Beloved R&B singer Tevin Campbell, known for sultry ’90s hits like “Can We Talk” and “I’m Ready,” recently appeared on the PEOPLE Every Day podcast for an in-depth interview, discussing his life and career and revealing for the first time what his personal experience has been as a gay man in the music industry.
“I refer to myself as a former child star because that’s just what I am,” says Campbell, 45, of his musical past. Discovered by famed talent manager Benny Medina at age 12, the Waxahachie, Texas, native was thrust onto the music scene a year later by mentor Quincy Jones — and instantly dubbed “the next Michael Jackson” for his smooth, savant-like vocals and impressive range.
The comparison was a “big compliment” that came with a lot of pressure, says Campbell. “I just kind of wanted to be me, you know?” Instead, he was packaged as a young, heterosexual heartthrob.
Signed to Warner Brothers Music, he released his debut album T.E.V.I.N. in 1991 and followed it up with I’m Ready in 1993, both to huge success. Campbell admits, “I don’t think the sex symbol thing worked, but the love songs last.”
Coming of age in the heteronormative space of R&B at that time, “I didn’t hide anything about me. I didn’t try to act a certain way or anything,” says Campbell. But also, he notes of that era in the industry, “You just couldn’t be [gay] back then.”
Even so many years later, it has to feel great to finally talk about who he really is (and really was). “Can We Talk” was an inescapable hit in 1993, so if you grew up in the 1990’s, you definitely remember it: