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‘IDOL’ TOUR: ‘American Idol Live’ at DPAC Sunday


Jul. 16, 2015 @ 05:19 PM
Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan

DURHAM —
The top performers from each season of “American Idol” going on tour together after the season ends has become a summer tradition. Away from the stresses of getting television viewers’ votes, now they just perform for the fans they’ve already won over.

The “American Idol Live” season 14 tour is coming to the Durham Performing Arts Center Sunday, July 19 with top five performers Clark Beckham, Jax, Nick Fradiani, Rayvon Owen and Tyanna Jones.

The Herald-Sun caught up with Rayvon Owen by phone as they started off the tour last week in Florida. Owen, the fourth place winner, is most recognizable for his hats.

While North Carolina has offered up several “American Idol” stars — Scotty McCreery and Fantasia among them — Owen hails from Richmond, Virginia. And yet, he still has North Carolina connections. Right here in Durham, even. Fans of the show might remember seeing Owen’s sister, Chantel Fitzgerald, and his nephew C.J., starting with his audition episode.

Owen’s family, including his mom, have been big supporters of him and his music. His family is originally from Halifax County in southern Virginia, so great aunts and uncles will be coming to the DPAC show, too, he said.

“Family has been huge, honestly. Not even on the show, but post-show as well,” Owen said. His mom encouraged him to keep auditioning for “American Idol” until he made it. “Anything I needed, she did her best to provide it for me. My sister as well.”

Owen’s music career started in his church’s children’s choir, when he got his first solo at age 5 or 6. He remembers looking out and seeing how the congregation was moved. It kind of clicked, he said.

“I almost remember felling like I had magical powers when I sang. It made people happy,” Owen said. He continued to sing as he grew up and received his bachelor’s degree in music from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.

His home base now is on the road, as his apartment lease in Los Angeles ended before the “American Idol Live” tour began this summer. But he’ll head back to L.A. after the tour. “There’s just a lot of great opportunity there,” he said.

Performing at venues for live audiences without television cameras is in some ways easier without the competition of the reality show, he said.

“Now we just share the stage together, all five of us. We support each other,” Owen said. “We’re not trying to impress America in 90 seconds, and get people to vote for you.” Instead, they do what they do best without extra pressures, he said.

Waiting to find out if you’ve been eliminated or going on to the next round — all on camera, was stressful.

“It’s pretty nerve-racking, especially with the chair this season — waiting for the chair to light up green and you go perform,” Owen said. On tour, there’s no looking into the camera or TV blocking [where you stand] to remember. It’s a lot more relaxed environment, he said.

Still, being on the show and working with famous musicians was really cool, he said. He sang a duet with Jamie Foxx.

“You don’t know what to expect. You see these people on TV and online. Kelly Clarkson is one of my favorite mentors. I’ve always been a Clarkson fan. She’s so down to earth. She understood; she was an ‘American Idol.’ She was really cool to work with,” Owen said. “Jamie Foxx was cool to work with — so humble, down to earth, giving. I was thinking I’d go in there and he tells me what to sing and that’s it. But he said, ‘What do you think?’ It was very much a collaboration.”

The professionals treated the contestants like equals, he said. “It seems like years of the music business, the performance business, was jam packed into months. You go from inexperienced local singer to a national platform so fast — you learn a lot very quickly.”

Aesthetically, the hats Owen became known for started off as just something he wore the first couple of performances.

“It just sort of caught on. Especially in auditions, you want to do something that makes you stand out. I didn’t purposely make that a thing until a few performances in and it just kind of stuck,” he said. “It made people easily identify me on television, especially when there were 48 of us…it’s really little things that have nothing to do with your talent or natural ability. It’s just a branding thing. And it’s something I love.” Now, people would be surprised if he didn’t wear a hat, he said. “I fell in love with hats.” He has nine hats with him on tour, and more at home.

Once the tour ends and Owen goes back to L.A., he’ll finish songs he already has in the works. He’s also promoting an EP that’s already out.

“Honestly, I didn’t take much of a break between the show and tour,” Owen said. “I pretty much got right back into it.”