Time on 'Idol' is twice as nice for Baltimore native

March 01, 2009|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,sam.sessa@baltsun.com

For most American Idol contestants, the first audition is the end of the line. Not so for Baltimore native Ju'Not Joyner.

Joyner has auditioned twice in the past two years for the hit reality TV show and made it to the Hollywood round each time. Last year, a soulful rendition of Elton John's "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues" wasn't enough to keep him from being cut.

Ever persistent, Joyner practiced harder and auditioned for the show again. He sang a down-beat take on the hit single "Hey There Delilah," impressing the judges. Again, he was flown to Los Angeles, where Tuesday night, he will compete in the live semifinals for one of the 12 spots in the next round. For Joyner, 26, the second time could be the charm.

"Who knew?" Joyner said. "I'm sitting in a hotel room in Los Angeles. ... Just to get here, it's surreal. I never, ever stopped trying."

Growing up in Baltimore, Joyner wanted to be a professional basketball player. When knee injuries kept him from pursuing the sport, he turned to singing. His father and grandfather both had good voices, and Joyner thought he could carve out a career as a singer.

"I needed a creative outlet because I couldn't play ball," he said.

"At that point in my life, I had no direction," he added. "I was tired of school and wanted to do something different. I was really depressed. I just dove into my music."

Since then, Joyner has written more than 100 songs, of which about 15 are strong enough to be released on an album, he said. He has also performed around the region, opening for mainstream acts such as R&B singers Monica and Jaheim. Several years ago, he sang the national anthem at the Verizon Center for the BB&T Classic basketball tournament.

"It's not a bad resume, but most of my experience comes from the studio," Joyner said.

On Tuesday, Joyner will have to convince millions of viewers and the four judges on TV's most-watched show that he should be voted into the next round. Due to the nature of the show, Joyner will be singing a cover song - not one of his originals. He's not allowed to say which song he'll perform, though. But the hardest part will be putting his stamp on someone else's tune, he said.

"Can you take a song that somebody else sang and make it your own?" Joyner said. "Can you make it sound like something you wrote? That's my goal. That's what I'm going to try and do."

Joyner was born and raised in Baltimore and got his name when one of his family members heard it mentioned on TV. It is constantly mispronounced (the right way to say it is "you know").

"It's French," he said. "I have no clue what it means."

As a kid, Joyner loved reading and listened to a wide range of music - everything from Marvin Gaye to Chicago. His mother read to him regularly and pushed him to study hard, he said.

"I used to skip school to go to the library," he said. "That's the kind of dude I am."

Joyner moved to Prince George's County when he was about 17 and now lives in Bowie. He has a fiancee, Angela, and a 2 1/2 -year-old son, Ajay. Angela came with him to both his American Idol auditions, and Ajay traveled to New York for the last one. At the audition, host Ryan Seacrest made it sound like the judges loved Joyner because he brought his young son with him. Joyner thinks there's more to it than that.

"I think I'm more than capable of standing on my own laurels, musically," he said.

Joyner doesn't listen to many contemporary musicians, because he doesn't want to subconsciously imitate them, he said.

"I really don't want anyone else's influence to carry over into my music because I want to be original," he said.

But Joyner does enjoy Baltimore Club music and Go-Go music from Washington. He hasn't pushed people to vote for him as much as his fiancee would like, he acknowledges.

"I'm pretty humble when it comes to this whole situation," he said.

Since he has lived all over Maryland and likes music from across the state, he hopes that voters who live in Maryland can get behind him, he said.

"For the area as a whole, I'm a good representation," he said. "I definitely want people to vote for me. ... I hope everyone pulls for me."

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