Jason Lusk has survived a lot more than being voted off last night’s “American Idol.”
The soon-to-be 24-year-old spa concierge from Compton, CA lost his father when he was 12, and admitted there were times he was homeless, before turning to education and his immense musical talent to overcome those hardships.
Lusk, often compared to Luther Vandross during his “Idol” stint, said he left home at 17, then moved out of his mother’s house to his own apartment in L.A. to try to make it on his own, admitting he wanted to put his former life behind him when he auditioned for the show. When he sang Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” he changed the lyric to reflect his own situation . “I wanted mine. I didn’t want to struggle anymore. I didn’t want to wonder where my next meal was coming from, or if I’d have the money to pay the rent.”
He eventually graduated from high school, where he was student body president and captain of the speech/debate team, then took music classes at college, which rekindled his interest in a career.
Jacob’s huge voice, poised between his gospel roots and love of traditional R&B, blossomed in his show-stopping audition of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” and his closing version of his idol Vandross’ “A House is Not a Home.” His flamboyant, crowd-pleasing performances delivered him to the Final Five.
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Just the night before, mentor Jimmy Iovine had criticized Lusk’s two performances and suggested the pressure of the competition might be getting to him.
“I was getting a little tired,” he admits. “At the end of the day, I tried to give my all, and that’s what I feel I did.”
Did the high-powered record exec’s comments hurt him?
“It definitely hurts a lot to have someone who is supposedly mentoring you tearing you down,” he admitted. “But you have to remember. You’re not performing for him; you’re performing for the people out there in America. They’re the ones that are voting. It’s hard to have someone beat you over the head with a baseball bat and then say, ‘OK, now go ahead and sing for your life.’ But I have no complaints. He has his opinions and he’s entitled to them.”
Regarding his controversial comments after performing Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” about people taking a look at themselves, he insisted it wasn’t directed at “Idol” voters or his own standing, but things going on in the world.
“The Japan tsunami was the inspiration for that,” he insisted. “I wanted people to look at ourselves, what we could do to change the world. I was starting with me, that night. It had nothing to do with me being voted in or out. It was sensationalized.”
About crossing over from gospel to R&B: “I think America got that I was the crooner soulful guy, and those lines often blur,” he said. “Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, Patti LaBelle, Teddy Pendergrass, Whitney Houston, even Mariah Carey had roots in the church. I will continue to give my all, show my heart and do my best to touch people with my music. It’s not about how great I can sing or how many riffs I can do. Or how good or bad Jimmy thinks I am.”
The man with the self-described Lusky Skank could well fill a gaping void in today’s market for a Luther, Teddy or Marvin Gaye-style soul crooner doing love ballads. But can he avoid second season winner Ruben Studdard’s flame-out in attempting to straddle commercial R&B and gospel? “Randy was always telling me I have to be myself,” he says of Jackson, who often urged him to stick to his choir roots. “If I do that, no one can say anything. I’m not going to forsake gospel because that’s what people like to hear me sing. It’s about a balance, a middle-ground, a hybrid between the two. I think there’s a world out there desirous of what I have to offer. I’m definitely looking forward to putting out a great record. I want to make my fans proud.”