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Beantown singer still shooting for the stars

Tierney McAfee
Beantown singer still shooting for the stars
(Photo: Lee Wilson)

In 2006, Lee Wilson was hailed by Vibe magazine as the “Top Unsigned Artist in America.” Since then, the Dorchester native has appeared as a guest performer on BET and the “Fox 25 Morning News,” toured the East Coast, endured rejection and homelessness, and opened for artists like John Legend and “American Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino.

Today, the 25-year-old singer, songwriter and survivor remains unsigned — but not for long.

Smiling broadly, he said he can’t yet reveal the details, but he gave the Banner the basics during a recent interview. “This is my last unsigned summer,” he proclaimed.

“I have some great partnerships that I am developing as we speak that will drive this goal home,” Wilson said. “My friend … says if you want something, you have to claim it. So I put it out in the universe.”

After everything that Wilson has put out, it looks like the universe might finally have something to give back to him. Amid his struggles, Wilson delights in small victories — just a couple of months ago, his new self-written single “Can I Get Your Number?” was featured on an episode of MTV’s “The Real World: Brooklyn.”

“The song is catchy, fun and light, and people need that right now with all that is going on in the world,” Wilson said.

Wilson, who now lives in Puerto Rico, still hasn’t forgotten his roots. He said he hopes to shoot the video for the song near Berklee College of Music, which he attended for a year on a full scholarship.

Wilson returned to Boston last Thursday to give an acoustic performance at the Washington Street nightclub Felt. He shared the stage with pop singer Lisa Bello and rock band Air Traffic Controller as part of “Boston Unplugged,” a benefit to raise awareness for the Peace Boston movement. Wilson took the stage with only a microphone and an acoustic guitar player, pushing his vocals to the forefront.

“The show was fun,” he said. “I prefer to play with a band in the club [or] bar scene rather than acoustic, but all in all, I had fun.”

These days, Wilson usually sings accompanied by a full band, including drums, keys, bass guitar and a DJ. Back in his Beantown days, Wilson was all about the acoustic, but he says he quickly found that record execs didn’t know what to do with a “black John Mayer.”

Wilson says his style had evolved over the years, experimenting with RandB and soul sounds, Latin rhythms, and hip-hop and pop jams. He cites Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Queen, Patti Labelle and Marc Anthony as some of his major influences.

At last Thursday’s show, Wilson serenaded one of his more personal early influences, Cindy Diggs, who heads Peace Boston, with his song, “I Choose You.”

Diggs, who used to book shows at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester, was one of the first people in Boston to give Wilson a platform to perform.

“I was 13 years old and she was a huge supporter of the Boston local music scene,” Wilson said.

Even at 13, Wilson’s quest for stardom was years in the making.

“The first time I knew I wanted to sing was when I was 6 or 7 and I saw a group called The Boys performing on television,” he said. “The second time was when I was 11. I saw Usher performing and that’s when I really wanted to become a star.”

Wilson will continue to pave his way to stardom when he hits L.A. next week for another show, where he says he plans to “kill my performance and finalize the business opportunities I have.”

For Wilson, singing is more than just business; it’s his life. When he’s not touring, he is busy penning new lyrics and working on new material.

Always aiming high, Wilson says he has big plans for his future.

“I want have it together like Oprah, Diddy, Russell Simmons, Jay-Z, Donald Trump,” Wilson said. “I want to be the mega. I want to create opportunities for my people.”

And if his deal should fall through?

“Signed or unsigned, the Lee Wilson movement will proceed,” he said.