Music has been a constant in Jamar Rogers’s life, even when he was battling an addiction to crystal meth.
“When I was using meth, I would have such down days,” says the 29-year-old Rogers. “I mean suicidal, not-good thoughts. I would sit in the shower and sing. That was my therapy. I’d sing to get things off my chest and then I would do some more drugs.”
It’s hard to imagine the bright, spirited, happy guy who sang his way into our hearts (and to the top eight) on NBC’s The Voice harbored such dark thoughts or that he was addicted to crystal meth seven years ago. But that’s who he was, and that addiction, he says, eventually led him to contract HIV.
Once Rogers was diagnosed with HIV, also about seven years ago, he nearly abandoned any dreams of a singing career. With so much pressure to be a sex symbol in the music industry, Rogers thought, Who was going to take me? How am I going to be a sex symbol? When people see me, all they’re going to see is a disease.
But Rogers realized his love of music transcended those fears. It also helped that along the way he found a role model, musical artist and Voice judge Cee Lo Green, whom Rogers calls an exception to the rules of pop music.
“He doesn’t look like the typical pop star,” says Rogers. “Cee Lo gave us the permission a long time ago that it’s all right to be a black guy that explores all kinds of genres of music and that I don’t have to be pigeonholed into R&B or hip-hop. He gave me permission, without ever even meeting me, to just be myself.”
With Cee Lo’s music as the soundtrack of his life, Rogers picked up and left Atlanta with his mother, sister, and (now ex) wife, and found refuge at a church in Milwaukee, where he began treatment to ditch his meth addiction. Rogers was welcomed into the choir, with a little nudging from his mother, and soon his inner light shone through. He realized that singing and songwriting were not only his innate talents but also his form of therapy.
“I haven’t even thought about doing meth in almost seven years now,” he says. “I’ve written so many songs about struggling with addiction. Without music and my relationship with God, I don’t know where I would be right now.”
And through his relationship with God, he gained a new best friend, American Idol contestant Danny Gokey. The pair auditioned for the 2009 season of Idol together, and Rogers even made it to the famed Hollywood Week but eventually was sent packing. Soon after, home became the Bronx, N.Y., where he now lives and volunteers with God’s Love We Deliver, a nonprofit with an army of volunteers who deliver food to people too sick to shop or cook for themselves.
Through the organization, Rogers began delivering meals to people with HIV, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. “I was like, These people can’t even leave their homes. I can at least walk up my four flights of stairs in my apartment. What am I complaining about? My life isn’t really that bad.”
Rogers says he learned about the power of giving to others through the experience. “I know it doesn’t make any sense,” he says, “but if you’re lacking love, the best way to get love is to give love. If you feel ugly or you feel unwanted, there’s something about going out and making a stranger’s day that makes you feel so incredibly good about yourself.”
It was there that Rogers’s life changed one August afternoon. Sure, there was a camera crew following him around that day because The Voice was interested in him as a contestant. But he had no idea that the show’s host, Carson Daly, would ambush him with an invitation as he loaded a van with bags full of meals.
“That was not planned,” Rogers says, laughing. “A lot of people were like, ‘Oh, you had to have known that he was coming,’ and I knew the camera crew wanted to follow me around for a day, but I had no idea Carson was going to show up. It was genuine surprise on my face.”
The next goal for Rogers was to get his idol, Cee Lo Green, to spin his chair around for him during the blind auditions. In his mind, there were no other judges, only Cee Lo. Performing the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” Rogers started to get nervous as he approached the second verse, and none of the judges had spun their chairs around yet.
“I started to sweat a little bit, I’m not going to lie,” he says. “But then I saw the pearly whites. It was Cee Lo. I could have just finished right there.”
From then on he was Cee Lo’s “mini-me,” and Cee Lo was his big brother. Mentor Cee Lo’s musical background lent itself perfectly to Rogers’s talents. He took on rock ballads, including “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner, and high-octane songs such as “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz.
Though he started as a front-runner, Rogers was eventually ousted by teammate and soulful indie rocker Juliet Simms, who herself lost to The Voice’s season 2 winner, Jermaine Paul.
But Rogers is far from discouraged. After all of the adversity that he’s overcome, earning tens of thousands of new adoring fans and kick-starting his professional music career seems like a good consolation prize. And there’s no doubt that Rogers will follow his own advice for the road ahead.
“Don’t give up, ever,” Rogers says to others with HIV. “Just because we might have had something detrimental happen to us, it doesn’t mean that we stopped fulfilling our purpose or our destiny. If I could just get one message out there, it would be that HIV shouldn’t be a stop sign. If anything it was an accelerator for me. It made me want to live, it made me want to pursue my passion, and that’s the biggest message I could get out.”