May 11, 1998 12:00 PM

“I only worry about my looks when we shoot videos because those stay around for so long,” says Rob Thomas, lead singer of Matchbox 20, whose multiple-platinum debut album Yourself or Someone Like You has spent more than a year on the charts. “It’s okay to look like an idiot from day to day, but I don’t want to be remembered like one forever!”

No chance of that. In clips for the hit singles “Push” and “3 am,” notes supermodel and superfan Veronica Webb, “I think what drives the girls crazy are those eyes—and his eyebrows! And he carries himself like a superstar.”

It helps that Thomas, 26, is comfortable with his flaws. “I wouldn’t change anything,” he says, “even though I’m a short guy [5’9] with big shoulders, so I’ll never have that tall, lean look. Everybody teases me because I have a little potbelly, but I don’t really care.” Even his chipped front tooth—a memento from an evening of slam dancing in Daytona Beach, Fla.—works to his advantage: “It adds character, right?”

Character is something he never lacked. Born on an American military base in Germany and raised by his grandmother in South Carolina and his mother in Florida, he dropped out of high school at 17 and spent the next three years homeless. “It was no big deal,” says Thomas, who earned his sleep by playing the piano at friends’ parties until linking up with Matchbox bandmates Paul Doucette and Brian Yale.

“Clothing is the extent of my vanity,” he says. “I love nice clothes. I just could never afford them before.” But he sticks to basic black: “You know—a brooding, angst-rid-den and misunderstood musician. Dark colors fit the profile better.”

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