Homie boy

Renelians’ rapture: US singer Chris Rene seems to strike the right note with Kiwis.
Renelians’ rapture: US singer Chris Rene seems to strike the right note with Kiwis.

Pop music is built on catchy melodies, easily digestible lyrics, and pretty faces. The formula is so successful that artists' songs travel across the globe before they even leave home.

See: Rene, Chris.

Rene finished third in the inaugural season of the United States' X Factor competition.

While he came up short for the grand prize, his original song Young Homie garnered praise from the judges - especially record producer and mentor L A Reid - as well as sparking a worldwide collection of fans known as Renelians.

It may come as a surprise to some, but New Zealand is the largest incubator for Renelians outside of the US.

Young Homie landed at No 1 on the New Zealand chart and is certified platinum. Trouble, the second single from Rene's debut EP, I'm Right Here, is certified gold.

Rene says the reason for this success is his similarity to many Kiwis.

"I think there are a lot of people here that are genuine," he says.

"They have a genuine feel for people - who they are - and don't compromise. I think it's also the way I am. I'm a bad boy, but I'm a good boy. It's a good thing. It's a good way to connect with people, because it's raw and it's real. It's not sugar coated. They like the rawness of me."

Rene's dual identity was exposed during his audition for the competition. Before he took to the stage, a montage introduced the story of his addiction to drugs - from marijuana to methamphetamines. He was 70 days sober when he auditioned; 70 days removed from a near fatal car crash.

The story is so compelling that Rene is working on a book about the experience.

"It's a story from the 70 days - starting from the night of the car crash. It goes into detail about what happened that day and then what happened the next 70 days with flashbacks of my life and my story - growing up."

Part of this process of growing up required Rene to pledge to the judges to stay sober. But, he gives sobriety a lot of credit for his personal and musical success.

"Getting clean and sober has changed everything about my life," he says.

"It's given me all these opportunities. Basically, working on behaviours and actions. Trying to work on those on a daily basis. One thing I've learned is that no-one is perfect and no-one is going to be perfect. The cool thing is that I don't have to beat myself up or worry about that. It's progress that I'm making. And, though the goal is perfection, it's not really necessary. It's all about making progress, one day at a time. I've learned patience and to be humble and to be thankful and to be grateful."

After the competition, Reid signed Rene to his label, Epic Records, and began development on Rene's debut recording.

True to his positive messages - he has Love Life tattooed on to his hands - Rene tries to make music that inspires people.

"My goal is to make music that rocks; that's awesome; that helps people; inspires people; that has that domino effect that creates more artists, more stars, and more superhero stars, that, even if they are bad and they've done bad things, can come around and become the next inspiration to the next kid, next person.

"Maybe someone is in jail and they need the strength, they need the help and they get it from a song I wrote or someone else wrote a song that was inspired by me. And, basically, we're all connected and my goal is to help people realise that."

Still, he tries to stay levelheaded and not look too far ahead.

"I've already achieved a lot. Putting an album out was a big achievement for me."

And, his schedule is "nonstop."

"There's no sleep for the blessed and wicked," he says.

Still, his songwriting process allows him to work wherever he travels.

"It doesn't matter what you're doing or where you're at. Music just comes and flows through you. There are certain times when it happens, but you can never guess when that time is going to be. You can't predict it. It's kind of like a wave. Or like a tidal wave. It comes when it comes."

And, have any waves crashed onshore in New Zealand?

"Definitely. Believe that. There's a song called Life is Beautiful that I'm working on now."

Serendipity also seems to follow Rene wherever he goes. During his time here, he recounted a chance Harley ride that "just came to us from the heavens".

"All of the sudden there were these Harley riders. And they were going, ‘heyyyy' and we just jumped on."

The ride continues for Rene as he promotes his new album internationally.

But, for now?

"I'm going to eat a lot of food. That's about it. Go to the beach. Play guitar on a cliff."