Last year, singer Michael Fredo was modeling cotton shirts and jeans in TV and print ads for Tommy Hilfiger.
This spring, Fredo jumped off the glossy magazine pages and onto junior high school stages in a nationwide tour for Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD).
Newcomer Fredo, who released his debut album, "Introducing" (Qwest/Warner Bros.) last October, says his message for the SADD tour came from the heart. His father, Christopher Fredo, to whom the album is dedicated, died in a drinking-and-driving accident after Fredo graduated from high school a few years ago.
"When it happened, my whole life was shattered," Fredo recalled in a recent phone interview from Manhattan. "It taught me a lesson, and I'm just trying to spread that to others."
After his father's death, Fredo turned to songwriting. He stayed in his New York City apartment for days writing nonstop. "I got everything ordered in," he says. "My mom and my brother stayed with me.... That's when I wrote all these songs for my album, in two months." On "Introducing," Fredo plays guitar and piano; the 11-song disc features sincere, heartfelt ballads and slick danceable tunes.
Since the release of his album, his career has shifted into high gear. He toured with Britney Spears last fall; his catchy pop single "This Time Around" reached the top of the Billboard charts several months ago, and "Free," a hip-hop '70s-sounding song, was heavily played in the recent film "Black & White," starring Brooke Shields and Robert Downey Jr.
The son of Betsy Hilfiger and nephew of fashion designer Hilfiger, Fredo started singing at the age of 8 in a church choir in his small hometown of Elmira, N.Y.
"I loved doing that because I felt a spiritual connection when I'd go in.... When I heard the vibrations of my voice through the church, that's when I knew I wanted to sing."
When his voice matured, Fredo started a folk group, and throughout high school was in "all kinds of rock 'n' roll bands."
Fredo seriously pursued a music education at the age of 16 when he left Elmira to attend the Professional Children's School in New York City. He toured with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and faxed in his homework.
"I sang for them and performed with another singer named Diana Krall. She went on to become the top-selling jazz artist of all time, and I became a new pop dude," laughs Fredo, who grew up on the music of Paula Abdul, Michael Jackson, and Bette Midler.
A couple of years ago, he met mega-producer Quincy Jones at a Los Angeles party.
"I asked him if I could sing a song [for him] in my hotel room, and he actually came up and listened to me," Fredo recalls.
Jones's response? "Yeah, I like that. That's bossa nova," says Fredo, comically imitating the producer's low-speaking voice.
Fredo flew from Los Angeles to New York and recorded a demo for Jones, and Warner Bros. then signed the 20-year-old to a record deal. But Fredo, with his smooth, calming voice, was unsure about which musical genre to pursue.
"[Jones] pushed me into pop. I said to him, 'I want to sing jazz ... then I would say, I want to sing classical and then next week, 'I'm going to start a rock band.' Then I discovered that [pop music] is where my heart lies."
On the SADD tour, the young crooner says that he's most comfortable performing in front of a live audience. "I usually just sing. But I'm not going to preach. They know what the message is."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society