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Jurnee: 'I Could Win' American Idol as an Out Lesbian

Jurnee: 'I Could Win' American Idol as an Out Lesbian

Jurnee

The 18-year-old singing prodigy will not let hate put her in a closet -- or keep her from the prize.

An out singer has never been the champion American Idol, the long-running singing competition that has made household names of winners like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.

But America has never met a contestant like Jurnee before. The lesbian singer, who just made the Top 7, is confident in her chances of winning. In a recent interview with The Advocate, she said it was "fate" that brought her to Idol -- as well as a little maternal intuition.

"My mom just had this gut feeling. She's told me my whole life, 'I think you're going to be famous,'" recounted the 18-year-old Denver native. "I was always like, 'Mom, you're crazy. I'm going to go play with chalk.' But I auditioned, and something about it just felt right. I felt like I was in the right place at the right time."

Jurnee is blazing her own trail. Even in 2018, many in the music industry hide their sexuality, fearing rejection from fans or labels. She herself was cautioned by friends to keep her identity a secret until the competition ended. However, the singer was determined to be out when she auditioned for Idol, because she believed it spoke to her authenticity as an artist.

"I think it's important," Jurnee said, on being an out entertainer. "I wanted us to make sure that I came into the industry as exactly who I am, so that there was never a song I put out or a story I was telling that wasn't true to me."

Jurnee is telling a thrilling story with her music. She has wowed the judges each week on season 16 by performing a wide range of numbers, from Andra Day's "Rise Up" to Ariana Grande's "One Last Time" to "Never Enough" from The Greatest Showman, before which she gave a shout-out to her wife Ashley in the showcase audience. Jurnee said she chooses music that "sounds colorful," and that weaves a "dream setting, if you will, that I wanted to feel and to come alive when I sang."

Despite her talent, Jurnee was not voted into the Top 10 by Idol viewers last week. The news shocked Katy Perry, a judge on the ABC competition. "Never have I ever seen a more qualified woman for the job and still not get the job. What's the disconnect, America?" demanded Perry, before Jurnee was fortunately saved by the judges.

For Jurnee, the moment of not being voted for by America was both "disappointing" and a "wake-up call." "I really thought I was going to get voted through," said Jurnee, confessing she had only been paying attention to "my portion of the internet" that had positive feedback. She felt like she had to up her game. "I have a lot of work to do."

However, Jurnee appreciated Perry's remarks. "It felt good to know that someone that does this for a living saw something in me that a majority of people didn't see at the time. It let me know that yes, I deserve to be here," she said.

Many people online joined Perry in their outrage over the voting of Idol viewers, with some saying it was bias, rather than Jurnee's performance, that left her in danger of elimination. The optics were not good. Last week, five of the six saved spots went to white singers, which left the queer contestants and contestants of color to sing for their safety.

Jurnee agreed that factors like race and sexual orientation played a role in how some Idol viewers cast their votes. She has observed how contestants have been attacked on social media for "our skin color, or how we're doing our hair, or our sexuality." Jurnee noted that some people, when considering what an American Idol looks like, "see this one specific kind of cookie-cut image of a person, and are unwilling to move, because it's what they're comfortable with, it's what they've been trained to be used to."

This negative feedback has had an impact on the contestants. "A lot of us have had those conversations about, are we going to make the choice to conform, or stay who we are?" she said. There are dividing opinions on this issue. "Some of us? The goal is to just become big however that is, and whatever they need to do in the meantime. Some of us, the goal is to stay exactly who we are. .... And that's where I lie."

And in a divided America, whoever is crowned the next American Idol will be a sign of what the country is or aspires to be. Ultimately, the meaning of the title is up to the voters, said Jurnee. "It still represents a dream being made. I think that always stays the same, but I really do think the results of the show will determine what American Idol means in this day and age," she said. "I guess there's no way to tell until we have our top three and our winner."

Last week, Ada Vox, another queer contestant on this season's Idol, disclosed to The Advocate that she is not expecting the public to crown a drag queen as American Idol. "I'm not sure that the majority of America is ready for someone like me to be on that platform," she confessed. Vox was eliminated Sunday night.

However, Jurnee is more hopeful in her chances of winning. "I do. I think I could win it. I think I'm at the point where I still believe in myself, that I still think that I could win it. But if I didn't, I would know why," she said, referring to the homophobia of viewers.

While Jurnee is confident in her decision to be out, the fear of how antigay bias could impact her chances on Idol stays with her. "I'm always afraid," she said. "Every week here is scary, because I know I'm working hard and trying to put out the best music and the best art that I can. It sucks to know that ... [my art is] still not going to get all of what it deserved, because of my sexuality. I know that it's going to be a slow process."

It's a process that will extend throughout her career as a musician, she acknowledged.

"Even after this, there's the next step when it comes to record labels that are saying no to you, because that's not what they represent. Or the news they don't want you there, because they have certain owners who disagree, or whatever it is. There's obstacles everywhere," she said.

However, Jurnee is prepared to face her fears, and she is not backing down from her convictions. "I'm ready for it to come my way. And as long as I stay the same, the doors will open eventually," Jurnee said. Through her courage, she hopes to tap into a "community" of viewers who "believe in who I am and what I'm doing, and amp up their voting."

The singer finds inspiration in artists like Kehlani and Janelle Monae, who have created more visibility for queer women within the music community. Jurnee said she was "so excited" when Monae came out as pansexual last week. "Anything that speaks to representation in the LGBT community is above and beyond to me. I love it," said Jurnee, who praised Monae for "speaking her truth" in life and through her art.

It's an authenticity that Jurnee strives for as well -- wherever life takes her.

"Regardless of where my career is headed, I'm still going to be going to Pride fests, and marches, and talk about our rights," said Jurnee. "I'm still a part of a community that needs more people speaking for them, and more rights, and more justice."

And to LGBT people who have become disheartened by dark times, Jurnee assures them that "there is a light coming," as well as support. "You're always going to find it in our community," she said, "and you'll always find that with me."

American Idol airs Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. Eastern. Vote for Jurnee on the American Idol website, app, or phone.

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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