SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL

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Chris Rene reaches a new milestone with the release of his debut album 'I'm Right Here'
By WALLACE BAINE - Santa Cruz Sentinelsantacruzsentinel.com
Posted: 09/26/2012 05:45:36 PM PDT

Two days before a recent concert at the Catalyst, Chris Rene was hanging out on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz with a few friends and fans. But he was moving very carefully. That's because there was a puppy in his jacket.

"Yeah, this is Young Homie," he said with a laugh.

For Rene, there is no more fitting name for something that he keeps so close to his heart. This time last year, the native Santa Cruzan was in the middle of an improbable odyssey on the Fox talent show "The X Factor," where he finished as one of the top three finalists in the show's first American season. He got that far largely on the strength of "Young Homie," the upbeat hopeful soul/rap anthem that earlier this year became his first hit single.

On Tuesday, Rene begins what amounts to his post-"Young Homie" career with the release of his debut album titled "I'm Right Here" on Syco/Epic Records. The album contains "Young Homie" as well as "Trouble," the song that he has recently released as a video. Since the release of his now-famous audition performance of "Young Homie" for "The X Factor," his videos have been viewed more than 40 million times on YouTube.

I want to spread the message of strength and positivity," said Rene, commenting on the overarching messages on the new album. "And lots of the songs are like that. And some of them are just about that girl in every guy's life, that one he can love that certain way, the one he cares about."

Rene had a hand in co-writing the songs on "I'm Right Here," some of which his older brother Gabriel Rene also helped compose. His sister Gina is also featured on the album.

"You know I had to bring my family in on it," he said. "That's just how we roll, Renelian style. We put a little Rene sauce on it."

Rene is especially excited about "Rockin' With You," a bouncy and irresistible mid-tempo rocker. "We're going to blow that one up on the radio."

On the day that the album drops, Rene will be in New York City, preparing to perform in Times Square. It's been a long road from his previous life as a Santa Cruz trash collector struggling with addiction. His rocket-like rise to fame has coincided with a long stretch of sobriety, and his example has served as an inspiration to others coping with addiction. One of the secrets to staying sober, he said, is staying busy.

"Man, it's just been non-stop," he said. "When I first signed with the label, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do or not supposed to do. But I've learned a lot along the way. Since 'X Factor' stopped, I've been in the studio recording non-stop and then I was flying all over places to Boise, Atlanta, Washington, Alabama, New York, North Carolina. It was just crazy. It's just never slowed down."

Fame is, of course, generated by fans, and Rene has a growing number of them. He said that there are still people today who are discovering his audition video on YouTube for the first time. On Facebook and other places on the Internet, there has been a lot of discussion and speculation on Rene's personal life, but he said, he measures his loss of privacy with the influence he now has as a celebrity.

"The cool thing is the kids," he said. "If I go to the mall, there are so many kids who come up to me and it's just a great reminder of why I do what I do. I wouldn't trade it for anything. But, yeah, sometimes it does get a little crazy."

Rene said that he still keeps in mind who he was a year ago and he hopes that the new album might persuade the recording industry to take a chance on other unknown talents.

"All they know is that I'm some guy who was on a reality show. But what they don't know is that I'm just a regular person from a regular town just like everyone else. I'm just a creative artist who got a chance. All those people who are now famous and superstars? That's all they are, just regular people who got a chance."