Fans know him best as Chad Danforth from the "High School Musical" films. But as one talks with Corbin Bleu, it soon becomes clear: the 20-year-old singer/actor has a drive and determination beyond his years.
"I’m an absolutely insane perfectionist," he laughs, "and that’s what makes me push for more." Corbin pushed harder than ever on his new Hollywood Records album, "Speed of Light," his second solo effort. Drawing on a world of influences – from synth-laden electronica to old school R&B – Corbin dug deep, creating an album of enduring drive and spirit.
"This time I was much more heavily involved," Corbin says of the new album. "I wanted to make the music more mainstream and be more what I’m about." To help him realize that vision, he enlisted the help of producers Eric Hudson (who has worked with Kanye West), Brian Kennedy (Rhianna) and Madd Scientist, as well as songwriter Claude Kelley (Akon, Michael Jackson). Even while partnering with such accomplished writers and producers, Corbin was integrally involved with every track on "Speed of Light," start to finish.
The albums tender debut single, "Moments that Matter" was co-written by Corbin, Claude Kelly and Eric Hudson, on Corbin’s birthday last year, while in the studio apart from family and friends. But they didn’t forget him. A flood of calls, emails and texts reminded him of his truest connections. "I wanted to write something sentimental," he says, "about love and family."
Upbeat songs like "Rock 2 It," "Paralyzed," and the title track set the pace, blending soulful harmonies with a drum-and-bass foundation to forge something new and fun. Corbin takes down the tempo but ramps up the passion on "Fear of Flying," a beautiful song about moving on after a faltering love.
Equally moving is, "Champion," an almost cinematic tale about young people struggling to find meaning in life. "I tell kids to do what you want to do," notes Corbin, "and I say, ‘Do it because you love it. Fame is a facade; it’s not who you are.’ As long as you enjoy doing what you do, you’ll get through. This song is about the path you take."
“Whatever It Takes" and "My Everything" give Corbin a chance to rock out, while “Angel Cry” and "Willing to Go" stand out as pop jewels. “Close,” which wraps the CD, was actually the first track Corbin recorded for the album. “It stems from a relationship that had occurred overseas,” he says. “I was feeling it for sure.”
As a bonus track, the album includes “Celebrate You,” a thrillingly upbeat track set as an official song for Disney theme parks around the world.
Reflecting on Speed of Light, Corbin notes, “I love this album because from the first track to the last, there’s this path of every song getting better. For me as an artist, my one thing is to continue to grow, and I felt this brought something out in me emotionally.”
For those who followed Corbin Bleu’s rise since the “High School Musical” phenomenon, that growth is impossible to miss.
Born in Brooklyn, Corbin grew up in a show business household (his father is actor David Reivers). He attended the Debbie Allen Dance Academy and the L.A. County High School for the Arts. But long before then, he landed parts in film and TV. His credits include roles on Disney Channel's "Hannah Montana," the Disney Channel Original Movie "Jump In!," the Discovery Kids/NBC series "Flight 29 Down," "ER," and "Malcolm & Eddie." On the big screen, Bleu appeared in films such as “Catch That Kid,” "Soldier,” "Galaxy Quest,” and “Family Tree."
But “High School Musical” and its sequels made the world fall in love with Corbin Bleu. The Emmy-award winning 2005 Disney Channel Original Movie featured Corbin as ‘Chad,’ the devoted basketball player and best friend to Troy (Zac Efron).
"High School Musical 2" drew 18 million viewers, making it the highest rated Disney Channel Original Movie and the overall highest rated program in cable history. Corbin reprised the role of Chad in the big-screen sequel, "High School Musical 3: Senior Year," which to date has grossed approximately $250 million.
Of the franchise, Corbin says, “It played a major role in who I am. But as an artist there’s always a certain hunger to grow and change and do different things. We all love each other, but now we are focusing on our separate careers.”
Later this year Bleu can be seen in director William Dear's “Free Style,” a theatrical film which was also produced by Bleu's company Bleuman Entertainment. Bleu stars as Cale Bryant,' a young motorcross racer looking to win the Amateur National Championships while also supporting his family.
Even with a full plate as an actor, Corbin always loved music and made it a priority. His 2007 debut solo album, "Another Side," featured the hit single "Push it to the Limit" from the film "Jump In!" Last year, Corbin released the single "Run It Back Again" (from the Disney Channel Original Movie, "Minutemen”) which became a Top 10 downloaded song on iTunes. As a a culmination of his work, Corbin earned a Best New Artist nomination in the NAACP Image Awards last year.
That success grew out of a lifelong love of music. “I listen to everything,” Corbin says. “Hip-hop, classic rock, classical music, jazz, opera, Latin, reggae. I’m trying to branch out.”
Corbin admits he could not have endured the celebrity whirlwind without strong faith and a loving family to watch his back. “Everything from my faith to the friends I keep, to how I respect people and approach my work: That’s all stuff my parents taught me from a young age.”
It’s paying off now, with a multifaceted career and legions of fans around the world. But don’t think that’s enough to satisfy Corbin Bleu. Even “Speed of Light” isn’t fast enough for this fast-rising star. “You’re never as good as you’re going to be,” he reflects. “I think I made this album as personal as I could, and I gave it my best.”