Colby O'Donis and Keri Hilson... Image Credit: Supplied

If it's our parents we are supposed to thank for our giving us our first opportunities in life, then Colby O'Donis has a lot of grovelling to do.

Knee-high to a grasshopper he was playing hide and seek with some of the biggest names in the teen music industry without a second thought.

While the rest of us were tossing a coin to decide whether to plump for history or geography at GSCE, he was supporting S Club 7 and New Kids on the Block in concert.

"My life was like being in a mini version of the movie Fame," said the 20-year-old Puerto Rican via e-mail. "I was always surrounded by talented people and they became my childhood friends, we were always doing shows together and playing pranks on all the superstars we opened for."

Best known for his collaboration with Lady Gaga on hit single Just Dance (he's the sunglasses-wearing guy who raps in the middle), O'Donis says he now hopes to crack the music world in his own way.

The singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and actor is billed as the Latino answer to Justin Timberlake. "I think it's great," says O'Donis of the comparison to the heartthrob. "My dad loves it too. I'm opening new doors for Latinos to get in."

Collaborations

His father and manager Freddy would probably argue his future was written in the stars, O'Donis says it started aged three.

"I was tiny and I saw Michael Jackson do Thriller and Billy Jean," he recalls. "MJ hooked me into show business. I started really practising and became the singer I am today."

Born in Queens, he relocated to Florida and eventually settled in California by the age of 10. O'Donis became the youngest recording artist ever signed to Motown Records. His first song was called Mouse in the House and was featured on the soundtrack for the 1999 motion picture Stuart Little.

Now having worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Ne-Yo, Akon, Lady Gaga (for which the pair were nominated for a Grammy Award) Backstreet Boys, Rihanna and many more, it's hard to imagine what could possibly be next.

"Being nominated for a Grammy is something every musician hopes for," he said. "To work with Lady Gaga again would be an honour, as she is by far one of this generation's most creative souls. I am currently writing a song with Flo Rida which is going to be huge, and I am writing New Kids on the Block Jordan Knight's next single.

"Another big thing is a beautiful song with a new artist called T Lopez. She is going to be the next Spanish-American superstar."

Ahead of his debut appearance in the UAE at Emirates Palace on Friday, O'Donis shows his softer side and spills the beans about his dreams of romance and for world peace (although possibly through the famous lyrics courtesy of MJ — but still).

"Abu Dhabi is the richest city in the world," he said. "I can't wait to come and see it. But my dream date for Valentine's Day would be in Spain with the hottest girl and not have a cell phone or anything scheduled for the whole day."

And for the world: "To make the world a better place, for you and for me and the entire human race."

O'Donis on the stars in his life

Lady Gaga: "Before she was Lady Gaga, she was just a girl full of energy and a very unique way of dressing. I knew her before she became what the world sees now. I totally understand the way she dresses now, but at the very beginning I thought it was very interesting, to say the least. We were all dressed casually, and in walks the most flamboyant woman in the most amazing clothes I had ever seen. My jaw dropped the first time I saw her, and she's been like it ever since. She's like a female Liberace, but better looking."

Akon: "As big as he is, he stands by his friends. He came to my first big show with the radio station Power 106FM. So get this it was at a high school. This is the biggest star on the planet coming to a little high school. He normally performs at sell-out arenas. He taught me the real meaning of being humble."

Justin Timberlake: "I was asked to sing a song he wrote, [called] Dance With You. I have the original version of the song, which he sang as a reference for the way the song should be sung. I'm one of the only people on the planet to have it."

S Club 7: "I was very young and they treated me like family I was invited to everything."