"I was raised to appreciate music and art," says Legend. "I had a lot of opportunities to practice my craft as a young person."
His stage name may be bold, but it's all part of John Legend's plan. "I want to measure myself against the greatest," the 26-year-old singer born John Stephens explains. "I felt like my name was just another part of my aspiration to do this as well as possible." So far, so good. Since releasing his major-label debut Get Lifted late last year, Legend has scored platinum sales thanks to the hits "Used to Love U" and "Ordinary People." He also gave a rousing Grammy performance and has an upcoming TV concert (airing Sunday, 7 p.m., on the Oxygen Network).
Legend, who's been compared to Stevie Wonder (whom he played on a recent episode of NBC's American Dreams), teamed with rapper-producer Kanye West to cowrite several songs on Lifted. (The pair met in 2001 when Legend roomed with West's cousin at the University of Pennsylvania.) He has also collaborated with Lauryn Hill, Jay-Z and Britney Spears, and is the opening act for Alicia Keys's current U.S. tour. Legend, who'll be headlining his own tour of the States, Europe, Australia and Japan later this spring, spoke to PEOPLE about perseverance, his family and why he's playing the field.
It's been a whirlwind few months for you.
This has been really fun. It's a little grueling as far as the time and the demands on your body but, man, what more can I ask for? The acclaim, the commercial success, the opportunity to tour with Alicia. Everything that's been going on, we couldn't have scripted it much better than this.
And now you have your first televised concert special.
I love performing live, and the opportunity to show it to the whole world in kind of a club setting is really cool. The custom-concert idea is cool because the fans get to pick which songs they see.
How was it giving control to the fans?
I trust them. We do it for them anyway. I'll let them decide this time.