RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — For many Richmonders, Shayla Winn’s appearance on American Idol this year inspires memories of Elliott Yamin, an “Idol” contestant from Henrico who appeared on Idol’s Season Five.
His mother Claudette, herself a singer with bands, captured the city’s mood as Elliott climbed through the ranks and eventually joined the live show in Hollywood, “It’s just thrilling to hear everybody scream his name and singing and chanting. It’s unreal.“
Twelve years later, Elliott is still making a living in music—writing and recording in Los Angeles, where he owns a home—and performing for adoring crowds here in the U.S. and around the world. It’s a good life for a kid who went to Freeman High School, though his moneymaker was a little less polished then than it is today. “I’ve been all over the place cause of this mouth. This mouth used to get me in so much trouble when I was a kid–and now it’s my bread and butter,“ Yamin told 8News. “Go figure.“
By his own estimate, Yamin worked more than 45 jobs before he made it to “Idol.” He says he can’t travel on Broad Street without seeing a restaurant where he worked.
Yamin’s last straight job in Richmond may have presaged his success on “Idol.” Using his now-famous voice, Yamin was a weekend DJ at Power 92.1, a local powerhouse for R&B and rap.
“It gave me the opportunity to be around the music I loved and listened to in my personal life,“ he said.
In many ways, Elliott was the ideal “Idol” contestant. He embodies the American dream: a humble guy with a gift whose hard work and determination deliver success. Can Shay follow in Elliott’s footsteps? Perhaps. Part of succeeding on the show is working hard. He says, “I didn’t know how much prep went into each week’s show and really what I was getting myself into. We were just constantly working and it sort of created this bubble around us–we didn’t have time to think about the outside world.“
It’s harder than it sounds. Elliott was mentored one week by Stevie Wonder, an artist whose fame can take an aspiring singer or musician off their game.
Handling celebrity culture is also an important skill. After the show, Stevie Wonder invited Elliott to sing at a charity event hosted by the Grammy-winner.
“He gave me his cellphone number and my girlfriend at the time was like ‘you gotta call him. you gotta go work with him!’ I’m like I can’t just call Stevie Wonder,“ Yamin remembered. “I just can’t call him up!“ Mindful of Hollywood etiquette and their unequal status, Yamin ignored the advice. In Hollywood, if Stevie Wonder wants to talk to you, he’ll find you.
Good judgment, hard work, talent, and even good manners helped Elliott stay afloat in an industry notorious for spitting singers into the gutter. He takes it in stride. “It’s such a fickle industry–but I’ve been doing it professionally for 12 years so I’ve gotten pretty used to it.“
Yamin’s latest project is with Phil Lassiter’s band, Philthy. He sings on an album called “Party Crashers,” released last July.
It’s a fitting description for a kid from Henrico who by his own admission was aimless until “Idol” came along. Elliott Yamin used “Idol” to crash the music industry’s party and has been hanging out in Hollywood ever since.