When 17-year old Conor Maynard first turned up on my radar, courtesy of my 1Xtra fam Uche, he already had close to a million fans on Facebook, Twitter followers in the hundreds of thousands and eight-figure YouTube views. With an online presence not unlike Justin Bieber‘s, the biggest surprise is that this teenage YouTube sensation was not from California, Toronto or even London, but the British seaside town of Brighton.

Here was a young kid from a town better known for sand and sea than singers with soul, performing some outstanding R&B covers to an adoring fanbase of millions that he’d built from the ground up over the course of two years posting to YouTube.

The first Conor Maynard cover I saw was his rendition of Drake‘s “Marvin’s Room”, currently sitting at over 3 million views on YouTube. One of the most frequently appropriated songs of recent years, Drake’s original was covered to death by artists both established and unknown last year but Maynard’s version is perhaps the best of all.

Surprisingly soulful, his vocal is strong and committed, oozing world-weary, alcohol-tained experience that, given his years, Maynard can’t possibly have. It matches the original in many ways, and betters it in some (even with Auto-Tune in abundance, one of these guys can actually sing), and it’s pretty much just Drake’s poignant rap verse that gives the superstar the edge – this is a undoubtedly a stellar cover.

Whilst his Drake cover is probably the best, predictably, it’s his cover of Chris Brown and Justin Bieber’s big-money collaboration “Next To You” that has garnered the most views so far (accounting for 9million of the 53 million YouTube plays on Maynard’s “personal” page).

As a cover video, it’s significantly less showstopping than “Marvin’s Room” but he nonetheless sounds good on it, as he does throughout all of his  uploads. It was a Ne-Yo cover which kickstarted his career: after the now Motown VP saw the video, he met with Maynard and invited him to sign his record label, triggering interest from various major labels who courted the youngster, before he eventually signed to EMI.

Maynard’s online buzz came to a head earlier this year, when he beat the likes of Lana Del Rey and Michael Kiwanuka to MTV’s fan-voted Brand New for 2012 award.  He followed that attention-grabbing accolade, and subsequent write-ups in the mainstream press (music and otherwise), by releasing his long-anticipated debut single “Can’t Say No”.

Produced by The Invisible Men (the trio behind DJ Fresh and Rita Ora‘s “Hot Right Now” and Jessie J‘s “Do It Like A Dude”), it’s pretty standard commercial R&B stuff – the beat is slightly off-kilter, bassy, dark and a bit different, but lyrically, the song is a little predictable (spoiler alert: there’s a lot of “pretty girls”, “trouble” and sweating). It sounds and reads just like a top ten hit.

Make no mistake about it – Conor Maynard is ostensibly a teen hearthrob in the Justin Bieber mould. With that said, despite his inevitable future as a inanimate fixture on the walls of teenage girls worldwide, there’s much that sets him apart from his One Direction shaped teen-bait peers.

For starters, he’s an actual R&B fan. In one interview he recounted the story of discovering he could really sing, whilst walking down the street singing Usher and R Kelly‘s “Same Girl,” admittedly a UK Top 40 hit, but not the standard fare. In the same interview he expressed his delight at getting to work with Jermaine Dupri, whom he hailed as the producer of the bulk of Usher’s album Confessions. Whilst history provides ample evidence that good taste in music does not always equate to good music, he’s thus far expressed an affinity with the likes of Usher, Mario and Ne-Yo.

If his choice of covers are anything to go by, Maynard could be about to release some fantastic R&B music – certainly, he’s in a position to sincerely fly the flag for the genre in the way that (and you’ll hopefully look past the “white guy doing black music” obviousness of this comparison) Justin Timberlake did with his two classic solo albums.

Whilst his debut single is formulaic, it’s ever-so-slightly Timberlake-esque, especially in vocal delivery, and there’s enough there to suggest that what follows might be a far more exciting use of his ample talent and hard-earned position. Then again, it might not. Either way, you’d better get used to his name, because this kid’s about to be everywhere.

Conor Maynard online: conor-maynard.com / Facebook / @ConorMaynard / Soundcloud / YouTube