What is Justin Bieber really like?
To tell you the truth, that's a question I never thought I'd be in a position to answer, until I spent a couple of hours with him last month, during the taping of his segment for the CBC-TV holiday special, Season of Song: The Canadian Tenors and Friends, which airs Dec. 13 at 9 p.m.
Getting Bieber onto the show happened so quickly that there wasn't any time to shoot him in the studio with the other guests like David Foster and Paul Anka. No, the tenors and the entire CBC crew had to come down to the Air Canada Centre and grab a couple of hours with The Biebs in between his sound check and the show.
It was a tricky thing to pull off and everybody seemed nervous about it except the superstar himself. The first section was going to be one of those “informal backstage chat” things and the cameras were set, the tenors were ready and everyone was Waiting For Justin.
Then he appeared and that's when I came across the first of the 10 Things I Learned About Justin Bieber
1 HE LOVES HIS SEGWAY
Bieber got a lot of press this past summer using a Segway scooter to escape from a crowd of female fans in Phoenix, but it was also his chosen mode of transportation to scoot around backstage at the ACC. In fact, we heard him before we saw him “Yo, dudes!” he called out as he rounded a corner, the bright blue Segway shining in the light. He hopped off so lightly and with such ease that one of the tenors wanted to try it. “Keep still, man, and go with the flow. It takes care of the balance itself,” was his advice, but the tenor (who shall remain nameless!) started wobbling on it and the Segway was retired.
2 HE'S GOTTEN REALLY THIN
Think of all the times you've seen Bieber in print or on TV. He's always seemed like a cherubic lad, not quite the Pillsbury Doughboy, but the kind of kid whose cheeks older woman always wanted to pinch. In fact, the giant poster for him that filled the wall behind his stage at the ACC showed just such a visage.
But the young man next to me had no weight to spare. Not sickly, just lean and compact. Perhaps most importantly, the eyes that shine out at you from underneath those bangs now look as though they've seen a lot in a very little while. He's not a boyish teen idol any more, but a young man, with a bit of danger about him. And in the world of pop stardom, that's a very good thing.
3 HIS HAIR HAS A LIFE OF ITS OWN
When I told people I was going to spend some time with Bieber, the one request from everyone was “find out about his hair.” Those eminently flappable bangs have fascinated men, women and children around the world and I was supposed to discover their secret. Here's the news, everybody. There is no secret.
Bieber's hair owes its appeal to two things: its own God-given shine and the work of a really good stylist. How can I tell? I swear that no less than 20 occasions in our time together, he lifted up his hat, shook his head and those bangs fell back into shape naturally every time. No product need apply.
4 HE'S A CONSIDERATE GUY
It happened really quickly, the kind of moment I don't think anybody noticed except Bieber, me and the third guy involved. He was one of the technicians who had to move a ramp backstage into position quickly as the tenors and Bieber walked over it. A fairly routine task, but something went wrong. The tenors passed over fine, but just as Bieber started up the ramp, the guy slipped and a mass of wood and metal crashed onto his foot. Bieber stopped instantly, bent over the man and asked “You okay, man?” The technician nodded silently, Bieber clapped him warmly on the shoulder and bounded onto the stage. One of those random moments of kindness that pass without notice. Most of the time.
5 HE LIKES TO HAVE FUN
Onstage with the tenors, Bieber chattered with them in the tradition of variety shows since time immemorial, but interestingly Bieber didn't want to stick to scripted patter. Instead, he goofed around with his band, practised new dance moves and demonstrated an onstage trick (seeming to throw the microphone stand to the floor then bringing it magically back up again) Then he attempted to teach the tenors how to duplicate it. “Feel it fall, man, then kick it with your foot.” They tried and got it. Sort of. Bieber had the good grace not to mock them.
6 HE'S NOBODY'S FOOL
The high point of Bieber's appearance was his new song, “Pray.” Before a small audience of invited fans (99.99 per cent female and teenage), Bieber sold the song with the kind of full-out energy you've seen if you've ever caught him in live performance.
He had been told it would be a one-take affair and he gave it all he had. Pretty amazing, in light of the fact he had a live concert coming in a few hours. But when it was over, it seemed that the CBC people wanted him to sing it all full-out again. He held his ground. “Things are getting shady,” he said firmly and a compromise was finally reached involving a few extra pickup shots. Bieber knew his fans that evening wouldn't want to be cheated.
7 HE'S GOT SOMETHING TO SAY
Bieber has admitted before that his new holiday song, “Pray,” was inspired by his devotion to the late Michael Jackson's work, in particular, “Man in the Mirror.”
But when I asked Bieber what really made him start to write the song, he said, “So many hurts and hopes across the world were very inspiring. I think we should all pray for a ‘better day.' There are so many troubles in the world but we just have to bow our heads and pass them along for God to handle and trust that all will be okay.”
8 HE LOVES THE HOLIDAY SEASON: During one of the pauses in shooting, Bieber was asked how he felt about this time of year and what he missed in particular about being in Stratford. “I miss just being around my friends and family. There's nothing like spending the holiday season at home but I've been travelling a lot and really experiencing some great things. I'm very blessed.
9 HE'S GRATEFUL: While waiting for some lights to be reset, the tenors were discussing what they were going to buy various relatives and friends for Christmas and Bieber suddenly got a faraway look in his eyes. I asked him what the toughest Christmas in his youth had been like, but he chose to see the glass as half-full instead. “I don't ever feel that way. I just think the best way to look at it is that I've had some great Christmas memories! Just spending time with family and friends is enough for me.” Did he have any Christmas wishes for the world? “I have a lot of wishes, but basically, I wish that people would be happy.”
10 HE KNOWS HOW TO MAKE AN EXIT: The taping was over, the fans heading home, the lights coming down. Just enough time for Bieber to chill a bit, grab some dinner and then nail it to the wall for 20,000 screaming fans 90 minutes later. As he's heading to his dressing room, he stops, puts his arm around me and turns us to a waiting photographer. Kodak moment over, he punches my arm lightly. “Catch you later man.” One of the tenors, watching him leave, wisely observed, that “He's growing up fast. Faster than the speed of sound.”