(Photo by Irvin Rivera)
Rayvon Owen says that a common theme throughout his musical repertoire is overcoming adversity, and that holds true in his new single, “Can’t Fight It.” The “American Idol” finalist recently made headlines by using the music video for his new single as a vehicle to come out, a decision that he acknowledges was not easy, but he hopes that it helps others in similar situations. Owen will be back in town to perform Friday, April 15, at 5 p.m. during the Southern Women’s Show at the Richmond Raceway Complex. Here’s what he had to say about his new music, life after “Idol” and how he hopes to inspire others.
Richmond magazine: How has your life changed since performing on “American Idol”?
Owen: It truly has changed tremendously. More people know who I am and more people are listening to my music and that’s really cool, but besides those obvious reasons, it’s helped me so much in my personal life as well. I grew so much through that show, not just week to week, but it showed me the importance of being more vulnerable, more authentic, more honest just in my day to day life and that’s really cool.
RM: The show’s significance was more than just music for you personally, then?
Owen: It was. The connection that we had, myself with my fellow cast mates, going through that journey together was a very emotional experience and just seeing how people reacted to our performances taught us a lot about ourselves. You’re seeing what works and what doesn’t, and I just realized that, especially me personally going through all the Twitter saves and being in the bottom, it made me really appreciate every day that I got to be on that show. I stopped caring about impressing people and I was just like, "OK here I am, here’s me, if you like it, great. If not, I’m still going to be myself.” So once I started doing that, that’s when people really started to respond well and that poured over into my personal life and in my friendships and relationships with people.
RM: Your new single “Can’t Fight It” is out now — how long had you been working on it? (Editor's note: You can see it at the end of this interview)
Owen: I was working on actually releasing another song first and at the last minute, I switched that for this song. So honestly, it’s only been a couple months prior to releasing it that I wrote that song and quickly finished it up because I wanted to get it out there.
RM: Did you write or co-write “Can’t Fight It?”
Owen: Yes, I co-wrote it with a guy named Mylen. He’s an incredible artist, singer/songwriter based in L.A. and we got this track from these producer friends of ours named Isaiah Tejada and Nate Merchant, and so those guys worked on the music and then we wrote the song for it.
RM: As a writer, did that song have a particular significance for you or meaning behind it?
Owen: Yes, for sure. It’s funny, it seems like there’s a common thread in a lot of my songs, just that sense of overcoming and in this case with this song, I was in the mindset of — everyone’s always looking for love and a situation with someone isn’t working out because either they have baggage or certain situations that they’ve gone through or experience that causes them to be afraid to love again or they’re scared to love who they love. And so for me, that was kind of the mindset that I was writing from — just kind of that surrender, you know.
RM: Do you have any other new music or an album coming up?
Owen: Yes, I’m currently working on a new EP, and I’m just letting it come together naturally and organically. I don’t want to force it, so I’m just continuing to write and see which songs fit and what makes one cohesive work of art together.
RM: Is there an estimated release date yet?
Owen: Not 100 percent, but I would say possibly sometime in April, but I’m not rushing it. Springtime for sure.
RM: You’ve made headlines recently for revealing that you are gay, and for better or for worse, that is still something that makes news, so how do you feel about that and what does it mean for you that you revealed this about yourself?
Owen: There are two sides of it that I look at, like it’s unfortunate that it does have to be newsworthy information today, but at the same time, in a lot of ways I’m glad it still is because there are a lot of issues that we still deal with. There’s still parents kicking their children out of homes, the homeless rate is still high. There’s still kids committing suicide for not quite understanding who they are or being an outcast from their family or society. ISIS is throwing gay people off roofs. So it’s a double-edged sword. I hate that it has to be a headline, but at the same time I’m like, "OK, well, if it helps someone out, if it saves a life or just helps someone with what they’re going through, then please by all means put it in the news and spread it out there."
RM: Do you think you will be more vocal or do some activism to help kids and others who have been in similar situations and are not sure how their own parents, family and communities will react?
Owen: I’m definitely first and foremost an artist and it’s about the music, but I’ve always told people from day one when I knew that I wanted to do music: "Music is who I am and what I am, but it’s just a vehicle to help others," so I’m definitely still going to use it to inspire people, and I think this will because this was so personal. Initially when I was doing the video, it kind of went through stages. It went from, "Well, maybe we’ll have another couple in the video and I’m just singing and they’re acting" and then, "Well I’ll do it, but I’m just going to leave the club with a guy and hold hands and walk away and let that be it, not say anything, not talk to any press about it and just kind of let it be what it is," and then I went from that to "OK, I understand that this could help a lot of people and that I should be sharing more of my story as it could really be a good thing for a lot of people and I could use my voice in a positive way and use my voice to represent something." So that’s how I got to this point.
RM: Coming out is a pretty big decision. Was it hard for you?
Owen: Oh, it was absolutely terrifying, it was very hard, it’s still hard. But again, I realized that this is an issue that’s bigger than me and I had to overcome my fears and my anxiety or worries about what other people are going to think, and just like I learned on “Idol,” just put myself out there and hope for the best. So again, there’s a direct relation to how “Idol” changed my life, not only musically and career-wise but personally, because it gave me that confidence. But I was terrified, for sure, because I’m a Christian, I’m African-American, and these are things in those communities that are still a little taboo. I’m from the South, so there’s a lot of factors going against me for wanting to talk about it, but at the same time, those same factors fueled me in some ways because I realized that a lot of the people in these communities are not going to necessarily understand or like that information, but at least it’s on their mind and at least I can get the conversation started and that’s exactly what’s happened. I’ve had a lot of comments, a lot of messages — of course you get the extreme, "This isn’t right blah, blah, blah," but I’ve also gotten some people who were like, "I don’t quite understand this, but I’m going to look into this and thank you for sharing your story." And I’ve had a lot of fans message me saying, "Wow, I’m going through the same thing right now and I don’t know how to tell my mom, do you have any advice for me?" So if it helps one person, it’s worth it in my opinion.
RM: You’ll be back in Richmond for the Southern Women’s Show. Are you looking forward to being back? Any places you’re looking to go back and visit?
Owen: I am looking forward to coming back. I’m a little scared because it’s the first time I’m coming back to Richmond since coming out, but I am looking forward to it. I love Galaxy Diner, that’s such a random place, but I love the fried Oreos and all that stuff, although I’ve more recently changed my diet and I’m eating more of a plant-based diet. I’m excited to go home and spend time with family, primarily.
RM: Will you be performing the new single at the show?
Owen: Yes, I will be I’ll be performing my new single and I may even tease some new songs as well.
RM: I know this is the last season of “American Idol.” Will you make an appearance during the three-night grand finale (beginning April 5)?
Owen: As far as appearing again, I don’t know. I’ve heard rumors about bringing people back for the finale, but we’ll see.
RM: While on the “American Idols Live" tour this past summer, did you get to meet your fans and some of the people who saved you from elimination?
Owen: Oh yes, that was cool, because during the tour I would always take a moment to talk to the crowd and I would say, "Who saved Rayvon?" and the whole crowd would just scream, "I saved you," so that was really cool. It was an amazing time and I really enjoyed seeing all the fans that voted and saved me in person, because you see them online you see their Twitter accounts, [but] they’re so elated and people are just so inspired, people cry and it’s like, "I’m just me, I’m just a normal person."
RM: Is there anything you’d like to say to Richmond?
Owen: I’m just so grateful to Richmond and all the fans who have supported me thus far and continue to support me as I go along this journey and become more of an authentic artist. Like I said, this is bigger than me, so not only are you supporting me, but you are supporting my vision to help others and inspire others through music.
Tickets to the Southern Women's Show are $10 at the door. For more information, visit southernshows.com/wri.