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Ne-Yo on the Album He Wrote for Michael Jackson, the New One He’s Writing for Jennifer Hudson

When we ran into songwriter extraordinaire Ne-Yo last summer, he’d just started writing songs for Michael Jackson’s comeback album. He completed the songs, but isn’t sure if he ever wants them to see the light of day: “It’s sitting there, waiting to either come out on someone else or not come out at all,” he told us at Tuesday’s New Yorkers for Children Gala. “I don’t know. I’m kind of on the fence because it was music that was meant to go to Michael, so I would kind of feel funny about giving it to someone else. Some people have been like, ‘Well, why don’t you release it yourself?’ Same reason. Because it was supposed to go to Mike. So I don’t know. I’ll sit and listen to it again and figure out what I want to do.” The work, said Ne-Yo, was melodic, realistic, and cheery. “He didn’t want anything too sad or downtrodden. He wanted it to be upbeat. Melodic was the word that kept being repeated. ‘It has to be melodic. There has to be a melody that you can listen to half of once and be singing that.’”

Now for the good news: Ne-Yo is going to be writing Jennifer Hudson’s next album. In fact, he just started work on it the night before the gala. “I’m quite probably going to be executive-producing her whole project,” he said. Is she changing direction? “Wouldn’t you like to know! I’ll just say that she wants this one to be a lot more personal than the last one was. And she’s had a lot of stuff to deal with personally. The marriage; she just had a baby; and, you know, the whole … ” Yeah, we know. Sad stuff. “A lot of things to talk about. So we’re gonna take all of these experiences and turn them into music, somehow.” Hudson is planning on being very hands-on, as well, said Ne-Yo. “This process is going to be very much her there, her in conversation with me, saying, ‘What do you think about this? What do you think about that?’ Sharing stories with me, sharing experiences with me, so I can take all of these and turn them into the music.”

And if that doesn’t work out, he caught the attention of Macy’s with his last album, “Year of the Gentleman,” and is now designing a suit line with them called Alfani Red. Plus he’ll be out in two movies next year: The George Lucas–scripted Red Tails, about the Tuskegee Airmen, and Battle: Los Angeles, which he’s shooting right now in Louisiana (he left for just a half a day to perform at the benefit). He’ll be playing one of the Marines who battles the aliens who are trying to take over Los Angeles. Ne-Yo’s acting career is pretty nascent, but we’re already sensing a strong armed-forces theme. How’d that happen? “I don’t know!” he said. “The one happened and then the other one. I guess someone thinks I look good in uniform.”

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Ne-Yo on the Album He Wrote for Michael Jackson, the New One He’s Writing for Jennifer Hudson