KING Not saying your voice was T-Pain-ful, but last year's debut, In My Own Words, displayed more songwriting than vocal prowess. Now, you're a double threat. Did the label call in Simon Cowell?
Ne-Yo That just came from singing as much as I have in the past year. Before my first record, I was just a songwriter. But on my record and in doing all these different shows, the more I sang, the better I got. I've been touring for almost a full year, so if my voice didn't sound better, I would've been doing something wrong.

Your vocals evoke Michael Jackson. Bet you're so sick of comparisons, huh?
I actually studied Mike when I first started singing. I have a nasal tone to both my speaking and singing voices, so my mom had me studying people who had that similar tone and figured out how to make it work, like Mike and Stevie Wonder. I knew Off the Wall back-and-forth; I knew where he took a breath on this word, how he said that word.

So you're not a biter—you're still writing for yourself and others…
On a lot of songs, I actually did it on purpose. Throughout the record, you'll hear unofficial odes to the different people who've inspired me. There's some stuff that sounds like Stevie Wonder, just paying homage. "Addicted” and "Angel” are unofficial odes to Prince, and "Because of You” and "Crazy” [featuring Jay-Z] are unofficial odes to Mike.

And just like he once did with Mike, Hova makes an appearance on "Crazy"...
I had that since recording the first record. It was supposed to be on the first album, but we only wanted to do 12 records, but we had 15-20 that we loved, and "Crazy” was one of those. I knew that it was strong enough to bring back, and Jay has always been a huge fan of "Crazy.” When he told me that he was willing to be on this album, that was the first record that he spoke on.

Besides Jay, another huge cameo comes on "Leaving Tonight,” with Jennifer Hudson. No offense, but J-Hud steals the thunder. Beyoncé can sympathize.
That's a song where I know I'm being outsung. But it doesn't matter, because it's Jennifer, and it's an honor. Any critic who says she killed me vocally, I'll say, "You're damn right!” I don't have the voice she has.

On your last album, it also sounded like girls were getting the best of you in relationships. Is that a continuing theme on this record?
"Do You” picks up where "So Sick” left off. In my mind, say it's three years later from where "So Sick” left off. The girl has left me for whatever reason. She's moved on, engaged, and just had a kid. "Do You” is the letter that I write to her after all these years, congratulating her but asking the question, "Do you every think about me any more?”

Nice humility. That duet, among other tracks, shows artistic growth. Was there a conscious decision to avoid cruise control?
The thing is, now I have a sound. There's an expectation. People want "Sexy Love” and "So Sick” every time. I don't want to be pigeonholed. That's the negative part of having a "sound.” People hear one thing from you, like it and expect to always hear that, but eventually they get tired of it. The second you try something else, though, they're angry. I tried finding a way to toe that line.

Listen to "Do You" by Ne-Yo

Listen to "Crazy" by Ne-Yo feat. Jay-Z

For more of this month's music selections, pick up the June '07 issue of KING on newsstands now!