Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

The transition from teen to young adult can be difficult enough on its own, but imagine making that change in front of a fickle public.

That was the situation facing 3rd Street/J Records artist Mario as he began preparing his sophomore album, "Turning Point." However, judging from the reaction to lead single "Let Me Love You" and the 18-year-old's new look, the transition is going smoothly.

"With the dearth of teen idols, I was a bit concerned that Mario's more mature look might alienate some of his fans who loved him as a younger-modeled star," BET senior VP of music programming Stephen Hill says. "It seems like that concern may have been unfounded. His video is so smooth and his appeal so broad that he is simply growing with his audience."

Released Dec. 7, the album debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 13 on The Billboard 200. First single "Let Me Love You" is No. 2 on the Hot 100 and the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks charts. The single is also available as a club remix featuring T.I. and Jadakiss and is included on the album.

Discovered at age 11 by his manager, Troy Patterson, Mario signed with J at 14. He released his self-titled album debut in 2002, reaching No. 4 in R&B and pop with "Just a Friend" and top 20 R&B with "Braid My Hair." According to Nielsen SoundScan, "Mario" has sold 586,000 units.

Work on "Turning Point" began a little more than a year ago, following Mario's summer tour with B2K.

"When we sat down, we were very conscious of the transition," Patterson says. "We were looking at what was out there, what was coming and where he would fit."

Those discussions gave Mario a goal: to fashion a coming-of-age record a la Michael Jackson's 1979 hit, "Off the Wall."

"It was kind of a funny change, singing mature songs," Mario admits. "But it was natural. All the songs are about friends and the situations I'm going through."

In addition to Scott Storch, who produced "Let Me Love You," the album's producers include Lil Jon, "Mario" collaborators the Underdogs and Harold Lilly, Sean Garrett and Dr. Dre associate Ron "Neff-U" Feemstar. Mario also co-wrote several songs for the first time.

"I write here and there," says Mario, who has college and a role in the feature film "Destination Fame" on the horizon. "But I got a chance to do more writing on this album. And I want to do more the next time out."





Excerpted from the Dec. 11, 2004, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.

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