With the very loud and highly anticipated return of American Idol, love it or hate it, its success, publicity, and participants have become not only American household fixtures, but they’re practically part of the structural foundation of today’s marriage between media culture and music. Even if you were one of the original hardcore fans, the many contestants of its first 15 seasons (rebooted for its 16th after a two year hiatus), who displayed their guts and vocal chords on the AI stage, began to leave us in a whirlwind of ability and personality (of course), but with fewer standout names. Or, at least names with any staying power longer than a few episodes. Although he wasn’t crowned THE American Idol on season 14, Rayvon Owen‘s fourth place finish was nothing to scoff at. His presence, permanent smile, and style separated Owen from the rest, and he soon released a single, appropriately titled “Can’t Fight It,” confirming what many online had speculated–that he was gay. Since then, his focus has been on himself and the extension of this self…his craft, his art, his music–appendages, per se.
Owen embraces authenticity, yes, but also evolution. He has become a role model for artists struggling with their identity and how music can be both a cause and an effect of that battle and ultimate resolution. With a new single out now demonstrating his growth since the American Idol days, he’s proving that he’s moved on and moved up. Idol may be back, but so is Owen, although he never really left us even when the series did. Whether through his music itself or his outside projects, including volunteer work with youth, Owen is determined to spread his messages of encouragement: Be yourself, and you’re not alone no matter who different this “you” may be.
While most are turning on and tuning into American Idol’s newest season and its onslaught of emerging talent, keep your eyes and ears set on Rayvon Owen, a true American artist. The man has skills, no doubt, be he’s busy doing what comes naturally. He’s fulfilling his role not only as a musician but as a concerned citizen and supporter of acceptance, in all ways and forms of expression. The standard has been set above the bar. That’s the stuff that idols are really made of.
Jacket by Zara, Shirt + Pants by ASOS.
You’re from Virginia. So, you were raised with an emphasis on southern hospitality and all that it entails? I know a little something about that.
Yes! I’m from Richmond. I also went to Belmont in Nashville for their amazing music program. I loved the vibe and the community. I’m at home in L.A. now, where I live permanently. It is totally different.
Was religion a major part of your childhood? And if so or not, how has that either positively or negatively influenced your music? Or, just you as a person?
Well, I’m very grateful for my religious upbringing. Just grateful. I think it has influenced me in every way. I grew up around gospel…listening to it and singing it, harmonizing. My sister and I would, in fact, mimic the women in the choir on Sundays. I fell in love with music in church. Those traits, I have tried to carry on. Southern hospitality, in general, and the whole culture. To answer your other question, in most ways, it was positive. It was also hard. My mom raised my sister and I alone, basically. She would work 2-3 jobs just to make sure that I could perform around town and take piano lessons.
Of course, we have to bring up American Idol 14, which has been pivotal in your career. You were named fourth, which is absolutely incredible. But, how did it feel to be thrown onto the very public national stage every single week?
It was like stepping into a different world. That’s what it felt like, because it literally was. That (laughing), was an interesting phase of my life. I grew. It made me uncomfortable. I was visiting people in their living rooms at night. You have to learn how to chew the hay, and spit out the sticks.
I love that expression. How do you practice that?
Me too! And, it is so true. It is learned. It’s hard. You take what you can and what will help you, and leave the rest behind. Move on. Take the meaning… Don’t digest what negatively affects you. People pulled me through the negativity…strangers helped me.
When you look back on that time period of your life and that opportunity, how do you feel like you’ve changed as a performer?
Looking back, I’ve realized that it was not the end all, be all. I saw, firsthand, the tough side of the industry and who to trust, what to do and what NOT to do. At the end of the day, it is a television show. It is the TV business. I’m grateful for my chance, though, and how it opened me up to an entirely new audience and group of fans.
It’s been two years since your major debut single “Can’t Fight It.” It has over one million views on YouTube, but the theme of that song is so relevant today with the political and cultural climate.
Thank you! That’s what I wanted…I wanted it to be able to apply to anyone…anyone not embracing who they really are, and who wants to start. I was hoping to inspire all people in some way to to be [honest], not just LGBT.
Speaking of movements and your platform as an artist, tell me about some of your work as an activist. Where are you channeling your energy?
I feel like I’ve been given a platform, and that’s a huge blessing. I should use it for good. If people look up to you, you have the ability to create change. Music came first, but now, through that, I can step up and do these events, like speaking at an elementary school and discussing topics with the children there. I did not expect to be doing things like this, especially with coming out. I realize that there is so much crap out there going on. The more we speak up and out, the more we draw attention to these very real issues. If what I’m doing is helping, even just to relate to others, then I’m doing my job in this climate. We have to come together and stand beside each other.
Hat by Paul Smith, Jacket by All Saints, Shirt by Tom Ford, Pants by MNML.
To relax after such emotional work, do you have a television show that you’re obsessed with?
Netflix! Netflix…I’m all about Netflix. But, don’t put “chill” in there (laughing). OK, you can if you want. But, all of their shows get me. Grace and Frankie, Orange is the New Black, Handmaid’s Tale (on Hulu)…love all of those. I get really into them.
Drink(s) of choice?
Red wine. I’ve become a wino. It helps me to relax. If there’s no wine, then I’m always drinking tea.
Drinking the tea, not spilling it, right?! Except with us, of course. You didn’t publicly come out on American Idol until post-show, when you released your single “Can’t Fight It.” What’s changed since then? Do you or did you feel liberated?
Oh my god, little did I know, it rocked my world. I was born again. Artistically and personally, it changed my direction. Now, I can do whatever I’m left to do. I’m so much more connected to my fans, and them to me. Some were, of course, disappointed. But, for every one negative response, I received hundreds more, supporting me and telling me how I had encouraged them and inspired them. It showed me that you can impact so many lives in a big way. People even told me that I had helped to save their lives. It weighs a lot. It opened me up, and I can now dig deeper with that freedom in order to continue to grow and make music.
You’ve just released your first single since “Can’t Fight It.” You debuted “Gold” on the Today Show in January, and it emanates plain joy. Does this represent your evolution and where you’re at now in your life, that upbeat attitude?
I wrote “Gold” awhile ago with Nate Merchant, who is an incredible producer and writer. I had just fallen in love with my boyfriend. I was feeling that rush and was embracing myself in him. I walked into new skin and a new chapter of my life. I was so scared when I first came out, so that was authentic. But now, I’m able to live differently. I’m not afraid anymore.
Hat by Paul Smith, Jacket by The Kooples, Hoodie by Urban Outfitters, T-shirt by Zara, Pants from ASOS, Sneakers Rayvon’s Own.
Fearless and free. Does this mean that it’s time for an album?
Oh, goodness. Hopefully. Nothing is official, but I’ve been in the studio. I just returned from Japan, working with producers. I won’t say too much, because it is slightly new, but what I’m working on is much more mature. I just want to continue to grow musically and personally. Hopefully, it [the music] will speak for itself. As I move forward, I want the focus to be more about the music and less about me.
Making anything “less about me” can prove difficult, but you seem to constantly be thinking about others. Do you have any advice for struggling artists?
It’s tough. It isn’t an easy world. You’ll always be learning. My biggest thing, I was so passionate about learning my craft, whether it was classical, gospel, R & B, etcetera. That played a huge role for me. You have to keep pushing and stay as open as possible. Collaborate and write with other artists. Talk to other artists; take classes. Immerse yourself. You have to do that. Over-saturate yourself with what you love. That’s the bottom line.
Is that also what you would have encouraged the 17-year-old Rayvon to do more of?
Yes. I auditioned for Idol 4-5 times before actually getting a spot and a “yes.” Take that “no,” use it, and keep on pushing and trying. The world won’t come knocking for you. Work hard. Get to know people; don’t burn any of those bridges. And treat people with kindness.
Now that you have received several of those “yeses,” what’s next? Tour?
No solid dates yet, but we’re looking at a fall tour. The release of new music will be before then. But, I’ve realized that I’m always going to be on the road. Right now, though, the focus is on recording.
Any last words?
I’m thankful. I’m just thankful for my fans, mainly. And, I’m excited about what’s to come. Stay tuned.
Sunglasses by Ermenegildo Zegna, Jacket by Calvin Klein, Shirt by Robert James.
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