Something about Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” struck Marcus Canty at 11 years old. Where basketball shorts and Kobe Bryant once held a special place, Stevie’s Motown groove stepped in.
“At first I liked music, then it grew into love,” he says with a laugh. “Singing just grabbed me. I started singing gospel music, but Stevie Wonder really drew me in. Then once I got a little bass in my voice, I started going into Luther Vandross’ music too.”
For the 21 year-old who won the hearts of America on Fox’s “X Factor” talent show, it appears music loves him back.
“When I grabbed the microphone at the ‘X Factor’ audition, a whole other person came out,” he recalls. “I love performing for huge crowds but I started performing like I never had before.”
With enough talent to transform Rihanna into a shy fan admitting she “had to look away” as he sang to her, Canty is ready to share his smooth tenor with the world on his upcoming debut album, guided by his idol Epic President Antonio “L.A.” Reid.
Born in Washington, D.C., Marcus Canty was raised by his mother in Palmer Park, Maryland along with his older sister in a full house with their aunt and her three children.
“Family is huge for us,” Canty says. “We were all so close, my cousins were like my brothers. By the time I was seven or eight, they moved away and I became more of a mama’s boy. It wasn’t the best neighborhood, but my mom kept me out of the streets.”
Growing up Marcus’ father was around about 10% of the time, so his mother signed her son up for basketball to provide him with positive male role models. Basketball quickly became Marcus’ first love, despite performing in church plays at New Hope Baptist in Forestville, MD since he was in diapers.
“I always remembered everyone’s lines, I was in the zone at three years old,” he recalls.
But by his early teens, music began to creep in. Raised on a diet of Al Green, the O’Jays and Wonder thanks to his grandmother, Canty hit the talent show circuit and signed up for a show called “Talent Rock.” This talent competition marked the first of many accolades as Marcus was named top ten in the vocal category, print modeling and won an acting scholarship to New York’s School for Film & Television. At eleven years old, Marcus won second place with a rendition of Yolanda Adams’ “Still I Rise,” as he beat out competitors twice his age at the non-televised portion of Amatuer Night At The Apollo. By fifteen, Marcus now performed televised in front of the notoriously tough audience at “Showtime At The Apollo” and sang Trey Songz’ “Gotta Go,” which landed him second place.
“That was a breaking point for me, I knew singing was what I wanted to do,” Marcus says of ditching his basketball dreams and recording music with his cousin Deric. “I was like ‘I’m not going to be 6’5” so I should go where the money is.”
In 2009, Canty was chosen over hundreds of highschool seniors across the nation by the National Foundation for Advancement In The Arts – YoungArt (which recognizes and supports America’s most talented 15-18 year olds in the visual, literary and performing arts), and inducted into the organization.
After graduating high school in 2009 and exhausting the performance circuit around his native Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area, where he opened for Bow Wow, B5 and Hurricane Chris, the young tenor connected with an independent label from the Motor City.
“I went to Detroit and started working with a company called MVR Entertainment on an album that we were going to shop around to labels,” he recalls.
But while crafting what he hoped would garner a major label deal, Marcus heard about the “X Factor” auditions and saw his chance at stardom. And once he learned that music executive Antonio “L.A.” Reid would be serving as a judge and coach on the talent show, it seemed all too perfect. Upon graduating highschool, Marcus was faced with an ultimatum that left him at a crossroad. Implemented by his mother, Marcus was given two years to pursue a career in music and if he was not successful within that two year frame he would then have to go to school. It was at this moment that Canty knew his back was up against the wall and that he had to nail his X Factor audition.
“In my first audition, I was just excited to be so close to L.A. Reid,” Marcus says of his first audition in Seattle. “When I was a kid, I was always trying to get music to L.A. before I met him. My ideal label situation was him at the head of the company.”
After wowing “X Factor” judges Paula Abdul, Nicole Scherzinger, Simon Cowell and Reid with an explosive rendition of “I Wish,” Reid encouraged the Maryland native to try compositions outside of his comfort zone.
“On the show, L.A. challenged my mind and my voice, he was a father figure and a friend. During Rock ‘N’ Roll week on ‘X Factor’ I wanted to do Tina Turner’s ‘Proud Mary,’ when I played it for him, he agreed that it was huge record,” Marcus recalls. “But then he showed me Janis Joplin’s ‘Take Another Little Piece of My Heart’ and it opened my eyes to versatility.”
Describing his sound as R&B with a pop twist, Marcus looked up to the showmanship of Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson and Usher.
“The audience needs to feel every note you’re singing, and you felt what they were saying,” he says.
Now as he preps his own album, Marcus hopes to collaborate with Timbaland, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and even Quincy Jones.
“I’ve worked with Kuk Harrell, JQ and Johnta Auston so I’m already blessed,” Marcus says.
The young singer’s first single, following his departure from “X Factor” as a semi-finalist, is “Won’t Make A Fool Out Of You.” The Think Like A Man soundtrack cut shows off Canty’s pristine vocals and smooth tenor over polite keys, light snaps and a bouncing bassline as he promises to be honest and kind to his lady. “Shorty” boasts tender strings and lovestruck lyrics with Canty inviting his long-lost love interest to return to their “love nest.” Light drums and high keys guide the two-step friendly “You Make Me Dance,” where Marcus’ layered chorus tells a lucky woman that she “makes him want to be with her all day.”
“I want a classic album and it’s tough to get that out the gate, but I think it’s possible,” Marcus says with confidence. “It’s about telling stories and there aren’t many in music today. But I want to tell stories that connect with people in my own way.”