Getting the Golden Ticket
UCO Alumn Sees American Idol Success
Just a few months ago PJAE was a graphic designer dreaming of a musical career. Today, he’s a top 26 contestant on American Idol who Katie Perry said people should be paying to listen to, and his dream is rocketing toward reality.
A graduate of UCO’s Academy of Contemporary Music, PJAE says his family was not musically inclined, but it was always a part of his life, growing up in Lawton.
“As a child, my daycare was in the basement of a Baptist Church,” PJAE said. “The teacher sent me home with a gospel mix that I quickly memorized, and I always loved hearing the choir upstairs prepping for Sunday service.”
As he got older, PJAE said his focus started to shift. He pursued the practicality of graphic design, a decision he says was made partially out of fear. “I love graphic design, but nothing makes me feel the way music and being on stage does.”
It seems that PJAE left all fear outside the audition room door. Fans of the show will know that PJAE flew past auditions, dazzled the judges during duets, and sailed past the showstoppers with his soulful voice and R&B song selection.
On his 24th birthday, PJAE made the top 24, but only after facing a fellow contestant in an impromptu sing-off. Because of their outstanding performances, the judges made the first-ever decision to amend the top 24 to fit two more.
PJAE says the competition tests more than your vocal abilities. It gives you perspective on who you are as a person, and what you have to share with the world. “It’s not just an audition,” he said. “You’re opening yourself up to the public, so you need to be comfortable with who you are.”
That is not something that has always come easily to PJAE, but he set a clear strategy to combat nerves and imposter syndrome going into Hollywood Week.
“It can be intimidating, or it can be motivating,” he said. “I could focus on how scary it is to perform in that setting, or I could feel honored to convene with all these talented people I’m now a part of. So I got to know them as peers rather than competition.”
Secondary to winning, PJAE’s goal is to stay present. “Before going into a room to sing for my life in front of judges I respect, I will pinch myself or smell something to ground myself and stay present. I have to take time to let out my excitement, it’s all way bigger than what you see on TV.”
PJAE considers the relationships he’s built during the show, both with fans and fellow contestants, to be the ultimate success.
“I never saw myself as the type of person that would inspire people,” he said. “But I’ve gotten messages from all over the world. If I’m able to be that light for someone, I think that feels like winning.”
Stay up to date with PJAE’s journey on Instagram @thisispjae.