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.
That's for sure; we waited at least five hours before I even got into the room! It was a long, involved process getting to the point where the judges actually hear your audition. I was lucky to get called to Louisiana for a second audition and they loved me there.
What was your favorite part of the "A.G.T." process?
Probably just being on stage really. It was all very overwhelming, but it was in a way so amazing because it was a place that I felt like I belonged, being on stage at Radio City Music Hall and performing in front of that many people. It was really so life-changing and beyond belief for me.
How many people does the audition process start out with?
Oh gosh, it's so many. There is a huge roomful of people, there are literally thousands in the beginning - it's really almost ridiculous. I have to say though, I didn't really consider any of them as competition. You can't help but become friends because you get to know each other so well, sitting in those rooms for days. It was so cool meeting all of those wonderful people and connecting during and even after the show was over.
Did you have support during the process and while you were there performing?
Just my boyfriend Demetrius! He was awesome.
Congratulations! How did you meet and how long have you two been together?
Let's see, it's been a little over a year and a half. We actually met online and we just sort of clicked. We've been together for about two years and he is truly the love of my life.
That is so adorable, kudos to you both! So I hear that you've transplanted to sunny Southern California.
Yes and I am loving it... no rainy weather! I so enjoy the West Hollywood area and like being there so much. I love to hang out and exploring, just walking the streets, it's really cool!
You have been busy performing since you arrived. Have any of the particular performances stood out for you?
I had the opportunity to sing at the GLEH event in Malibu, its was a Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing benefit and it was really fun. I also got to sing as the Phantom of the Opera at the WeHo Halloween Carnival in October, which was amazing and really fun. It was unlike any other Halloween that I have experienced! (Laughs) It was very cool. I also have another performance coming up that I'm excited about, it's called "Music of the Night" at the Rockwell Table and Stage here in Los Feliz.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you're planning to perform?
I'm going to do some holiday music, some of my favorite Josh Groban pieces, songs from "Les Miserables" and some of my favorite Pavarotti arias. It's a good mix of different styles and selections.
Are they the people that inspired you? Your idols?
Definitely Josh Groban, Pavorotti, Rene Fleming and of course Celine Dion, she is my all-time favorite performer.
You will have to do a duet with her sometime then!
I would love to, I would so love to, although I'd probably drop dead right there on stage from the shock! I definitely would love to perform with just her though, she is so great. She's so personable too, she's just herself, I love that.
That's actually one of my favorite things about you as well. You have managed to maintain a wonderful sense of who you are - don't ever lose that.
It's important to stay humble, that is the most important thing.
Where would you like to see yourself in say, two, or three years?
I would like to see myself still singing for people around the world. I want all of it, every bit of it! I am so excited about the journey coming up!
Jonathan Allen can be seen [and heard, of course] during his Music of the Night Holiday Show on Wednesday, December 18 at Rockwell Table and Stage, 1714 North Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles. For tickets and more information on the show go to rockwell-la.com.
To keep up on his career and day-to-day musings follow him on twitter: @allen_operaboy, or like him on facebook. You can also keep tabs on what's coming up for him on his website at jonathanallenmusic.com