Of all the pretty pop and rock stars causing a buzz today, how many will be topping the charts and stuffing arenas 20 years from now? Maybe Usher. Definitely not Daughtry. Kanye West? Heck, he'll be president of the United States (or at least mayor of Chicago). There's really only one money-in-the-bank pick, and that's R&B dynamo Alicia Keys, the piano-playing prodigy and unlikely hit machine. Not only does she write her own songs, play her own music and sing like a Blue Note legend, the 27-year-old Grammy winner has the incandescent look of a star. I've been in the same room with her twice, and yes, she was knockout beautiful. But there was something else, a presence, a glow, a look, classic but modern, warm but also don't-mess-with-me. Even more impressive, she's refusing to settle for easy stardom and getting better as a musician, as 2007 bestseller As I Am was stuffed with signs of her entering a league of her own. Keys recently took some heat for a controversial interview in which, among other things, she said she wore an AK-47 pendant. It's a nickname her friends gave her, for "killing 'em dead." A little jarring? Sure. But it's also the stone-cold truth. See you in 20 years, gunslinger.
Alicia Keys, with Ne-Yo and Jordin Sparks, performs at 8 p.m. Saturday at St. Pete Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $39.50 to $100; www.ticketmaster.com or (813) 287-8844, (727) 898-2100.