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Former Wichitan's career on 'upswing'

  • Published Sunday, August 8, 2010, at 12:07 a.m.

Apparently, I'm on the Wichitans-on-the-verge-of-stardom beat this summer. Last week, I brought you news of XV, a local hip-hop artist who just signed a record deal with Warner Brothers.

This week, I have news of a former Wichitan and Southeast High grad who's making moms of kindergartners blubber (and moms of YouTube fans blush).

Chris Mann, 28, who now lives in Los Angeles, is making a name for himself on the music scene.

At the moment, his voice and original song "Goodbye Lullabye" are the soundtrack for an emotional OfficeMax commercial that's been airing for about a week. As Mann sings, adorable back-to-schoolers are boarding buses as their moms wistfully wave. One mom chases down the school bus to deliver the lunch her son forgot.

The commercial instantly created buzz for Mann as viewers took to the Internet trying to find the story behind the song and singer. (Many thought the voice was Adam Lambert's.)

"I was just excited that people cared to find out who I was," Mann said during a phone interview, which he crammed in before a sound check for his solo show at New York City's Rockwood Music Hall.

But Mann was building buzz before back to school even hit.

He's about to release his first album, which will be available through iTunes and Amazon. And a self-made video for a cover of George Michael's 1980s hit "I Want Your Sex" has gone viral, becoming a YouTube favorite. The video stars Mann (a Bradley Cooper look-alike) and his actress girlfriend, and sometime this month E! will feature it on its "Daily 10" show.

Mann also has had a lot of professional singing work since he moved to Los Angeles. His voice is featured in the chorus on all the "Glee" soundtracks and on the "Sex and the City 2" and "Avatar" soundtracks. He also performs a duet of an Italian love song in the recent movie "Letters to Juliet."

He's toured with singer India.Arie (there are videos of him all over the Internet singing with her at the shows) and he's opened concerts for Broadway and "Glee" star Idina Menzel.

Mann grew up in Wichita and graduated from Southeast High in 2000.

When he was 15, he started taking vocal lessons at Wichita State University, and while in high school, he worked in two Music Theatre of Wichita companies, including the 2000 season, which featured "Singin' in the Rain" and "Evita."

Music was just a hobby until he went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville and decided to major in opera.

After graduating, he performed in operas in Italy for a while before deciding that he'd chosen the wrong musical path.

He moved back to New York, and eventually to L.A., where he signed a deal to make a record that was never released, he says, because of staffing changes at Sony Music.

After that, he decided to record his own album and has been working steadily on it — and on lining up all kinds of commercial music work.

His parents, Mike and Patti Mann, as well as his sister, Becky Mann, live in Wichita.

Patti is the one who drew my attention to her son's accomplishments, sending me a link to his steamy "I Want Your Sex" video. (You need to watch it, preferably without your mom in the room.)

Mann says he's still in touch with many of his Wichita friends, who are following his career from afar.

They keep him humble, he said.

"They give me a hard time," he said with a laugh. "They know it's just me, so they don't drink the Kool-Aid."

Mann's new album, titled "Pieces," should be out by the end of the month. It's a pop album with romantic, easily digestible music that's loved by young girls and their moms alike, he said.

He promises to return to Wichita soon to allow us a chance to blubber, blush and swoon locally.

"I'm back on the upswing again after being up there and really getting knocked down quite violently," he said. "It feels really good."

Check out Chris Mann's music, OfficeMax commercial and viral video for "I Want Your Sex" at ChrisMannMusic.com.

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