BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
Earlier this year, Kem helped fill Philips Arena as the opening act for Charlie Wilson and acknowledged it was a special experience.
“He’s a fun cat to be on the road with. He’s definitely one of my musical and performance mentors. I’m watching what he does as someone in his 60s, and he’s performing at a level that would rival someone less than half his age,” Kem said.
Chatting earlier this week from his home in Detroit — the hometown where he remains because, “I grew up wanting to be successful here” — the R&B/soul singer born Kim Owens mentioned that he’s “stepping up” his game for his new round of dates in support of last year’s “Promise to Love” album.
Kem was reluctant to share details about said stepping up when the show visits the Fox Theatre on Thursday, but noted that he added new elements to his performance to keep things interesting for the audience and himself.
He’s also into authenticity.
“I grew up listening to Patti LaBelle, Frankie Beverly, the Gap Band … I’m carrying that tradition. There are no gimmicks, no tricks, just people on stage being passionate about this music. You leave the show, you’re going to be full,” Kem said.
Scheduled to join the smooth crooner behind hits such as “Love Calls,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “It’s You” had been singer/TV talk show host/recent “Dancing With the Stars” hopeful Tamar Braxton. However, Braxton had to drop out of “DWTS” and the rest of the Kem tour dates for health reasons. She announced early Wednesday on her Instagram account that doctors had found blood clots in both of her lungs.
R&B singer Avant will now open the show instead of Braxton.
Performing in Atlanta is on par with playing in Detroit for Kem because of the love he receives from the audience.
“They love us!” he said with a laugh during the interview earlier this week. “They really appreciate you in Atlanta. They’re with you, they want you to win.”
In addition to his musical accomplishments — five studio albums, including his favorite, “What Christmas Means”; nearly a dozen R&B hits; three Grammy nominations — Kem recently commemorated 25 years of sobriety and readily shares his story.
“My life has been so transformed for so long. I’m surrounded by great people. Using alcohol and drugs is never a temptation for me,” he said. “You make a choice of how you want to live and you live that way. There are ways I have to maintain my balance. Whenever we go through something, we have an obligation to talk about it and inspire and help others, too.”
Once he wraps this 16-date tour early next month, Kem will return to Detroit and spend next year writing and recording the follow-up to “Promise to Love.” His list of hopeful collaborators is star-studded — Sade, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding — but Kem is philosophical about the realities of celebrity scheduling.
“We’ll just throw all of the names at the wall,” he said with a laugh, “and see what sticks.”
With Avant. 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12. $36-$131.50. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, foxtheatre.org.