Working his reluctant-pop-star bit, Shaffer ''Ne-Yo'' Smith clings to familiar talking points about penning hits for Mary J. Blige and Mario when he rings EW following a TV appearance in London. ''I was very content being the guy behind the guy,'' says the soulful songwriter-turned-singer whose first CD, In My Own Words, recently debuted at No. 1, fueled by the breakup anthem ''So Sick.'' But despite Ne-Yo's script, we elicited a few fun facts from the Arkansas native.
DON'T ASK HIM TO REMOVE HIS CHAPEAU
Curiously, Ne-Yo never appears in public without a hat. ''The only thing my father ever gave me was his ridiculous hairline,'' he explains. ''I'm 23 but I have the hairline of a 45-year-old man. Maybe in the near future, I'll let the world see my head so it can be known there's no buckles or latches on it. Until then, I got some insecurity issues to work out.''
SAMMY DAVIS JR. IS HIS IDOL
At age 15, while Ne-Yo's friends were copying Michael Jackson, he was studying the Rat Packer's performance tapes. ''Something about Sammy's swagger really did it for me,'' he says. ''It's not that I wanted to sound like him, I just wanted to be what he was on stage and as an artist. He wasn't the norm.''
HE'S BEEN BITTEN BY THE ACTING BUG
Besides recording and writing songs for the soundtracks of Save the Last Dance 2 and Step Show, Ne-Yo has small roles in both upcoming films. ''I think acting is the natural next step,'' he says. ''I also want to do theater and put together a comic book, a cartoon, and a TV show.''
HE'S NO EMINEM
You won't hear Ne-Yo bad-mouthing the mother of his 6-month-old son, Shamir Jesse Joval Smith. ''She's not my girlfriend but she's my best friend,'' he says. ''I don't get to spend a lot of time with my son, but when I can't stand it and I need to see him, I send for her and she flies down with him so we can hang out.''
HE'S GOT CAREER ADVICE FOR WHITNEY HOUSTON
After Ne-Yo was tapped to pen material for Houston's next album, it was postponed. He remains full of ideas, however. ''Being Bobby Brown showed Whitney in a light nobody wants to see her in,'' he says. ''She needs to get away from whatever's making her weird, go into hiding, and then come back as the diva.''