After singing backup and playing keyboards for the likes of Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill, Jay-Z and his mentor, Kanye West
, neo-soul newcomer John Legend (real name: John Stephens), 26, is riding high with a Top 10 disc, Get Lifted
ON HIS LAST NAME It was a nickname that started with a few friends. They thought I sounded like I came from another era and had that old-school vibe. Eventually I adopted it. But it's not on my checks or anything.
ON HIS GOSPEL BACKGROUND I've been in church choirs since I was, like, 6, and I've been directing them since I was 10 or 11. It influences the way I arrange music, the melodies I hear, the harmonies I hear.
ON KAYNE WEST He has great instincts. He gives me a lot of good advice on a creative level. We critique each other's songs, productions. He also gives me good advice on dealing with the record industry.
ON HIS FAVORITE SOUL LEGEND Stevie [Wonder] is probably my favorite because he wrote and produced whole albums by himself. He's just extremely talented and made such beautiful albums in succession in the late '60s and early '70s.
ON WRITING ABOUT INFIDELITY I've had women be all like, "I heard what you sing about. I know what you are." I try to convince them I was just trying to write songs, but usually they don't believe me.
ON GIVING PRIVATE SERENADES Most of the time I won't do it, but if she's really fine, I'll usually do something new, like an exclusive.