"I didn't have time to dream," Tyrese says of his childhood in a gang-ridden neighbourhood of LA. "I was busy surviving." Since then he's gone from model to platinum-selling singer to actor in 2003's 2 Fast 2 Furious. "I worked hard every day to be the opposite of what was around me growing up," he says. "My success is all a rebellion against my past."
Born Tyrese Darnell Gibson on December 30, 1978, and raised with his three siblings by single mum Priscilla, a waitress, the R&B heart-throb admits that, as a child, money was scarce. So scarce, in fact, he would ask patrons at the local market if he could return their shopping carts in order to get the deposit. "I'd gather up quarters all day long," he says, "and bring the money back to my mama."
He was 14 when, encouraged by a neighbour who complimented him on his singing voice, he began auditioning for school talent shows. He also found a mentor in Locke High School music teacher Reggie Andrews, whom he calls "the father I never had".
In 1995, a local agent called the educator, hoping to cast a "fresh face" in a Coca Cola commercial. Although he arrived two and a half hours late for the audition as a result of having no transport he still landed the role of a young man singing as he strolls the aisle of a city bus. "That commercial changed my life," he says. "That started my life, basically."
Tyrese graduated from high school in 1996, the same year he scored modelling jobs with Guess? and Tommy Hilfiger. Two years later, he released a self-titled debut album a collection of smooth R&B sounds which went platinum, and the following year made another splash presenting on MTV.
Despite having no acting background, the up-and-comer dazzled filmmaker John Singleton at an audition for his 2001 movie Baby Boy. Tyrese, who according to Singleton, "looked, walked and smelled like a movie star", used his impoverished past as inspiration to play the character, an unemployed single dad from the 'hood. "It's an unfortunate and fortunate thing to be born in the ghetto," he says. "The experience of coming from absolutely nothing is a perspective that you can't go and buy or live through somebody else."
"Tyrese brings a real flavour and humour to everything but mostly, he's just cool," says Singleton, who signed the budding actor to star in the big budget sequel to The Fast And The Furious. As his film career hots up, however, the former model has no plans to put his successful singing career behind him. "I'll never put anything over music," he says. "It's still my first love."
Though his mum has moved into a luxury home her son bought for her, something else Tyrese won't leave behind are his roots back home in Watts. The multi-faceted star founded the 2000 Watts Foundation, an organization to support his home-town neighbourhood. "I have a vested interest in my community to give back," he explains. "Since I'm living out my dream, I also want to create that for the kids."