CHARLES CITY — Seventeen-year-old Malik Knighten of Charles City only began singing and playing guitar two years ago, but he's getting the chance to pursue a professional music career.
Malik, the fifth and final member to join a new R&B/pop group called Next Town Down, has signed a contract with Sony Music and is moving to Los Angeles Wednesday.
He said it's a strange feeling "when your dream is actually happening."
It all started during his sophomore year at Charles City High School.
"I got grounded," he said.
Malik turned the punishment into something positive. He taught himself to play guitar and began singing. His friends encouraged him to perform on a live stream on the internet.
Then he started writing his own songs and "one thing led to another," he said. "Something about music felt right."
For a while his main passion was still basketball, with music being "a little side thing," he said.
During his junior year he began doing shows in the community. He quit the basketball team so he would have more time to focus on music.
Last year a friend helped him record a song to put on iTunes.
"Anyone can actually do it if you get a copyright," he said.
Malik also put short videos of his performances online.
Then a representative from Sony contacted him on Instagram. A Skype call was arranged so Knighten could talk to Sony reps and sing for them.
They flew him to Los Angeles for 12 days in December.
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"I met the guys right off the bat," Malik said, referring to the other four members of Next Town Down.
They began singing together and "the sound filled the room," he said.
There was an instant feeling that "this was it," he said.
The group has something of a Bruno Mars sound, according to Malik.
He thinks Next Town Down will have wide appeal because "we like to make different kinds of music."
The other group members are from New York, Mississippi, Virginia and Florida.
They recorded six demos with known producers, such as Grammy-winners The Stereotypes and Eric Hudson.
Once Malik moves to LA, Next Town Down will work on its first album.
Malik still has a few credits left before he can receive his diploma from Charles City High School, but has made arrangements to complete the coursework online.
Malik's father, Phillip Knighten, was in a singing group himself when he was his son's age. He now works as a disc jockey. He said Malik began accompanying him to gigs when he was 12.
He said he is not worried about his son being on his own in LA, noting family members and friends live in the area.
Phillip said he is proud of his son's success but not surprised by it.
"He has the personality that's going to take him far in the music industry," he said.