Friday will be Homecoming Day for pop-R&B star Ne-Yo when he performs at The Cosmopolitan’s pool. He grew up in Vegas from age 9 through high school after his family moved here from Arkansas.
“Vegas played a huge part in making me who I am,” Ne-Yo says. “So it always feels good to come back and give something back to the place that gave so much to me.”
Then, he says with a laugh, “There’s also the occasional chance that I might run into one of those girls who would not give me the time of day in high school, and I can stick my tongue at her.”
Ne-Yo (Shaffer Smith, 33) went to Las Vegas Academy from the ninth through 11th grades, then graduated from Rancho High School.
“I actually got kicked out of Las Vegas Academy because I broke a window. I didn’t mean to break the window. It just kind of happened,” he says.
“I feel like the dean had it out for me, anyway. She just never really liked me, and that was her excuse to kick me out of school: ‘Your violence streak will not be tolerated here at Las Vegas Academy.’ ”
At the time, Ne-Yo thought: “Violent streak? I broke a window. I haven’t got into any trouble in the three years that I have been here.”
But he blames himself for getting “really lazy” as a high school junior because of romance, causing his grades to slip under an acceptable average.
“Around the 11th grade is when girls starting paying attention to me. That was when everybody learned I could sing. So yeah, the grades might have started slipping, too. If you add that on top of it, then I guess they were justified in kicking me out.”
Ne-Yo’s Las Vegas Academy classmates included Matthew Gray Gubler of “Criminal Minds” and Rutina Wesley of “True Blood.”
“I’m glad to see people from where I came from doing well, especially Rutina,” Ne-Yo says. “She’s always smiling, a really, really pleasant person.”
Anyway, Ne-Yo is this big star now, having written and sung hit songs “So Sick,” “Sexy Love,” “Because of You,” “Miss Independent,” “She Got Her Own” and “Let Me Love You.”
He has notched platinum albums. His latest album is “R.E.D.”
He guest-sang on Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything” plus songs by Jay-Z, David Guetta and Keri Hilson.
He has written songs for Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Ciara and Rihanna.
He oversees his own liquor line (Malibu Red rum-tequila), fedora hat line (Francis Ellargo) and even signature drinks at TGIFridays.
And he co-starred in “Battle: Los Angeles,” “Red Tails” and “Stomp the Yard.”
While filming “Stomp the Yard” in Atlanta, he fell in love with the city’s mix of city and country and moved there. It’s where he, his two kids, and their mom live.
Ne-Yo’s next album probably will come out in early 2014. He is paring down songs for that album because he thinks the song styles are too varied.
“Too much versatility is mistaken for schizophrenia, so I’ve gotta streamline this thing a little bit.”
And his credo?
“I’m just grateful for the fact I’m here. I’m about to go in the studio and do my sixth album. There are cats who didn’t get past two albums. There are cats who didn’t get past one single.
“So I can’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I’m just grateful and thankful I get to do what I do every day.”
Doug Elfman’s column appears Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He also writes for Neon on Fridays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.