking around.
"It was about midnight when I was on Skype to him, everyone in my house was asleep," Maynard told The Associated Press. "So I was like, 'Hi, NeYo.' That kind of killed any starstruckness - I had to talk really quietly."
Record company interest followed and now Maynard is dropping his debut single, "Can't Say No," on April 20 through Polydor.
The comparisons with Canada's Bieber aren't that far off the mark. Both got their break via YouTube, both were mentored by an established rhythm and blues star (Bieber's being Usher) and both, while inspired by American urban music, are foreigners.
"In terms of the music, it ends there," says Maynard. "(I have) a very different sound. But it's obviously flattering to be compared to one of the biggest artists in the world right now when I haven't even released my first single yet."
His talent was discovered when he was overheard singing to himself on the way home from school in Brighton, a hip coastal town in southern England. His friends kept asking him to perform, so he started putting videos online to keep them happy.
Soon after NeYo spotted him, record companies caught on and he signed with Polydor in the U.K. MTV has picked him as being one to watch for 2012 after he won their "Brand New" competition.
Thanks to Maynard's online following, "Can't Say No" has already clocked up over three million views in a month. He's also got 124,560 followers on Twitter — and the number is rising.
"Can't Say No" is reminiscent of Justin Timberlake's vocals, with a catchy "Houston, I think we got a problem" hook.
"There's not too much meaning to be taken from it," he said, referring to its "girls, girls, girls" chorus.
An album is set to follow this summer and it has already gone down well with his five-star friends. Maynard has played it for Pharrell, Luadcris, Tyler The Creator, Lil Wayne and NeYo, among others
"They've heard all the tracks I was doing and what I'm planning to do - they're really excited about it as well," he said.