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Ryan Cabrera ready to spread a little holiday joy

When pop singer and one-time reality TV star Ryan Cabrera cranks up his new single, "House on Fire," Thursday night in downtown West Palm Beach, it'll almost feel like home.

Raised in Dallas and forged in the white-hot spotlight of self-inflicted fame, beginning with his breakout on MTV's "The Ashlee Simpson Show" a decade ago and his double-platinum debut album, "Take It All Away," Cabrera has always found his real reality in South Florida.

Cabrera grew up taking extended vacations in Miami, where his paternal grandmother and a large contingent of his father's side of the family kept him in touch with his Colombian roots.

"Every time I'd visit Florida, I'd get the salsa music and Spanish culture," says Cabrera, who can apply an expert roll of the "R" in pronouncing his father's hometown of Barranquilla, and also can talk the talk when it comes to Latin music.

"I have two favorites: Jerry Rivera and Grupo Niche. Those are the two that remind me the most of my grandmother," he says of the family's recently deceased matriarch. "And I'm a big Juanes fan."

The music Cabrera will perform during Thursday's free festivities to light the holiday tree (made from 600 tons of sand) on the West Palm Beach Waterfront will be pure pop, including new songs that will appear on a five-song EP, "Wake Up Beautiful," due in March, and a more distant album. The release will be his first album in seven years, a period Cabrera says he's spent touring, writing and searching for a new management team (leaving Joe Simpson, Ashlee's dad).

The goal was the antithesis of the glamour with which he's been associated, songs that were "real and honest," he says.

He was rejuvenated writing "I See Love" in Nashville with Taylor Swift song doctor Nathan Chapman, and then joined forces with Los Angeles producer Justin Gray (John Legend, Amy Winehouse, Mariah Carey) to create what he says will be an eclectic and "friendly album."

Cabrera seems particularly joyful on "House on Fire," a bouncy, radio-ready anthem that he calls a celebration of living in the moment.

"I started to realize how good life can be when you spin things in a positive way. Even when negative things happen in my life, I say, 'OK, I messed up there. How can I learn from that?'" he says. "If you spread that around, soon you're surrounded by people looking at things in a very positive way."

Ryan Cabrera and country singer JT Hodges will perform during holiday tree-lighting festivities at Clematis by Night, 6-10 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4, in downtown West Palm Beach. Admission is free. Call 561-822-1515 or visit WPB.org/events.

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