Rayvon Owen performs in Detroit on "American Idol."
Honesty is the best policy for Rayvon Owen, and for the 23-year-old Richmond native and current American Idol contestant, so far it’s worked wonders. Owen is set to appear on the show again Wednesday night to vie for a spot among the top 12 performers (six men and six women), down from the show’s final 16. (UPDATE: Owen made it into the top 11 on March 12.)
In an early morning call from Los Angeles, he says that prior to auditioning, he adopted a new philosophy for himself and his performances. “It’s more about just being who you are and comfortable with who you are as a performer as opposed to trying so hard to impress people,” he says. “I think that’s the mistake I made in the past.”
Owen, who previously tried out for a spot on American Idol “four or five times” with no success, has since found his niche in not only the soulful, bare-bones covers of pop songs like Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake,” but also in the “humble confidence” he injects into his performances. Though his rise to the top tier of this season’s contestants has come swiftly, the poise that has gotten him there has been years in the making. “It’s not that I think I wasn’t ready back then,” he says, “but I think coming in now with more of a comfortable attitude … actually gave me an edge. Just having the humble confidence and being comfortable with who I am and what I can bring to this competition, I think it’s gotten me to this point.”
The process of the competition has taken months. In that time, Owen has gone from his first audition in San Francisco to eventually performing for the celebrity judges and then before live audiences. Now, his performances are reaching millions who make up the show’s TV audience. “I’ve been performing for a long time, for the majority of my life really,” he says. “But performing on TV is something new to me.” Throughout his run on the show, Owen says the most helpful criticism he’s received from the judges has been “just how to connect with the people at home.” (Another former Richmond resident, Joey Cook, has advanced to the top eight women.)
While his performances now reach the entire country, Owen says for that for him, home is still Virginia. Growing up in Henrico County, Owen graduated from Henrico High School’s Center for the Arts, where he studied musical theater for four years. Prior to that, he joined the Richmond Boys’ Choir, a local nonprofit that the singer credits as “such a critical part of my musical background. It really provided me a lot of opportunities to sing and get exposed to music that I’d never experienced.” Through the Richmond Boys’ Choir, Owen says, “I got training and discipline. It taught me discipline as a musician and as a singer.”
After his graduation from Henrico, Owen took what he learned and applied himself in Nashville, Tennessee. “There, I learned a lot more about artistry and who I am as an artist and how I can focus in everything I learned at home in Richmond about performing.” After cultivating his identity for several years in Nashville, Owen, who now lives in Los Angeles, made the move to the West Coast just a year and a half ago and has been pursuing his career as a singer and musician there ever since, releasing his first EP, Cycles, in August 2014. Owen writes his own music, while also performing covers, and says that regardless of whether he is crowned the next American Idol winner or not, he knows he’ll “definitely continue to write.”
American Idol airs again Wednesday, and as more contestants head home, more viewers tune in across the country, and the pressure builds for his performances to come, Owen strives to maintain the confidence that has taken him within reach of the top.
“I think that when we try to impress people or the judges or the other contestants that’s when we trip up,” he says. “If you just stay in our own lane, stay true to who you are and stay comfortable, then I think you actually shine more than when you actually try.”