In the brief span of 18 months, 16-year-old Justin Bieber has gone from YouTube viral curiosity to pop music juggernaut. His debut album has sold 9 million copies around the world. And his videos on YouTube have attracted a staggering 1 billion views. With the February 2011 arrival of his concert/documentary, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, this remarkable teen from Stratford, Ontario, Canada, looks set to further cement his newly minted status as a cultural icon.
Guiding him through this process is his mother, 34-year-old Pattie Mallette. Shortly before the film opened, I spoke her about how her Christian faith plays a role in her shepherding her son's skyrocketing career.
Adam R. Holz: Pattie, I enjoyed Never Say Never perhaps more than I expected to. Justin comes across as a very likable, down-to-earth young man. And that's no small feat given how much success he's had. How do you try to keep him grounded given everything he's achieved at such a young age?
Pattie Mallette: I think the most important thing is to surround him with good people, people that are not necessarily yes men, but [people who] will help to create a sense of normalcy around him and be pouring into him what's right. I also just keep reminding him that he is here for a reason, that as much as it might look like it, it's not all about him, and that God has given him his gifts and talents for a reason, and to seek Him for what that is.
Holz: One thing I noticed in the film is how many different people on Justin's touring team prayed for him at different points. Have you intentionally sought to surround him with people of faith?
Mallette: Justin's manager [Scooter Braun] is Jewish, and he comes from a great family background with a great moral base. Together we both felt it important to keep him surrounded with people that were first of all morally based and second of all faith based, if and when possible. Scooter knows how much my faith means to me. Justin's got a Christian tutor, he's got a travel pastor that comes with us now and again. So, yeah, we're always trying to keep him surrounded.
Holz: What about you personally, Pattie? Who do you look to for encouragement and guidance in terms of dealing with Justin's sudden fame?
Mallette: The most important thing for me is to keep God first: Seek ye first the kingdom, and all other things will be added unto you. I've kept in contact with my pastors back in Canada and my pastors in Atlanta when we moved there, and another close set of pastors in Nashville. So there are just people I keep in our lives to keep speaking into us and to keep us grounded.
Holz: The home videos of Justin in Never Say Never reveal a precocious—in a good way—and very talented little boy. As Justin was growing up, how did you encourage his talent and his musical creativity?
Mallette: I could tell he had rhythm, so I always put instruments around him. He was also really coordinated when it came to sports, so I always wanted to get him involved in whatever he wanted to get involved in. I think it is really important to pay attention to what your kids are good at and what they enjoy doing because I think God gives us the desires of our heart and gives us our gifts and our talents.
Holz: Justin's story almost has a fairy tale kind a quality to it in that he went from posting videos of himself on YouTube to being discovered to becoming a global phenomenon in a little more than a year. What would you say is the shadow or dark side of dealing with fame at such a young age?
Mallette: I think that there's a lot of pressure, pressure on him to be a role model—an instant role model to an entire generation. He just wants to be a regular kid and make mistakes like everyone else, but he has a lot of pressure on him.
Holz: Miley Cyrus is on record saying she deals with criticism by pretty much never reading anything critical about herself. How do you help Justin deal with criticism of his work or, maybe more importantly, people who make really cutting remarks about him personally?
Mallette: I think that we just stay focused on whose opinion matters. And God's opinion is the most important one. If Justin really feels like he is making God proud, then I think that is the most important thing. Other than that, I think you just need to do your best. You can't please everyone all the time, and so you just need to feel good about yourself—for yourself and for God, for your family and the people closest to you.
Holz: Another thing that is evident in the movie is how some of his young fans practically worship him. How do you help him sort through that kind adulation and attention?
Mallette: That is such an incredible question. I think that is something that I have been aware of since day one. In the biblical story of King Herod, he was elevated to such a place of honor in his culture that people were calling him god and praising him. He didn't say, "Yes, I am a god." He didn't encourage it, but just the fact that he didn't correct them and say "No, no, no, I am not God, there is only one God" led God to strike him dead. So I say, "Justin, there is only one God, and you are not to be worshipped. You will be a role model, but you need to give credit where credit is due."
Holz: We've seen lots of young pop stars grow up in the spotlight and then have some significant problems later. I'm sure that's a dynamic you're aware of, and I've even heard Scooter Braun talk about that in some of the interviews he's done. What kinds of things are you, Scooter and your team and family doing to protect Justin from that kind of outcome?
Mallette: I think we are trying to create some sort of normalcy within our world. We don't surround him with yes men. We keep people around him who are going to be young and fun, but also people who will hold him accountable. I think it's just really important to create some sort of normalcy and encouragement, and to make a family within the team.
Holz: One of the places I saw evidence of that in the film was when you head back to your home town and Justin hangs out with some of his old friends. Does he have much chance to stay in contact with his close friends from before he was famous?
Mallette: Yep. He flies them out all the time to all kinds of events, on tour here and there, just for some companionship. We all think it is really important for him to be a "normal teenager" as long as possible.
Holz: One aspect of Justin's career that's been pretty well publicized is the role Usher has played. Justin's described him as a big brother and mentor. And in the film, Usher comes across as really likable. I wonder, though, if some of our readers might have concerns about that connection given some of the racier content in some of Usher's songs. I'm curious about what you say to someone who is concerned about Justin perhaps being negatively influenced by Usher.
Mallette: That's a really good question. You know, I think that Usher has a lot of great things to offer Justin in the way of his craft and the way of the arts. And I think that there are some good things to glean from [him]. But I hear you, and I think that there's just some boundaries that I put up as a mom, like saying, "I don't want you listening to this or indulging in this." It's just a really fine line you need to walk, because we don't want to alienate everybody out of our lives. But at the same time, you don't want to throw anything bad in with the good. So it's just a balance. I think Usher is a wonderful man, and he's got a lot of great things to offer. He's just been a really good friend and confidant to Justin.
Listen to excerpts from this interview—select #085 on our podcast page.
Read our review of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.
Read our review of My World 2.0.
Read our review of My World.