Tampa 'America's Got Talent' contestant talks music - WRBL

Tampa 'America's Got Talent' contestant talks music

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Justin Rhodes Justin Rhodes
Justin with his father Justin with his father
Justin with his mother Justin with his mother
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) - Many of his Tampa neighbors already knew Justin Rhodes' name by the time he and his father stole hearts during America's Got Talent Tuesday night.

"My dad hasn't seen me perform since I was a kid," he said on Tuesday's episode. "I was scared he would end up never seeing me perform."

But as his father watched his successful performance of “Wake Me Up” by Avicii, tears streamed down his face. It was an emotional moment for Justin, who had been down dark paths during his music career.

"I was playing bars and clubs where people were out to party and it quickly become what would be my undoing; drinks after work which led to drugs. It was the darkest time of my life," Justin said. "My dad is a man of few words but I could tell I disappointed him as his only son. I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. I was worthless."

The Buffalo, NY, native who's been in Tampa 3 years now, is trying to now shine light on his talents, singing at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino two to five nights a week.  He'll play R&B. Sometimes it's pop. Often you can hear country and rap.

"For me it's the beauty within the music," Justin told News Channel 8. "A lot of musicians say they hate playing certain songs because they're so overdone. For me, when everything comes together beautifully: the harmonies are there, everything's together. That's what makes it for me."

Music must be a part of his DNA because the 24-year-old has never taken a music lesson. His dad sat him down at the piano for the first time when he was 3 and that was the beginning of music for him.

"It just kind of worked for me. Everything in music made sense," Justin said. "For some reason when I was first learning - I learned how to listen, which was the most important part for me."

Justin went to SUNY College at Cortland for a year but then decided it wasn't for him. He followed his music career to Orlando and then to Tampa.

The America's Got Talent producers found him on YouTube, where his version of John Legend's "All of Me" already has nearly 1 million views.

Producers set up a private audition for him in Orlando.

"A few of the people I've met being at the auditions with them - their careers - even just from being on one episode - has taken them from a couple hundred viewers and followers to 15,000," Justin said. "So I'm hoping that this first episode can kind of jump start things."

He said the most nervous-racking part was not actually taking the AGT stage but what happened before then.

"The waiting game is almost the hardest part because you get your adrenaline pumping, you're ready to go and then there is 6 hours of waiting. They do interview after interview and they really break down every piece of your story - what you have to say," he remembers.

About 20 minutes before he performed, the crew handed him a microphone and briefly sat down.

"That was the first time that I got nervous. That made it real for me," he said. "Just seeing the microphone in my hand, was like ... this is my time."

Once he took the stage, those nerves settled.

"It was actually more comforting for me than playing some of the smaller venues I've played," he said. "I prefer playing on bigger stages so when I walked out having 3,000 people behind you is awesome."

Justin won over the judges. All four of them voted him through.

"I really loved listening to your voice. You really took me on your journey," Heidi Klum said. "I think you're very special."

Mel B agreed.

"Your voice has a certain tone to it," she said. "It's sexy, you're sexy and you're pitch-perfect."

Singing is only a small part of his passion. In his 21 years playing music, Justin has played the guitar base, drums, saxophone, trumpet, harmonica and the clarinet.

But the piano is his favorite.

"My dad and I have talked a lot about what we call the blessing and the curse which is - you're sitting up at night at 3:00 in the morning and you can't get a song out of your head and my fingers are just moving - playing the piano keys that I can picture in my head," he said. "Sometimes it's beautiful when I can hear a song and be able to play it without ever touching a piano but I 4:00 in the morning when all I want to do is fall asleep, it's one of the most hassling things I've ever dealt with in my life."

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