Turning Rejection Into Gold One Song At A Time
The one thing supposedly guaranteed in life is the unconditional love of family. So no matter how many times I hear stories about a LGBT youth being rejected by his or her family, it never ceases to infuriate me. Unfair and so cruel for those who, for the most part, have already had far too many hard-learned lessons imposed by fear and a lack of understanding around their sexuality. Yes, in many ways it has gotten better, but there are still many who have to endure more than their share.
All you have to do is take a moment to read the stories about many of our youngest LGBT brothers and sisters to grasp the challenges they can often face, the inherent self-doubt, bullying, name-calling and angst that can come with growing up gay. Some have it more difficult than others, some less, with far too many having to hide in that less-than-comfortable closet. Many being forced out onto the streets when they step out of its confines - by choice or by a demand to leave. The statistics are sobering: Between 20 and 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT.
So when I heard of Jonathan Allen, the young vocalist who told his all-too-familiar story on "America’s Got Talent" about being rejected by his conservative parents, I was touched by the misfortune and his ability to rise from those challenging circumstances. His talent is undeniable, the powerful voice that emanates from this unassuming, fresh-faced young man belies the trials he’s faced and shows the world that pain and suffering do not have to end with more of the same.
I can’t wait to see where Jonathan ends up - I see many bright stars in his future.
HERE’S A BIT ABOUT WHAT HE HAS TO SAY:
You’re a busy guy these days aren’t you?
Yes, I am really, really excited and I am loving it.
Let’s chat a little about your beginnings. When did you start singing?
Well, I guess you could say that I came out of the womb that way. I really started at a very young age, just like most everyone, singing it the shower, that kind of thing.
When did you first realize or understand that you had something unique vocally?
I grew up in the Church of Christ, was raised in that faith with my family, and used to sing there all the time. I loved it so much, so I guess I’d have to say that it was there, when I was quite young. It was a church with very traditional values. Growing up there was when I realize that I had something different.
When did you first realize that you were gay?
Definitely at some point in elementary school. I’ve always known that I was different, but I didn’t put together that I was gay until late elementary school or early middle school. It was a challenge, especially growing up in Tennessee, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me to find support there. But I am here now and loving it!
That is part of what I think is so important about your story. It’s a good thing for LGBT kids who are struggling to see someone coming out of difficult circumstances with such success and grace. Did you have much support when your coming out process started?
I had a friend who I told early on when I was in eighth grade, a best friend I would talk to and she was very supportive. As far as my parents go, I came out to them when I was 15, that unfortunately didn’t go so well. I was sent to a psychologist, to Christian counseling to "fix" me, with the goal of making me straight.
How did you manage? Can you share a bit about what that was like for you?
I had to pretend to be straight in order to stay in their house and it was difficult to hang out with friends or to have them over because my parents would always assume that they were gay. So I pretended to be straight, until just before my 18th birthday. I sat down with them and said, "Look, I am gay, there is nothing I can do about it. Accept me for who I am or I guess you can’t really have a son."
Their response was something like, "We’re not going to have that in our house, it is sinful and it would be sinful for us to have you here living under our roof. When you turn 18 you will be legal and you can leave." So when I turned 18, I was asked to leave.
I don’t care how many times I hear this story from other LGBT young people, that kind of rejection still stuns me.
Yes, it’s frustrating, but really what can you do? You can’t force them to change.
I guess that is true. Aggravating, but true. Can you share a bit about what you did after being asked to leave?
I stayed with friends in Florence, Alabama, which is about an hour drive south of where I grew up. Early on there, I got caught up in the wrong crowd for a bit, made some mistakes and had to learn some hard lessons.
After that, I moved in with a friend from high school and her family. They were very supportive, loving and accepting. From that point on I decided that I wanted to pursue music and singing. I went to school at the University of North Alabama for a bit, and then at Middle Tennessee State University to study vocal performance. I had about a year’s worth of vocal training throughout that process. After that, I decided to audition for "America’s Got Talent," and that brought me to where I am now.
Let’s talk about the "America’s Got Talent" process. What was that like for you?
I actually auditioned once before and didn’t make it on at that point, which was a little discouraging for me. But my boyfriend [Demetrius Antoine] pushed
me to do it again. He said, "You have to audition for this show, it’s your dream, it’s your passion." He really encouraged me to pursue it, so I auditioned again in Nashville.
From what I understand, it’s quite an intense cattle call, tons of people show up for the process.