Cruzing through New Year's Eve

OK, let's take one more advance peek at New Year's Eve.

The previous blog interviewed David Archleta, who will be on Fox; this one interviews Taio Cruz, who will be live on Times Square for ABC. Both are part of the New Year's Eve package I sent to papers, along with stories on Mike Posner and La Roux, plus an overview list.

You can get most of the listings in my TV column. (Hit "TV Column" above and scroll to Friday.) Here's the Cruz story:



For all he knows, Taio Cruz might have
grown up as a Smokey Robinson fan. He forgot to notice.

“I was very shallow in that respect,”
Cruz said. “I could tell the music that I loved, but I couldn't
tell you who the singers were.”

He emerged as a sort of modern Smokey.
Once you get past the surface – dark shades, hip-hop rhythms,
collaborations with rap stars – you find a singer-songwriter with a
sweetly melodic voice.

Now he's wrapping up the year of his
American invasion. On the Billboard chart for the U.S., Cruz, 27, has
already hit No. 1 (“Break Your Heart”) and 2 (“Dynamite”);
next, he performs live on Times Square, as part of “Dick Clark's
New Year's Rockin' Eve.”

No, he's never actually seen the Clark
show. His Eves in England were high-energy: “When I was 18, it
might be going to a lot of clubs; when I was 13, a fun New Year's Eve
might be getting together with friends … and making as much noise
as possible.”

Throughout it all, he had pop tastes.
His mother is Brazilian, his father is Nigerian; he grew up around
rhythms and more. “A lot of my mother's music was '80s music.”

Madonna and Culture Club were in his
ear, mixed with others. By 19, Cruz had a songwriting deal; by 21, he
was sharing a British award for co-writing “Your Game,” by “Pop
Idol” winner Will Young.

In Tricky Stewart's writing collective,
Cruz wrote hits and heard demo-tapes. He remembers being drawn to
one song. “I asked if I could record it, but I guess Rihanna and
Jay-Z got there first.”

The song, “Umbrella,” hit No. 1 in
2007. With it, Cruz's success “might have happened earlier.”

Still, it's come quickly. Cruz had
British hits, then brought his album to the U.S., with modifications.
“Break Your Heart” was re-mixed, with Ludacris added; other
tracks feature Ke$ha and Luciana.

The album is called “Rokstarr,”
which is also the name of his music company. “When you say 'rock
star,' people think of throwing televisions out of hotel windows,”
Cruz said. “But that's not it.”

He looks like a rock star, complete
with his own line of sunglasses. He also has wide-ranging tastes.

Cruz objects to British categories.
When anything comes out from a black performer, he said, “the music
is automatically called 'urban,' no matter what it is …. It's my
personal pet peeve.”

Taio Cruz does some high-energy urban
music and some sweet, Smokey-style songs. And now he's wrapping up
his year of American conquest.

– “Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin'

– 10-11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. to 2:11
a.m., ET

– Taio Cruz will be live at Times
Square; so will Ke$ha, the Backstreet Boys and the New Kids on the
Block; also, Dick Clark, Ryan Seacrest, Jenny McCarthy.

– A Los Angeles party was taped in
advance, with Fergie introducing 10 acts.