In his first year as a full-time musician, Jeffery Austin has toured the country, played numerous Gay Pride festivals, performed with music legends, and of course landed himself in the finale of season 9 of The Voice. He released his dramatic debut single, 'Only You' just this month on October 14th.
So what is it like, Jeffery, being an openly gay artist in today’s music industry? We wanted to know more about his experiences on The Voice, touring gay communities across the country, writing authentic songs as a gay artist, what's going on in 'Only You,' and the representation of openly gay artists in the current music landscape.
I sent off my phone number to Jeffery and asked him to give me a call when he had the time. A couple of days later, I got the call and the chance to catch up to openly gay, out and proud, The Voice star, new California resident, red headed, freckled face, talented Jeffery Austin. I am sure we’ll give him some more "golden" nicknames after the interview, but here is the paraphrased Q&A we had with him over the weekend.
Instinct: Thanks for the call, wait, what time zone are you in?
Jeffery: I’m in California, West Hollywood. Before the show I was in New York City. I never thought I would leave there, I loved it, I was happy. But during the show, everyone was, “If you want to make it, you have to be out here [California]. So I moved out here just after the show.
Is that where you went to school, in New York?
I went to school in Chicago , Loyola in Chicago and studied marketing and communications. After graduating, I did PR in NYC.
So your singing is using your degree? Did you find that your Loyola degree has helped you?
I think it’s helped me tell my story more easily. You know, the behind the scenes stuff was good, and then stepping in front of the camera, shaping the story, yeah, the degree helped.
Did The Voice tell you how to act be / marketing the gay side of things?
The show has history of being totally supportive and highlighting the personal stories. I think being a publicist was more important than being a gay man. Currently, there are more gay stories being highlighted on The Voice. This is quite the change from the Adam Lambert days on American Idol, you know he wasn’t officially out and they did not bring his sexuality into the spotlight. When I started the show, they ask you to tell them your story. I was out at 16 so I never hide it. I mean, if you have a conversation with me, you can figure it out [that I’m gay]. I think you might have not seen a lot of my personality on the show because I was singing such dramatic and sad songs. My focus was on those songs and the performance, not as much telling my story.
The Voice 2015 Blind Audition – Jeffery Austin: "Lay Me Down"
Gwen. You were on Team Gwen what was that like? I mean we saw your interaction on the edited show, but how much time did you get with her?
Being on Team Gwen was amazing. I was able to meet with her a bunch of time each week. There was a ton of access to her and it was very easy to communicate with her.
Besides being on Team Gwen, I am sure there were other amazing times on the show. But for the performances, which was your favorite TO DO and which was your favorite To LISTEN TO?
My own favorite performance on The Voice, ‘Dancing On My Own. As for someone else’s Madi Davis and her performance during the knockout rounds and her rendition of ‘A Case Of You.’ By Joni Mitchell.
The Voice 2015 Jeffery Austin – Top 11: "Dancing on My Own"
The Voice 2015 Knockout – Madi Davis: "A Case of You"
Once you get a little higher on The Voice and further into the show, they do a little change on you, clothing, styling, wardrobe, etc. What was your change and did you like it?
Being on Team Gwen, it was all about image. We sat down with her full glam team. Other teams did not do that. She told me she wanted me to go even redder with the hair. When Gwen Stefani , style icon says she wants you to do something with your style, you do it. She wanted a little darker, deeper and it went there, and it was almost purple.
You have so many freckled in your Instagram / album pics.
The make-up covered up those, not intentionally, but it did.
But you didn’t win your season on The Voice. What happened? In mid November, TVline.com predicted you to win over Jordan Smith. Once again, what happened?
I think that season was centered around Jordan.. The hype, producing the show, he WAS the best singer on the show. He deserved the win. The rest of us were along for the ride.
(For some reason, his honest response to this question and love for the show and his admiration for Jordan was so evident and palpable, even over the phone. I kinda teared up a little. Damn you Jeffery! I didn’t tell him that though.)
I’m going to ask this next question and interpret it as you desire. Gay before the voice / gay after the voice. What’s the difference?
I’ve actually been able to hear from and learn about life in other gay communities, less metropolitan areas. I’ve learned how other gay males lived outside of the city. I’ve lived in Chicago, New York and now West Hollywood so being introduced to the non-metropolitan gay life has been eye opening. People have messaged me about coming out, how they’ve planned it and how they are going to do it. It’s been amazing.
I am sure more doors have opened because of the show, but which ones if any were closed because you are openly gay?
I’ve been fairly privileged in coming out in the industry at this time. I cannot say for certain that doors have been closed because of my sexuality. I’ve felt not necessarily welcome in locker room and different events in life, but not really in the industry, not that I can say was a definite closure.
What has been the most fun gay community you have performed in? I hate to ask a ranking question, so maybe which one sticks out as one of the more memorable ones?
Capital Pride in Washington D.C. Their heroes Gala, I was not on the main stage for the pride event, but it was just the feeling of the overall pride, just an excellent organization, great ties to community, etc…
What has been upsetting on your tour of different gay pride venues, what needs fixing?
The first thing that comes to mind was an experience just outside of [a major city]. Someone asked what we were doing during the show, during our stay there. He gave suggestions as to where to go stating I would be safe here and wouldn’t be bothered there. It was just a reminder that all is not created equal, and it just reminded us that safety is a concern just because someone is gay.
So that song … ‘Only You’ … are you Single?
Hahaha. Very Much So. I’m happy, for right now. I just went through the end of my first major relationship. I’m putting a bow on that first part of my life, first love [with that song]. We’re in a good place and we talk every so often. We just had different interest.
(If you haven't heard the new single, it's an emotional one as well as powerful. I know there's at least one f-bomb in it, lol. Check it out here on The Official "Only You" iTunes link or click on image below to be redirected)
Any hesitation on releasing this very personal song about a break-up, end of a relationship?
There wasn’t any thought about “the other person” and him hearing it until I started putting it in motion to be released. You cannot hinder yourself because you may hurt someone. What’s one more song going to do. We separated and we still communicate.
What has been the best duet and what is your dream duet?
Best duet, there were two, in the finale and the results, singing with Gwen, Lace and Leather, it was the highlight of my life. And singing with Tori Kelly, her new single ‘Hollow.’ Dream? There’s Lady Gaga, Adele, Beyonce, but above all, John Mayer, I love how he writes and plays his guitar and his overall song writing.
The Voice 2015 Jeffery Austin and Gwen Stefani – Finale: "Leather and Lace"
The Voice 9 Finale: Jeffery Austin & Tori Kelly – Hollow (VIDEO)
Writing songs, do you find yourself holding back? Maybe considering not putting in gay aspects, stories?
I’m into making a song. A song comes out as it is. I’m a proponent of openly gay artists playing sons with gay storylines. Not all songs cater to the correct pronouns. When on the show, I did change the traditional pronouns in the songs about women, I changed them to reflect being about a guy. Currently, I’m not considering writing songs for the radio so am free with the song writing.
And your musical influences?
Mom always had Motown on [Jeffery mentioned many names, but I was too busy relating and nodding I didn’t type them down. I'm such a bad listener]. I always had the VH1 Divas Soundtrack on. Love Whitney and Mariah.
Okay, a couple of simple questions that I won’t ask for elaboration. If stranded on a deserted island, what’s the one song on the iPod?
Gravity, by John Mayer
Which golden girl would you be?
The interview didn't really end there, but we chatted a little more, passed some secrets back and forth, and talked about gay stuff we're not gonna share with you.
Thanks for the great time Mister Jeffery Austin. It was a pleasure to get to know you better.
We wish you the best of luck! And it looks like Gwen is wishing you well, too.
Instagram : www.instagram.com/jefferyaustin
'Only You' iTunes link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/only-you-single/id1161404704