Fans mob R&B star

Usher draws big crowd in Columbia Mall visit

August 10, 2004|By Jen DeGregorio | Jen DeGregorio,SUN STAFF

When Ben Althoff, assistant manager of Journeys shoe store in The Mall in Columbia, heard on Friday afternoon that R&B star Usher was in the store, he could say only one thing:

"Jesus," Althoff blurted when he walked out of the back storeroom and beheld the multiplatinum singer and his six-person entourage scanning the sneaker racks.

"It's aight man," Usher told Althoff. "I'm not Jesus."

But the crowd gathered outside Journeys - mostly trembling teenage girls - suggested that at least some people think Usher is divine.

It's no wonder, considering some of the star's music miracles: Usher's fifth album, Confessions - the tour for which stopped Friday at 1st Mariner Arena in Baltimore - sold more than a million copies in its first week. In May, Confessions had three singles in Billboard's top 10 - a record held only by the BeeGees and the Beatles.

Mall security and Usher's personal bodyguards waited outside Journeys to shoo fans away so the star could buy sneakers - two pairs of Adidas and one pair of Asics, said Althoff - in peace.

"People would come into the store saying they wanted to try on shoes, but really they wanted to see Usher," said Althoff, who added that the singer was clad in jeans, a black Jackson Five T-shirt and a "blinging" chain hung with a platinum "U."

`500 girls'

Usher's following swelled after he left Journeys and continued shopping. You could hear the name, "Usher," reverberating off the walls, said Brandon Carter, who watched from the Dakota Watch Company kiosk where he works.

"I saw, like, 500 girls chasing after him," Carter said, adding that even his mother, who also works in the mall, came running down the hallway crying.

Lids, a hat store across from Journeys, had to shut its doors to keep Usher's disciples out, said manager JoAnna Kess.

Kess was working at a Lids in White Flint Mall that day, but she said she heard the tale from another manager when Usher left and "the phone tree started."

Kess curses her fate and the manager who was there Friday to serve the memorable customer.

"I was hatin' on her," Kess said. "I should have been here that day."

Usher did not seem fazed by the frenzy, said Aisha Jiles, who had a perfect view of him as he passed through the fans on the mall's upper level and escaped down the escalator to the food court.

Near accident

Jiles, who works at Great American Cookies, watched screaming fans flock to the upper-level banister to look down at Usher. One girl was so enamored that she nearly threw herself off the balcony, her friends grabbing her shoulders to keep her from going over the edge, Jiles said.

Women yelled, " `Oh, Usher, can I be your wife?' " and " `I'll be your baby's mamma!' " said Jiles.

Jiles said one of her co-workers lost her voice because she had been screaming so much.

But Jiles, who owns every album of Usher's and loves his famous physique as much as the next fan, found the scene excessive.

"I like his music, but not enough to chase after him," she said.

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