IN catches up with openly gay singer Brian Justin Crum as he goes from standing ovations on America’s Got Talent to rising on the Billboard chart
By Steven Bereznai
Singer Brian Justin Crum wowed the judges (and the world) on the latest season of America’s Got Talent—and anyone who’s seen his show-stopping renditions of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” and Radiohead’s “Creep” will know why the 28-year-old San Diego native has been described as a vocal powerhouse. Even hardto-please judge Simon Cowell, known for his acidic tongue, was blown away by Crum’s voice and stage presence.
The openly gay singer ultimately placed fourth on the show, but has since debuted on the Billboard charts with his remix of Robyn’s “Show Me Love,” featuring Toy Armada and DJ Grind. The accompanying video, featuring submissions from real people and
how they “show love,” was released in March. The beats are fierce, and the home videos are adorable. He is currently working on an album of his own original work.
IN recently caught up with Crum by phone in his home of LA. The rising star had just finished a fitness class, what he jokingly called “Pop Star Boot Camp.” Once he had caught his breath, we talked reality TV, overeating, and showing love.
You’ve talked a bit about your childhood on America’s Got Talent. Tell us about your coming-out story.
I came out at 14. I was a big fan of a Christian rock group, and I’d won a picture of the lead singer. I was so in love with him; I hid the picture in my closet because I didn’t want my mom to see it. She found it and asked if I wanted to talk about it. She was very loving. There wasn’t any drama. I’m lucky to have a mom, and family, who
were so accepting.
On the show, you also discussed being overweight as a kid, which I can definitely relate to. So what was your relationship with food like back then?
I was bullied so badly, and I was always very tender and sensitive. I was an easy target, being overweight and soft-hearted, so my mom and I agreed I should move to Oregon to live with my aunt and uncle. I had always had such a great experience there when I visited them every summer. I was in a youth ministry, it was a very Christian household, it provided me with structure in my life.… I begged my mom to let me go. And that’s when I started gaining weight. I was at a new school, I didn’t have any friends, I was eating 210 Hot Pockets and listening to Mariah Carey on repeat.… I was probably 12 at the time, I gained a lot of weight. I got to just over 200 lb. For a 12-year-old, that’s a lot of weight to carry around.
So what prompted you to lose the weight?
I was 17, and I found out that the Jewish Community Center, back in San Diego, was doing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I had to be Joseph, and I could not be fat and be Joseph. I spent six months working out.
Since then, you’ve gone on to perform on Broadway, and you’ve toured all over. But being on America’s Got Talent is a big jump from that, and finishing fourth is a huge accomplishment. Still, I’m sure that’s not the outcome you were ultimately hoping for. Tell us how that felt.
It was definitely a surprise, because I had so much support and love. I realized in that moment, there has never been a [openly] gay man or woman or LGBTQ member who has won one of these competitions. Adam Lambert came in second; Billie Gilman [The Voice] came in second. There was a big push behind me, so there was a collective gasp of surprise. But I think our country, and a lot of the world, is a little behind on LGBTQ issues, and it’s hard for a lot of middle America to rally behind.… But when the show went the way it went, it fired me up to push extra hard to make this dream come true.
Fast-forwarding a few months.… You’ve released your debut dance single, ‘Show Me Love,’ a remix of the classic Robyn
anthem. Why that song?
When I moved to LA, I started a YouTube channel, singing covers of songs and doing videos of them. ‘Show Me Love’ was the first vocal I recorded. It was always so special to me, [but] I didn’t release it. After the show, I played it for a DJ. He wanted to send it to a friend to remix it. That’s where it all started, and it fits with my message of showing love. With what we’re going through [politically], this is the perfect song at the perfect time. We shot the video and asked people from all over the world to show us how they show love, with a friend or a pet or in a gay relationship or a straight relationship or with a mother or father.
Now, going with a dance, high-energy remix, that’s a big departure from some of your most memorable performances on America’s Got Talent. Why did you go the dance route rather than a ballad?
It became predictable that that’s what I would be doing, and it was important to me to show a different side of myself. I wanted to surprise people, shock them. I wanted to reach a different audience, and show a different side of me.… There have been some people who have said, ‘I just want to hear your voice. I don’t want to hear that noise.’ It’s not for everybody, but there’s a lot of people who want to be happy and to celebrate. I wanted to give them that.
STEVEN BEREZNAI is a Toronto journalist, and the author of the new dystopian novel I Want Superpowers.