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Ontario native Mendes basks in near-instant fame

In early June, Shawn Mendes performed for a sold-out crowd of 8,000 solid.

Just over a week later, he went to a prom.

A couple of days after that, the Pickering, Ont., native wowed fans on the red carpet of the Much Music Video Awards in downtown Toronto.

And at 6 p.m. Saturday, Mendes hits Darien Lake Theme Park for a free show that’s guaranteed to be jammed with screaming teenage girls.

That’s the life of a 16-year-old heartthrob whose fame has grown from Vine to network television and fancy stages. Mendes, whose debut album “Handwritten” climbed to the top of the Billboard charts this spring (making him the youngest artist to reach No. 1 since Justin Bieber), chatted about his newfound fame.

Question: Has all this attention become normal yet?

Answer: It’s not a routine yet. Every time I get on stage, I’m amazed by the fact I’m doing what I’m doing.

Q: What’s been surprising for you?

A: I don’t know if this is surprising or astonishing, but the other day I did an area show at Mohegan Sun and there were 8,000 people there. It was absolutely surreal to be able to walk out on stage to a sold-out headline show with that many people. I’ve never heard a scream so loud. It took me aback and my heart started beating so fast. I stood there for at least 30 seconds and just looked. I couldn’t speak for a second. It was the most surreal thing ever. It just blows my mind to think there are that many fans who know my music. I can’t get over that every time I get on stage, they know every word to every song. It’s just the coolest thing.

Q: Fans first found you on Vine, and social media helps them feel like they have a strong connection to you. But as the crowds get bigger, what do you do to maintain that bond?

A: You’re only one person, you can’t keep a strong connection with thousands of people no matter who you are or how hard you try. For my meet and greets, I’m not doing 500 people or whatever will make the most money. We keep my meet and greets down to 100, 150 people, so they’re more intimate. We have more time and I can meet every fan, get their story and how they’re feeling. That’s really important to me. No matter how big the show is, I usually have that core 100, 150 and can use that to understand the whole crowd.

Q: Since you’re traveling two or three times as much as you’re at home, how do you maintain your relationships back in the Toronto area?

A: It’s been hard but I make it work. For me, my friendships and my family at home are definitely as important as my career. They’re on an even level for me. I keep in contact with my friends every day; I have a big group chat on my phone with all my friends from home. It’s nice to have that connection. When I go home, it seems like nothing has changed, which is the best thing ever.

Q: So many of your fans look at what you’ve accomplished by posting music online, and they want to same result for themselves. What message do you have for people who dream of fame?

A: As soon as you start to try to force it is when it’s not going to work. If your goal is to become famous, I think you’re looking at it wrong. Usually people who become famous are an athlete and they got into it because they love the sport. Or they love singing, or writing music, or acting. They never got into it with the thought, ‘I want to be a famous person.’ It’s more, ‘I want to be a professional singer, or a professional actor.’ As soon as you have that clear in your head – that you’re doing this because you love music or songwriting or performing – the fame comes with it. It’s not something you try to get.

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Who: Shawn Mendes

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Darien Lake Theme Park

Tickets: Free with park admission

Info: darienlake.com

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