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R&B hitmaker Lionel Richie, 69, has confessed that he was once determined to become a priest but changed his mind after a spirited encounter with a group of adoring young women.

In an interview with this week’s issue of PEOPLE, the “American Idol” judge recounts his road to success and his Aha! moment with the Commodores — the soul band he joined while attending Tuskegee University.

“I left my mom and dad’s house to go to Tuskegee University, and I met my Commodore friends there,” says Richie. “At the time I was seriously considering being an Episcopal priest. [But] the first time I played with the Commodores, a group of girls screamed. Up until that moment no one, no girl had ever screamed at me.”

The moment was life-changing for the singer.

“I didn’t play basketball, football, baseball. I played on the tennis team, and no girl ever screamed at the tennis court. It was right after those girls screamed, I remember saying to myself, ‘I don’t think I’m gonna be priest material.’”

But Richie’s parents were not exactly thrilled about his musical dreams.

“My dad and mom did not understand the Commodores, because they didn’t understand that times had changed,” he recalls. “I was this Martian that showed up at the house one day with an afro. Everything I basically stood for in the beginning of my career, my mom and dad did not understand it, not one bit. Nor did the community.”

He continues, “[Tuskegee, Ala.] was an academic community. My father was a military man. You could imagine what he was saying to me at that particular time.”

Despite his parents’ reservations, Richie never wavered from his career goals.

“Surprisingly enough, my plan worked. The Commodores got our first hit record in 1974. We went from opening for the Jackson 5 to headlining Madison Square Garden with Bob Marley as our opening act. From then on I realized I could write songs and I could sing.”

Continuing, “Transitioning into my solo career started with Kenny Rogers and the song I wrote for him, ‘Lady’,” he says. “It was monumental, across the board No. 1, forget about it. Then of course, “Endless Love” with Diana Ross. I’d never done a duet with anyone let alone written one. From there, the world just took off with Lionel Richie hanging on the back of the rocket.”

These days the award-winning star is busy promoting his new Endless Love home decor line. He also recently announced his upcoming new album “Live From Las Vegas” and Hello Tour, and Richie is working with Prince Charles as Global Ambassador to the Prince’s Trust International charity, per PEOPLE.

You can read his full interview with PEOPLE here.

Stars Hailing From Alabama
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