Local crooner Jason Brock hits it big on X Factor
by Jim Provenzano
Jason Brock’s life story could be used as material for a Tammy Wynette song, or perhaps one of his own songs. The vocalist, know for his soulful performances at local cabarets and benefits, is also working on songwriting. That is, when he’s not appearing on Fox’s The X Factor.
After a rousing audition held at The Cow Palace, Jason Brock’s performance was featured on the premiere episode of the singer competition show. Having just completed taping the show’s ‘Boot camp’ episodes, Brock couldn’t say just where he stands in the competition, but the signs look good for the 34-year-old. As we walked and talked on sunny afternoon in San Francisco, several people recognized Brock and chatted him up.
Since moving to San Francisco, Brock’s life, his singing in particular, has opened up big time. He seems to have settled into accepting and developing his talent, and his life. As a kid, though, things were quite different.
“My family moved a lot, chasing God and money,” said Brock, who described his father as a ‘religious entrepreneur.’ His family’s non-denominational faith was charismatic, said Brock. “Speaking in tongues, but no snake-handling,” he clarified. “We did do the bit where the pastor touches you and you fall over. I never fell over. I could never buy it.”
School choir marked his first secular singing. But, said Brock, “My family was always in church, so there was always music. My parents were also amateur singer-songwriters. We always had music in our house. ” His sister and two brothers are also musicians. “We were encouraged to be musical, but more as Christian musicians.” His sister is a Christian musician. “I, obviously, am not. My whole life I’d been listening to non-Christian music, even though I was told not to. It was like a secret.”
With limited television-viewing as well, Brock’s appreciation of Anita Baker, Paula Abdul and other pop vocalists became a hidden passion. Seeing Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero” stood out for the young singer. “That is the first song that ever touched me in an emotional way, and I realized that music could be so powerful.”
After attending college for a semester, Brock, then 18, was also depressed, aching to burst out of the closet, and living with his recently widowed grandmother in suburban Texas.
“I was trying to be a good Christian, thinking it would make me happy, because that’s what I’d always been told,” said Brock. Instead, he says, “I just let it go, and decided to do what I wanted to do to be happy, rather than what I was told to do. But I was poor and getting harassed for being gay.”
After moving to Dallas, Brock began what he called his “hedonistic surge” of coming out, going out, and celebrating his life, sometimes to excess. “For a few years, I’d been doing every drug I could find. I was really unhappy and reckless.”
His first visit to a gay bar “was weird at first.” Brock traveled a lot for his job with a medical supply distributor. More the online type, he met his first boyfriend via a website, then took a risky plunge.
“I moved to Tucson only weeks after meeting him online,” said Brock. “I know; crazy. I’m a very daring person. I took a Greyhound bus from Georgia, where I was traveling all the way to Tucson. I didn’t even think of the fact that you can’t shower on a bus. I had a pile of those little hand-wipes. I don’t know if it worked. My ‘new boyfriend’ looked…quite different than I expected. I thought, ‘What have I done? This is so weird.’ But I was there, I just had to get used to him.”
Determined to make a go of it, Brock sobered up, worked on making a ‘happy family life,’ which he had for a year and a half. “I did a lot of volunteer work, and that opened my eyes to a new sort of life. I didn’t feel as reckless or unstable as I had before.”
But when that relationship fell apart, Brock started having anxiety attacks, spurred on by his break-up, which pivoted on a disastrous car accident where a motorcyclist was killed.
“It was horrible,” said Brock. “Our vehicle flipped over, and we almost died. And then, my boyfriend left me a week or two later for the nurse who we met at the hospital. He moved out of our apartment, and I was traumatized. Holy crap!”
Alone in Tucson, Brock said he had to adjust yet again, and still struggles with anxiety. But that’s not a problem onstage. “I don’t usually get anxiety during or before a show.”
He wrote songs about heartache and break-ups, played his guitar, and performed at a few small karaoke competitions. “Music was kind of in the background,” he said of his efforts, which included a few semesters of music school.
Working a day-job and living with a new boyfriend, Brock began performing more often, including singing the National Anthem at Tucson’s 2004 Gay Pride celebration. That performance led to a local DJ inviting him to host a show at IBT’s, a gay bar, where he hosted for a year. “It was my first paying gig as a singer!”
A two-year guest-starring role in a local musical called Homo Neurotic (“very appropriate!” Brock joked about the title), plus more Pride shows, led to the 2009 Arizona Gay Idol competition, which he won.
A budding relationship with another boyfriend, this one from San Francisco, led Brock to move to the Bay Area. Although that didn’t last, his ex, also a musician, helped him get a few small gigs at jazz clubs and bars. Open mic nights at Rosello’s Jazz Store led to his own night hosting a talent night when Dianthe “Dee” Spencer (also a music and dance instructor at SF State) encouraged him. That led to performing at Martuni’s, where he eventually began hosting Tuesday nights.
“A paid gig, performing every week; that’s what I needed,” Brock said with a smile. Bay Area fans of the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation have also enjoyed Brock’s more full-stage performances at the Rrazz Room and the Herbst Theatre. “I got to sing with all these stars! It was amazing.”
What locals know, and what instead was shot as a ’surprise,’ is Brock’s ability to belt out songs with conviction enough to wow an entire arena full of listeners. The X Factor judges, including Britney Spears and Simon Cowell gave Brock high marks, calling him “amazing” and “lovely.”
But what’s it like to be grouped in with some true amateurs? “There were some who, well, I was like, ‘Good for them for trying,’ said Brock with polite restraint. “I didn’t think they would make it. But some people who make it past the first round, I was surprised. Maybe the judges see something I don’t. A lot of people think they can sing, and they’re going to find out, eventually, whether it’s from the judges or the public. If you get far enough on these shows, that means you can sing.”
Brock agreed that perhaps some of the less-talented were included just for ratings. But the hyped-up ‘Boot Camp’ sessions were not exaggerated. Said Brock, “We were up all night, getting maybe two hours of sleep. This was when I was trying to be my very best. But I wasn’t alone. It’s not that I was restless. There was just no time. We spent hours trying to work on a song. There’s so much waiting involved with a TV production.”
That Brock was given his own mini-segment that acknowledged his being gay was interesting. At first the episode got more media coverage for deleting an entire segment from another audition, where another gay man tearfully came out to Spears. Since then, he has made it into the final 24 finalists, one of six finalists in the over-25 category.
“I think I’m the only out gay one on the show,” said Brock. “In a way, it was nice that they showed that I’m gay, but the intro made it sound like I was delusional!” Brock had been asked to describe his ‘dream show,’ which he did, in detail, including a “glitter explosion” finale.
Brock carried it off (without the glitter). The segment of his audition, posted on YouTube.com, has already been viewed more than 2 million times.
“I get Tweets and praiseful comments from all over the world; so much love. It’s so nice,” said Brock, who enjoyed one fan’s description of him as a combination of Elton John, Adam Lambert and Jack Black.
Yet of course, the online world isn’t without its haters, a few of whom, among the 5,000 comments, focus on Brock’s being gay in derogatory ways. Yet, Brock lets it slide, knowing the majority appreciate him.
“There are still people who say, ‘Oh, he’s got a great voice, but he’s too gay.’ There are enough people saying what could affect my ability to compete. But part of it is the opportunity to use this for issues, like marriage equality.” Brock’s bi-national relationship prohibits common benefits straight couples enjoy.
So, what is Brock doing to corral this new success? Having recently visited his new boyfriend, who lives in Japan, Brock is eager to harness his X Factor fame.
“First: no more tech support day job. I’m not going back to that,” he said. “I want to go entertainment all the way.” Brock hopes for a record contract, and a career in television. “I see myself perhaps as a talk show host, one who sings. I’d like to do that.”
While he’ll drop in at his old haunts like Martuni’s, Brock is also aiming for larger venues. “Depending on how far I get, I’m going to use it as much as I can. I don’t think I presented anything that was too outrageous or not really me. When I see myself on the show, it’s like, ‘Okay; that’s me.’ It’s cool.”
Watch The X Factor Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8pm on Fox.
See Jason’ s videos: www.youtube.com/user/jasonbroccoli
See Jason’s audition on The X Factor:
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