Saginaw native Algee Smith brings New Edition role to life
By Eric Woodyard March 02, 2017 mLive
John Eley spent many nights traveling across the country with R&B frontmen Bobby Brown
, Johnny Gill
and Ralph Tresvant
Eley was hired as a guitarist from 2008-09 as the trio embarked on a tour under the short-lived Heads of State moniker.
Although the band was pretty much a spinoff to the legendary New Edition hit group, Eley witnessed adoring fans worship the lead singers at every stop.
He never imagined that his young son, Algee Smith, would someday portray Tresvant - who he grew to know as "Rizz" - for The New Edition Story.
"I gave him a cheat sheet. It was funny, though, because seeing him perform Ralph was crazy," Eley said. "I called some guys that were in the band and told them what Algee was doing.
"I didn't actually get a chance to talk to Rizz myself, but I was able to give him some heads up and pointers about him about Ralph's personality, how he carried himself and Algee just adapted it and carried it well."
Smith, a native of Saginaw, delivered the performance of a lifetime during the three-night miniseries, which aired Jan. 24-26 on BET. The 22-year-old singer and actor said he felt a spiritual connection to the sweet-voiced Tresvant, especially with him still being alive and able to share his input along the way. The two were able to develop a bond that still stands.
"Other than the fact that we have many similarities with family and stuff, it was some stuff that I learned about his mom that I want to share but I really can't," Smith said. "It was so detrimental with what he went through with her, having to watch her pass from drugs and stuff like that so learning that about him was great.
"I was just talking to him about that stuff the other day."
Then there's the untold chronicles that didn't make the film.
"When him and Bobby were touring, they once hooked up with this dude's girl over here in L.A. so the dude got hot and put some money on Ralph's head and they were following him from city to city until they had to pay him off for like $30 or $40K," Smith said. "But it's just like learning little fun stuff like that, which I'm sure wasn't fun at the time for them."
Watching other storied music films, such as "The Jacksons: An American Dream" and Prince's "Purple Rain" was also impactful. Smith said he honestly had never studied New Edition before taking the role, but enjoyed the brotherhood he formed with the cast throughout the experience.
"The whole time it was like a spiritual thing," Smith explained. "It wasn't too deep where we were all bowing and praying on the floor every day before the set, but we could all feel the energy. We kept that.
"We were praying before takes but I feel like the energy that we brought to everything, plus the timing and long overdue process for the actual New Edition to be honored like that just all made it so special."
Smith was born in Saginaw on Nov. 7, 1994, briefly attending Early Head Start and Kempton Elementary before being home schooled. He moved to Georgia at seven-years-old, returned briefly in 2001 then relocated to Peach State again in 2002. He now resides in Los Angeles.
His mother, Tanesha Eley, was also born and raised in Saginaw, graduating from Buena Vista High School. He still has relatives living in the area, including several aunts, uncles, siblings and his biological father, Algee Smith III, but hasn't been back since he was 16-years-old.
"He does have a value for coming back to do something for Saginaw and I do, too," Tanesha said. "For people to know that some people come from Saginaw and are doing well, I don't just necessarily preach it to him but we do team him to not forget where he came from."
Smith isn't a fan of the Golden State Warriors, but says he holds deep respect for fellow Saginaw native Draymond Green
. They've never met but he hopes that changes soon.
"I actually want to do something for the youth back in the city with Draymond," Smith said. "So that's on my mind and I've been thinking about that a lot."
For now, Smith remains busy putting in a ton of work. He plans to release singles from his EP music project soon. Smith will also star in the "Untitled Detroit Project," about the 1967 Motown riots, which was directed by Oscar-winning Kathryn Bigelow. The movie will get released Aug. 4.
Displaying versatility and not just being known as the dude who played Tresvant is his ultimate goal.
"The movie I've got coming out Aug. 4 is a biopic as well and it's about another character so now I don't want to do anymore of those for a minute," Smith said. "It is very important not to get boxed in and that's my thought, but as long as the work is solid, people can feel you and you can touch people's hearts ... the work will be straight."