A GoPride Interview

Jamar Rogers

Singer and HIV activist Jamar Rogers speaks out, set to perform at AIDS Run and Walk Sept. 30

Tue. September 25, 2012  by Jerry Nunn

It is so funny because since I have been able to talk about it I have become so free.
Jamar Rogers
Singer and HIV activist Jamar Rogers is coming to town to sing at the AIDS Walk & Run Chicago, Sunday, Sept. 30.

A mere six years before he hit it big on NBC's "The Voice", Rogers was homeless and addicted to crystal meth.

Rogers turned his life, rising to fame with incredible vocal performances. He publicly came out as HIV positive on the second season of "The Voice" and has since become a representative of a younger generation of HIV positive Americans. He just released his studio single, "Where Would I Be Without You."

Get ready to hear that soulful voice live and in person, Chicago!

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, Jamar. In one of my past interviews Beverly McMillan who was from the first season of The Voice told me you were her favorite the second season.

JR: (Jamar Rogers) That's my baby. I love her! She is awesome.

JN: You are a New Yorker, right?

JR: Yes, but I am living in California now.

JN: That's a big change.

JR: You know it just seemed like a smart move to make. After the show there were a lot of opportunities coming my way. It just seemed better for me to be there than flying back and forth. It has been a great move so far.

JN: Have you ever been to Chicago before?

JR: I have. I spent some time in Milwaukee before and would go to Chicago when I needed to get a break from Milwaukee. I am separated from my wife now but I actually proposed to her at Navy Pier.

JN: How romantic!

JR: It was up on the Ferris wheel.

JN: Did you wait until you got to the top to propose?

JR: I totally did (laughs)!

JN: Did you study music in the first place?

JR: No, I didn't. I wish I did, maybe I would sing correctly if I did. When I was growing up I sang casually in church. I really wanted to be an actor so I took acting class. I became strung out as a teenager so then that is what happened with that. I didn't start taking music seriously until 2008 so about four years ago.

JN: Since you studied acting would you want to do some musicals?

JR: I would love to get into to some film and television. That might be where the universe is leading me. I feel like I have a pretty big personality so I love being in front of any camera.

JN: What is your nationality?

JR: My mother is black and my father's family is from India. My dad is a first generation born American.

JN: Your back-story is very interesting. You conquered crystal meth, which many people have not been able to do.

JR: Well, I get asked that all the time, Jerry. "How did you do it?" I have lived in a lot of places. California is the tenth state I have lived in. I was really using hardcore when I was back in Atlanta. No matter how many times I tried to delete my dealer's number it was obvious I had to walk away from that life. That is when I moved away to Milwaukee.

JN: This AIDS run must be very near and dear to your heart since you are positive yourself.

JR: Yes, very much so. I have been living with HIV now for six years. It wasn't until a year and a half ago that I actually began talking about it. I just lived with so much shame and guilt. I had my own prejudices and own stigma about it. I couldn't see past my own situation. It is so funny because since I have been able to talk about it I have become so free. I have people walking in AIDS walks all across America that are doing it in my name. That is the biggest, warmest sense of validation that I could ever get.

JN: Are you going to be singing at the kick off event?

JR: Yes at Soldier Field, which is a big deal. I will be singing a couple of covers from the show and a few originals. I released a single earlier this summer so they are putting out a free download this week. I will have another single right around the time I am in Chicago so there will be lots of songs to choose from.

JN: I was listening to "Reject" on iTunes today.

JR: I have never said this publicly before but "Reject" was recorded four years ago and posted without my permission.

JN: Oh no, they were trying to cash in on you!

JR: I think they sat on it for years and the day after I got eliminated they put it on Amazon.

JN: I am sure you are learning the music business is a funny place.

JR: Oh man, I am learning something new everyday.

JN: "Where Will I Be Without You" is an official single, correct?

JR: Yes, that is all me.

JN: You sound amazing on it.

JR: Aw, thank you, Jerry.

JN: Maybe it shows my age but I was comparing you to pop singer Terence Trent D'Arby.

JR: That's an amazing comparison and a compliment to me. That man has a distinguished voice. I get compared to a lot worse so I will take that one!

JN: Is there a cover song that you have performed that you are especially proud of?

JR: When I did "It's My Life" on The Voice it was the song I wanted to do the least. All I could do is hear Bon Jovi's version in my head. I pleaded with him to change my song. I was told to listen to the song again and that it was my anthem and rally cry. After we changed the arrangement a little bit I realized it was not the cheesy pop song from 2003. It is a rally cry, whether it is for AIDS or addiction or even a bad relationship. It is about me not being a people pleaser anymore and living my life no matter what other people think I should do, taking control of my situation. I am really proud of that song and it turned out to be one of my best sellers.

JN: You should be proud. I am not a Bon Jovi fan but your take is different on it.

JR: Neither am I (laughs).

JN: You stress different words than he does. It transformed the song for me personally. Have you been watching the new season of The Voice?

JR: Yes, I started writing a new weekly blog for The Insider. I will be recapping my favorites from The Voice after each episode. They have some really talented kids on there this season.

JN: I just spoke to De'Borah from it.

JR: I did too, that is so funny!

JN: She came out on the show and hadn't even really come out to her parents.

JR: That is crazy. You know what I really admire is that as a black kid also, sometimes in the black religious community we can be a little slow on change or progression. My hat is off to De 'Borah for her being that open. It was very heartwarming to see her relationship with her parents. She just went up there and killed it. I had the pleasure of meeting her a few months back so when I am in Chicago I want her to come and hang out with me.

JN: Did you see the movie Sparkle?

JR: I have not. What are your thoughts on it?

JN: I spoke to Jordin Sparks about it before it premiered and I didn't really care for the movie overall. Jordin thought I did but I was just complimenting her performance. She is really good in it but not a great movie in my book. The reason I brought it up is because it's about a religious mother played by Whitney Houston who doesn't want her children to be musicians.

JR: Really? That sounds like the story of my life! Growing up I was only allowed to sing in church. Anytime I wanted to do anything else my parents were very adamant about me not doing that. It is just so cool that my mother has really come around. She knows now that doing God's work is reaching as many people as possible and letting them know they don't have to be stuck in the situation they are in. It doesn't matter if I am on TV or singing on a street corner as long as I am using my voice to uplift people. With that I am fulfilling my purpose.

JN: She should be very proud.

JR: She is. She went from not being very educated about HIV to being one of my biggest supporters and an AIDS activist. So I am super proud of my mom right back.

JN: That is great to hear. I look forward to seeing you at event.

JR: I will be looking for you!

Thousands will gather at Soldier Field, Sept. 30, to Run and Walk against HIV/AIDS. The AIDS Run & Walk Chicago kicks off at at 9 a.m. and post-race entertainment slotted for a quarter after 10. Pre-registration for the event is closed, but those interested in walking or running can register the day of for $50. For more information, or to make an online donation, please visit the event's website at http://afc.aidschicago.org/netcommunity/page.aspx?pid=1518.

Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.