NEW YORK – It took El DeBarge more than two decades to get off drugs — and he says watching performers like T.I. and Bruno Mars get into trouble over them only proves that every one needs a second chance.
"My heart goes out to Bruno Mars, my heart goes out to T.I.," DeBarge said in a phone interview Tuesday from his Los Angeles home.
"I know there's a lot of people out there experimenting with drugs. I know. I did it because I was curious. I said, 'Hey, let me try this.' And it took me 22 years to un-try," the 49-year-old singer said.
DeBarge added: "They're very talented and I'm here to show that the second chance is ours."
T.I. was stopped on Sept. 1 after making an illegal U-turn and Los Angeles police say they found several pills confirmed to be a controlled substance. The rapper, 29, had been released from jail in June after serving 10 months on weapons charges and is still on probation.
Mars — the 24-year-old rising newcomer who's appeared on and co-produced two of the year's biggest hits with B.o.B's "Nothin' on You" and Travie McCoy's "Billionaire" — was arrested on Sept. 19 for having 2.6 grams of cocaine.
DeBarge, who was jailed for two years following a 2008 drug possession arrest, returned to the stage this year's at the BET Awards. He's planning to release "Second Chance," his first album in 16 years, later this year.
"Just call me crazy, but after a long 22-year drug bend and me being able to come back and being embraced by fans like this and just to be alive and still have my chops, I think that's awesome," DeBarge said.
The singer's career saw its peak in the 1980s when he led four of his siblings in the clan DeBarge. The R&B group had No. 1 hits like "Time Will Reveal" and "Rhythm of the Night." The group's music was also given new life through use by artists like the Notorious B.I.G., Tupac and Ashanti.
DeBarge's upcoming CD will feature 50 Cent, Fabolous and Faith Evans. He starts a tour with Mary J. Blige on Oct. 7 in Washington.
DeBarge said he never lost his voice, but did lose his confidence about his career.
"I was praying the whole time while I was on drugs: 'Oh God please, you got to get me off this. You got to help me.' So he said, 'OK.' ... Because I found out that God not only wanted me to have faith in him, but also to have faith in myself. And so once I did that, my confidence showed me that it was always there, I just had to believe it again."