Catching up with TJ Young

The former ‘American Idol’ performer and Philly native has new music to share

Singer TJ Young
Philly’s TJ Young has new music out – music influenced by the challenges we all faced during the quarantine. | Image courtesy: TJ Young

You’ve probably seen TJ Young perform – somewhere. Maybe it was at a wedding. Maybe it was at a local club. Maybe it was on “American Idol.” 

Young is a singer, songwriter, producer, musician and DJ from Philadelphia. His vocal style and charismatic stage presence have been compared to prominent artists such as Michael Buble, Sam Smith and Brendon Urie. As a former member of the house band at the dueling piano bar Howl at the Moon, he would entertain crowds of hundreds with a variety of instruments, including the piano, guitar, drums, bass, keytar, and synthesizer. 

Young appeared on season 13 of “American Idol” and has since gone on to perform more than 1,000 shows, ranging from high-energy club gigs to intimate weddings. In addition to his growing portfolio of original music, he has a large  catalogue of cover songs that span many genres, decades, and instruments, allowing him to express his musical versatility and unique sound.

Young recently released “See You Smiling,” an indie pop song influenced by the evolving relationships and emotional challenges that many of us are facing in quarantine. He recorded and produced the single in his home studio, taking inspiration from conversations with friends and loved ones as they try to stay positive in the face of an uncertain future.

He wrote “See You Smiling” in one day, creating an intimate and heartfelt soundscape with a soulful vocal performance, uplifting harmonies, acoustic guitar riffs, vintage-inspired piano grooves, r&b drum beats and a supple bass line. “See You Smiling” is one of several songs Young plans to publish in the coming weeks as a part of an upcoming album, which is currently in production and is due to be released later this year.

PW recently caught up with Young to talk about his career and new music.

A lot of us spent the quarantine binge-watching Netflix. You spent it recording “See You Smiling,” an indie pop song influenced by the evolving relationships and emotional challenges that many of us are facing in quarantine. Talk a little about what inspired you to write the song and how it all came together. Also, what’s the best way for people to hear the song? 

Over the past five years, I have been building a state-of-the-art recording studio in my home while working full-time as a professional musician. Once quarantine hit and I did my own fair share of binge-watching, I realized how lucky I was to have all of the resources I needed to record and produce my original music right here in my home. I wanted to take full advantage of my newly open schedule, and that got the ball rolling. 

The idea for the song itself actually came from seeing a picture that my sister posted on Instagram. I hadn’t seen such a big smile on her face in a long time, which made me think of recent conversations with friends and family about how they were doing everything they could to stay positive in the face of such unprecedented adversities. That Instagram post eventually became the artwork for the single. 

The song is currently streaming on every major music distributor: Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon, etc. Fans who follow my social media pages get sneak previews and updates about each new upcoming release before it drops. 

You’re also planning to release additional songs and are working on a new album. How is that coming along, and will there be an overall “feel” or theme to the album? When do you anticipate it will be released? 

The current plan is to release a new song every three weeks, which will all be compiled into an album at the end of the year. The next release is a song called “Stay Inside,” a dreamy piano-driven love song about isolating yourself at home with someone you care about. That song will be available to stream on Friday, Aug. 7. 

The album is a work in progress, and will be a reflection of thoughts and feelings that I’ve experienced during this time – about love, uncertainty, and self-doubt. I’ve been learning new production techniques that other music producers have been sharing on the internet, so each release incorporates new skills that I’ve picked up along the way. 

What were your early musical influences? When did you know you wanted to pursue a career making music and entertaining people? 

I’ve always known that I wanted to be an entertainer in some capacity. My first exposure to singing onstage and performing in front of an audience was in my high school musical theater program, and shortly after graduating I decided to audition for “American Idol.” 

Musical theater shaped my taste in music, so I always gravitated towards musicians whose songs felt dynamic and emotional. Linkin Park, Green Day, and Coldplay were all major early influences of mine, as were the classic crooners like Frank Sinatra. 

TJ Young credits his experience on ‘American Idol’ for making him the one-stop-shop musician he is today. | Image courtesy: TJ Young

How did appearing on “American Idol” impact your career? Did the experience change its trajectory? 

Some of the most valuable feedback that the judges gave me was that my voice sounded “too Broadway” for mainstream music. That was a crucial moment for me, and I started studying contemporary pop music. This led to my fascination with the production process. I wanted to know what was in the “secret sauce” that made the popular songs we all listen to so alluring, and I went back to school to study audio engineering so that I could produce my own music. If not for “American Idol,” I might have never become the one-stop-shop musician that I am today. 

Any advice for anyone out there trying to make it to the “American Idol” stage? 

The good news is that musicians with big dreams have more resources than ever to record and release their own songs. In 2020, the landscape is so different than when I first auditioned for “American Idol” seven years ago. While “American Idol” can give you great exposure and education, there are so many more opportunities for independent musicians now that they don’t necessarily need the backing of a major TV operation to find success. 

My best advice for aspiring professional musicians is to learn as much as you can about every part of the process. Up-and-coming musicians have access to tools that 

are more affordable and higher quality than ever, especially compared to what the top engineers have been using in years past. 

I would also suggest that they put themselves out there and get what work they can, because it’s all valuable experience. One of the best things that I did for myself as a musician was force myself into environments where I had no choice but to learn new skills. I worked for two years full-time at a dueling piano bar, and another two singing in a high-end wedding band. These jobs put me in situations where there was constant pressure to learn new instruments, step out of my comfort zone, understand crowd work, and stay on top of the most popular new songs on the radio. All of this has made me a stronger performer and a better songwriter, even if it wasn’t what I initially envisioned back when I was on the show. 

What are the best ways for your fans to keep up with what you’re doing? 

I’m on every social media platform (YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) at @imnottjyoung. Fans can also keep up with news and updates on my website, tjyoung.live. “See You Smiling” and all of my music is available on all major streaming platforms. 

  • Eugene Zenyatta was raised on old-time Memphis 'rasslin' and strongly prefers the company of dogs to people. His greatest heartbreak came in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.