He's a tween pop star whose amateur YouTube videos have earned him a record deal, a hit single, and a spot in the hearts of preteen girls around the globe.
No, not Justin Bieber. Preteen fans are clamouring for Australian native Cody Simpson, who having just turned 14 is gracing the pullout posters inside this month's tween magazines, has nearly 500,000 followers on Twitter and a catchy pop single and video, “iYiYi,” featuring rapper Flo Rida.
Yes, many are calling him “the next Justin.” And certainly his fresh-faced look and obscure Gold Coast, Queensland origins give him a few things in common with Stratford, Ont. native Bieber.
Next Bieber or not, Simpson is one of a gaggle of boy stars, including actor/rapper Jaden Smith, singer and YouTube sensation Greyson Chance, and boy band Big Time Rush, rushing in to win fans who may tire of Bieber Fever — or who may be too young to relate to him.“HE'S LUSH,” declares 14-year-old Cody Simpson fan Christina F. in all-caps. “He's amazingly beautiful, he's all the beautiful words in the dictionary. I can't explain his beauty. He is just too hot.”
Christina, who lives in London, England, says she first watched one of Simpson's YouTube videos on Jan. 17. “I was going on his YouTube account, and his music was just . . . amazing,” she says. “It made me addicted.”
She then did what any self-respecting pop fan does these days: she opened a new Twitter account dedicated to the diminutive crooner, @CSimpsons_Dork.
She followed Simpson. And perhaps unlike the busy, fan-swamped Bieber, Simpson followed back.
This isn't to say Bieber's star is fading. With his lipstick-kissed face on the cover of the February issue of Vanity Fair, almost seven million Twitter followers, a nail polish line and his own 3-D movie Justin Bieber: Never Say Never due out Feb. 11, Bieber is, if anything, nearing oversaturation. And as the 16-year-old ages into a slightly older bracket of fans, some younger girls are opting for more kid-friendly fare.
“People in the teen magazines, Justin Bieber and Big Time Rush” — who have a series on U.S. television's Nickelodeon channel — “and Selena Gomez, there comes a time when they transition into adulthood,” says Leesa Coble, editor of Tiger Beat and BOP magazines, which helped introduce Bieber to the tween demographic. “There's a new crop of readers who might be less exposed (to Bieber) than the people before him.”
Coble, who has 13 years of experience with the magazines, says she's watching the new crop of tween entertainers for that elusive star quality she saw in Bieber.
“We're definitely keeping an eye on Cody Simpson,” says Coble. “We're going to do a photo shoot with him here soon. We're keeping an eye on Greyson. And Jaden Smith is already getting a lot of (traction) with our demographic.”
She says she's being more cautious than she was with Bieber, who immediately struck her as a phenomenon. “When we met him, his presence, his attitude — it felt really right,” says Coble.
“He came in, he did a photo shoot with us August 2009, and in 2010 he already had an album out. By January he was already in (our) issues, he was already a giant poster. That usually comes after people are really successful. Even with the Backstreet Boys and N*Sync it didn't happen that way.”
Matthew Rettenmund, editor of Popstar! magazine, says he scours his magazine's Facebook and Twitter page “minute by minute for trends.” And while he looks for talent and charisma, a male pop star needs a heartthrob quality.
That may make it more difficult for 13-year-old Texas native Greyson Chance, who's soulful piano rendition of Lady Gaga's “Paparazzi” got him booked twice on Ellen last year. Thus far he seems more of a cherubic prodigy than a pin-up.
“Greyson Chance has the potential to expand into a major star; a lot will depend on his album release in the spring and if he's still perceived by then as a cute kid or as a potential boyfriend,” says Rettenmund.
“Our readers appreciate great music, but their buying habits are driven by guys they wish were classmates and fantasy prom dates!”
That may provide a key to the popularity of blonde-mopped Simpson. Though many of his photos show flashes of braces, he looks more mature than his age.
“iYiYi,” a ballad about missing a girl, has lyrics that shows he's “respectful” of girls, says Christina F., who adds that he's “amazingly talented.”
What does she think of Justin Bieber?
“Yeaah, umm I'm not a huge fan of JB,” she says. “I was never into him.”