Pretty much everything Austin Mahone does—sing, dance, smile, smirk, wink, wave, laugh, sigh, cough, breathe—drives girls completely nuts. Unlike most sixteen-year-old boys, he never disappoints them, and they respond with unwavering adoration. In February, however, he had reason to be nervous. He was about to sing before two of the largest live audiences of his fledgling career—1,300 screaming fans in Nashville, followed by 1,600 outside Chicago—and he still had a lot to learn. The atmosphere in the Nashville rehearsal studio where he was practicing was that of a late-night cram session. As he ran through covers of songs by Bruno Mars, Justin Bieber, Ne-Yo, Drake, Adele, and others, his mother, Michele, coached him repeatedly to enunciate and make eye contact. Lori Cox, a local band manager who had been hired as a consultant, told him not to strum his guitar so hard. She also warned him not to eat or drink dairy products before the show, which seemed to surprise him. What was bothering him most was how to begin and end the concerts. “Anybody have any ideas for what I do when I come onstage?” he asked, doing a robotic goose step. “And how do I know if they want an encore? Do they shout, ‘Encore, encore’?”
This was unfamiliar territory for Austin. Most of his singing career has taken place in his one-story brick home on the north side of San Antonio, where, from the comfort of his bedroom, he dances, sings, or makes idle conversation on hundreds of web videos. His dance moves include the Dougie and the Jerk, and he can play guitar, drums, and piano. When he sings, he tilts his head to the side and his voice loops effortlessly, Stevie Wonder–style. Sometimes when he extends a phrase, you think he might not get out of it in time, but he does. He’s like a stunt pilot veering close to the ground and pulling up at the last minute. There was a time when only a handful of people noticed his talent. Not anymore. In the past year, his YouTube channel has received more than 70 million views.
Austin is often compared to Justin Bieber, the young Canadian superstar who was discovered on YouTube. Some people say Austin has too much in common with Bieber: his hair, which is swept forward on the sides; his manner of dressing in hoodies and tight jeans; and his melodic song choices. Austin doesn’t see any problem with the resemblance. He is a Belieber—that is, a Justin Bieber fan. And in the same way that Taylor Swift has Swifties, Selena Gomez has Selenators, and Demi Lovato has Lovatics, Austin Mahone has Mahomies.
Austin is already, in many senses, a rising star. At press time, more than 650,000 people were following him on Twitter. (By the time you read this, that number may well be a million.) And yet in Nashville, he was getting a crash course in how to do the thing that has traditionally been a prerequisite of musical stardom: live performance. He took a break, ate a slice of pepperoni pizza, and then launched into a rendition of the Bieber hit “One Less Lonely Girl.” Though this was one of his favorite tunes, he seemed disconnected, and Cox was trying to pinpoint the reason. As usual, he was singing along to recorded instrument tracks (and, at times, his own guitar playing), so he should have felt comfortable. Only a handful of people were present, so he shouldn’t have felt intimidated. Finally, she realized he was adjusting to his ear monitors. “Is there too much reverb?” Cox asked.
“I don’t know,” Austin replied. “What’s reverb?”
That wasn’t his only problem that evening. Later, as the sound technician adjusted the levels, Cox leaned back in a chair with her arms folded. “What are you thinking about when you’re singing that?” she asked.
“I’m thinking about being in front of a thousand people,” he responded.
“Okay,” she said. She smiled, flipped her long, straight hair over her shoulder, and recommended that he think of somebody special. “Do you have a girl? Or maybe a crush on a girl?” Cox’s daughter, a twentysomething sitting on the floor texting, sat up straight, clearly interested in his answer.
Austin looked like he could die of embarrassment. Michele chipped in reassuringly, “We don’t need to know who it is.”
“I do!” yelled Cox’s daughter, laughing. “I’ll tweet it!”
This was no laughing matter. At last count, roughly half a million girls were in love with Austin Mahone. Some live in Texas, while others hail from London and Dublin and places the singer has never visited, much to their despair. These girls constitute the molten core of his fan base. They mail him handmade cards decorated with hearts and other doodles, which they hope to catch glimpses of on his bedroom wall whenever he posts a new video. When they are lucky enough to see him in person, they tend to lose their minds. Last October, for instance, he was in Chicago and decided to go to Millennium Park with his mom. He tweeted this information, hoping to meet a few fans who were in the area, then pulled on a gray hooded sweatshirt and a red baseball cap that said “Chicago” and strolled down the street. Nearly one thousand girls bolted into action and immediately encircled him like a swarm of bees. Local police, alarmed by the sudden mob of squealing youngsters jumping over picnic tables, swept in and extracted Austin as if he were an imperiled head of state.
So there’s no telling what these girls would do if it was revealed that Austin had a crush on someone. He wisely keeps such things close to the vest. It’s all part of the tricky navigation of the world of teenage desire. During rehearsals in Nashville, after Cox suggested some adjustments to his set, Austin tried out an a cappella rendition of the Boyz II Men R&B hit “I’ll Make Love to You.” He closed his eyes and sang it passionately.