R&B Star Tevin Campbell Opens Up About His Life — and Sexuality: 'I've Embraced Me'

The man who asked the famous question, "Can we talk for a minute?" now opens like never before.
Popular R&B singer Tevin Campbell, known for spirited '90s hits like "Can We Talk" and "I'm Ready," recently appeared on the PEOPLE Every Day podcast for an in-depth interview in which he discusses his life and career spoke and for the first time revealed his personal experiences as a gay man in the music industry.
"I call myself a former child star because that's what I am," Campbell, 45, says of his musical past. A native of Waxahachie, Texas, he was scouted by famed talent manager Benny Medina at age 12 and thrust onto the music scene a year later by mentor Quincy Jones — and instantly dubbed "the next Michael Jackson" for his smooth, erudite and awe-inspiring vocals on offer .
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The comparison is a "big compliment" that comes with a lot of pressure, says Campbell. "I just wanted to be me, you know?" Instead, he was packaged as a young, straight heartthrob.
R&B star Tevin Campbell opens up about his life – and his sexuality: 'I hugged'
Michael Marquand Tevin Campbell
Signed to Warner Brothers Music, he released his debut album T.E.V.I.N. in 1991 and followed by I'm Ready in 1993, both to great acclaim. Campbell admits, "I don't think the sex symbol thing worked, but the love songs hold."
For example, "Can We Talk," a song almost given to Usher, his contemporary at the time, earned Campbell a Grammy nomination and has seen a resurgence in recent years thanks to a popular TikTok singing challenge. "I had no idea, back when I was 15 or 16, when I recorded this song that it was going to have this impact," says Campbell. "I was just a kid singing in the studio."
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Coming of age in the heteronormative space of R&B at the time, "I didn't hide anything about myself. I wasn't trying to behave in any particular way," Campbell says. But he also notes of that era in the industry, "You just couldn't be [gay] back then."
Partly due to record company changes, Campbell and his music were put on hold after his third album, released in 1996, did not do well. Around the same time, his personal journey began.
"When I came out to my family and friends when I was 19 or 20, that was it for me. And then I set out to discover myself. I didn't know who I was," says Campbell, who stepped away from the music industry and credits much of his growth to appearing in the Broadway musical Hairspray for six years, beginning in 2004.
R&B star Tevin Campbell opens up about his life – and his sexuality: 'I hugged'
Paul Natkin/WireImage Tevin Campbell
"Being with people who were like me, LGBTQ+ people who lived normal lives and had partners. I had never seen that before," he says. "It was a great time in my life."
Despite years of speculation, Campbell has kept his personal life largely private. Earlier this year, he responded to a Twitter user's question about famous singers who are allegedly gay. He simply tweeted, "Tevin is..." and added a rainbow emoji.
"It was easy for me," Campbell says of what many took to be a coming-out statement. In truth, he adds, "I love my fans, but I don't care what they think about my sexuality."
R&B star Tevin Campbell opens up about his life – and his sexuality: 'I hugged'
Asked for his thoughts on the recent success of young queer black stars like Frank Ocean and Lil Nas X opening up to fans, he said with a laugh, "It wasn't like that in the '90s. "But I'm glad I can see it. I'm glad that's changing. There are a lot of kids, especially young black boys, who need to see substitution.”
He adds, "They are not taught to love themselves for who they are."
For Campbell — who is working on new music, recently performed at Nashville's National Museum of African American Music and took home this year's R&B Icon award at the Black Music Honors — loving himself is his greatest achievement.
"What makes me happiest right now is how far I've come in life," he says, "You know, there's a lot of child stars that don't make it. But a lot of us make it through ... and the fact that I hugged."
To hear the full interview with Tevin Campbell, tune in to the PEOPLE Every Day Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. For a video, watch PeopleTV and to learn more about this story, get this week's PEOPLE, available on newsstands on Fridays.
Tevin Campbell
American singer (born 1976)

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