RJ Helton won over the hearts of Americans by singing songs and doing a little dance on television screens all over the country during the first season of “American Idol” in 2002. With his charismatic form of singing, flawless smile and his signature sleeveless shirts, he earned his spot in the competition. He sung the songs of the greats, like “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5, “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder and “I Won’t Dance” by Frank Sinatra. He almost made his way to the top before becoming the fourth runner-up.
Since then, Helton landed a recording contract with B Rite Records in 2004 and was back on the scene with his debut album, “Real Life.” Helton’s Christian music album sold more than 20,000 copies. Soon after, in 2006, it was confirmed that Helton is a homosexual. He decided, at the spur of the moment, during an interview on the Larry Flick’s radio show “OutQ in the Morning” to “out” himself. The story made headlines and had everyone talking when it was originally published in People magazine. Helton said during the People magazine interview, “I can have a faith but can’t be who I want to be. A lot of it was just personal things I needed to overcome and just be proud of [who] I was. Just because I am gay does not mean I can’t love God.” Helton has been in a committed relationship with his boyfriend ever since that revelation.
Helton was adopted by his parents, Glenn and Sue Helton, when he was 3-years-old. His hometown is documented as Cumming, Georgia, but Helton has traveled all over the Southern states.
“I grew up all over the South. In Jackson, Mississippi, Arkansas, Indiana, Georgia, Texas, Arizona, pretty much everywhere,” Helton said. He continued to say that he has, “went to about 13 different schools” while growing up. Helton explained the situation as being due to his father’s work as a vice president of a large, national fast-food franchise. The family had to do that traveling in order for his father to open up new franchises across the South. His father was quickly nicknamed the “Chicken Man.”
He grew in a strict Southern Baptist home – his parents worked hard to provide for Helton and his siblings. Helton falls in the middle of his parents’ children with an older sister, a younger brother and younger sister. Even though his family was not into the entertainment business, they did know talent when they heard it.
“My mom told me that I could sing before I could talk,” Helton said. As a child, he would sing along to the “Flintstones” vitamins jingle and other child-friendly commercials. The talent was apparent, but Helton’s parents never tired to push him into something he did not want to do.
“There were periods of time when I decided to quit music and quit dance because it wasn’t the popular thing to do. I would quit and go straight back into the arts because that is where my passion was,” said Helton.
Singing along with commercial jingles was how Helton grew up, but in 2002, he saw the commercial that would establish him in the music scene by being a part of the “American Idol” franchise.
“I was sitting at home one day shortly after I had gotten back home and I saw this commercial on TV that said ‘Do you want to be the next superstar?” Helton said.
After looking it up on the Internet, Helton was still unsure about auditioning. It was common knowledge that many reality television shows before “American Idol” had not been that successful. Helton made his decision to go for it after he heard his mother say “do it.” With his mother’s vote of confidence, he then made his way to the audition site in Atlanta.
Helton made it known that just being on “Idol” was “a pretty big accomplishment just to be a part of television history. To come from a very small town in Georgia to Hollywood; to me, I am just blessed. I am so grateful and I don’t take anything for granted,” Helton said.
It can be interpreted that being on television can be a blessing and a curse. After being on a reality-television show, it is hard to break that image. It has happened to many other potential “Idol” contestants whose careers did not take off the way that they had expected, such as Justin Guarini, Ruban Studdard, Fantasia Burrino, Diana DeGarmo, Tyler Hicks and David Cook. Helton continues to move through life with his eyes wide open, and expecting the worst while hoping for the best.
Helton has quite a few role models that he looks up to. He admires fellow artists such as Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Donny Hathaway. The one person, however, who stands out above the rest would have to be Helton’s grandmother. “My grandmother is all about love and loving everyone,” Helton said.
When Helton is not in the studio, he enjoys the normal wonders of nature. Helton said that he “loves being outside. I love hiking, fishing, working in my garden and spending time with my partner and puppies.”
With his passion for nature, other aspirations would follow that same motif. Helton has a dream of opening up an urban flower/plant shop. If the first should fall through, another possible dream for Helton would be to open a sober living home for teenagers who are battling with alcoholism.
“God is calling me to do [it]. It would be a positive outlet for kids that don’t have proper teaching or people that generally love and care for them,” he said.
With the growing attention to world issues, it was interesting to discover what Helton would like to change about the world. “I am really tried of hate. There is so much hate and I’m tired [of it]. If I could change one thing about the world it would be to take the hate of [the world]. Love is power,” Helton said.
After a six long years of waiting, Helton is ready to get back into the scene with his second studio album. His sophomore album will not be a Christian-influenced record, but rather an expression of his life now. This album is something new to everyone, including Helton; this is his first time writing some of the music on it on his own. Helton is currently back in the studio working with producers from Atlanta, Houston, New York and other major cities.
A release date has yet to be announced; however, new music that Helton has recorded is available to listen to on his MySpace site. With songs like “Hot,” “Secrets” and “Majic Man,” Helton is now embracing his romantic side. Helton explained that his next album will be more about his “relationships and struggles that I have had personally. It is mostly about life and love.”