ALONZO was all set to perform on “The Four,” a singing show on FOX, when he got the call the day before taping that he’d been cut. He was crushed. Still licking his wounds after a breakup, it seemed as though his entire world was crashing down around him. But, as it often does, life was about to throw him a major curveball.
Following a late-night performance at LA’s Whisky a Go-Go, the President of TCG Entertainment approached ALONZO about auditioning for an upcoming tour ─ the “4U: A Symphonic Celebration of Prince,” sanctioned by the Prince Estate in partnership with TCG Entertainment. A European leg had just wrapped, and organizers were now looking to bring the tour to the states.
“It was very important to the Estate that they wanted the tour to be a celebration, not an impersonation, of Prince’s music,” ALONZO tells American Songwriter. He got the call many months later and performed his first show at the Red Rock Amphitheater in Denver. His life was forever changed.
Admittedly, he only knew two Prince songs heading into it, “Purple Rain” and “Kiss,” the latter of which he performed in his audition. “I think the fact that I was a fan of Prince but wasn’t obsessed with him, helped me. TCG saw his essence in me, but I was far from being a Prince impersonator,” he recalls. “I carried his essence without trying. Once I was hired, I had to learn so many songs, and that’s when I became a true fan. By digging into his art and lyrics, I developed huge respect for his talent.”
With a full symphony and orchestra, The Roots’ Questlove helped cultivate the live show to bring Prince’s catalog to life in a totally unique way. ALONZO was more than up to the task, hopping on for the entire 2019 run. “The experience of being on a tour bus – driving around the country, developing relationships with the tour crew and band – was a fantastic experience for me,” he offers. “During the tour, we became like a family. The experience was exactly as I’d imagined it would be. Let me be clear that it wasn’t easy for me.”
His personal transformation took many other forms ─ the most notable in his ability to “surrender to a larger cause. The Estate provided strong guidelines about what I could and couldn’t do on stage. They clearly wanted the performance to be a tribute. I get totally energized when I am performing in front of a live audience,” he explains. “At times, I had to keep myself in check to stay true to making the show a tribute. Being on a stage is magical for me and makes me feel so alive. The approval of Prince’s fans is my fondest memory of the tour. I had so many fans tell me things like, ‘You were amazing. We would have killed you if you messed this up!’”
ALONZO’s resume also boasts singing backup vocals for pop veteran Christina Aguilera. Unsurprisingly, he used the opportunity to “absorb and learn everything” he could. “When I’m around a superstar like Christina, I pay attention to every detail of her work: how she arrived, how she carried herself, how she interacted with people, even the technical aspects of her work,” he says. “I used it as an opportunity to study the discipline of a superstar. It also gave me a chance to realize you have to be 100 percent present in the moment.”
When you get to listening to ALONZO’s debut album, Enough, produced by Eric Zayne (Usher, 21 Pilots), it’s clear he has long been a sponge, soaking up a vast collection of influences to then squeeze into his own style. A song like “Respect,” a declaration of his worth in an ever-slippery industry, owes an immense dept to such predecessors as Prince, Whitney Houston, and Aretha Franklin.
Respect is all I’ll ever need, he sings, a classic pop configuration shifting around him. Before reality set in, and he realized maybe it was time he moved mountains on his own, he had been “hoping to get discovered,” he says. “I was counting on someone else to give me a hand up. I was counting on some record label or some industry executive to discover me and make me a superstar. I’ve since learned that the only one I can count on, the only one who controls my destiny, is me.”
As such, ALONZO self-financed his album and its videos, constantly pushing forward and digging deep for the courage to “work hard not to be discouraged by rejection. This song is a reflection of my experience as an artist and is also a personal statement about the value of Black people in this country.”
A new visual for standout track “Distractions,” directed by Marshall King, exhibits his strength as a performer, a particular charm radiating from his performance. “I always have a clear vision of what my videos should look like, what message they carry, and tend to micromanage every detail of production,” he says. In working closely with King, as well as choreographer Brooklyn Jai, he set the video’s on being present in the “moment and create an emotional response of excitement for the viewer.”
The song, a rhythmic-rock centerpiece, unfolded after reading a horoscope which read: “Embracing all of your strengths will allow you to take things to the next level.” Everything clicked into sharper focus. “I knew it was time to bring all of my gifts together and incorporate the gift of dance into my music. That night, I made a voice note, imagining a song I’d be dancing to,” he says.
“Normally, Eric will have me send him the voice note, and he samples it,” he continues. In this instance, Zayne applied the original voice memo directly into the final version. “‘Distractions’ is a very personal song for me. It carries a message I wrote for myself and for everyone else who can become distracted.”
Enough is volatile and unexpected, a melding of pop convention with plenty of biting rhythms and snaky percussion. From the earth-crawling vibration of “The Same” to the arousing, provocative finale, “Your Medicine,” featuring plenty of overheated electric guitar, ALONZO’s work wouldn’t be quite the same without such a unwavering musical backbone.
“Often, when I create a song, I hear the percussion in my head first. Imagine, me awake at two or three in the morning am – hearing a song in my head. I may wake up in the middle of the night and create a voice note – beatboxing or mouthing the sounds I hear in my head,” he describes. “Obviously, it is easier to mimic percussion in your mouth than a piano, so that’s usually what I hear, and that’s often where it begins.”
As he peers back three years, when the record first began, he doesn’t even quite recognize that person anymore. “I was crying and asking to be saved,” he says, citing the piano-torn “Save Me from Myself” as the catalyst. “I was afraid but knew I had to keep moving forward so I could eventually achieve my dreams. The title of the album says a lot about my evolution.”
“I’ve progressed so much, yet some things haven’t changed at all,” he continues. A proud Rockford, Illinois native, ALONZO, now 30, has learned never to stay silent and to always stand for what is right and true. “Growing up Black in this country, being raised by a single parent – a strong and courageous Black woman – and learning that you have to fight for every opportunity, these are the lessons that have left an indelible mark on who I am.”