How glam-pop phenom Jake Wesley Rogers lost on ‘AGT’ but won at life: ‘It made me really commit to being an artist’

Published On July 9, 2024 » By »

Jake Wesley Rogers


In his new music video for “Loser,” force-of-nature glam-pop artist Jake Wesley Rogers busts out a Jobriath-style modern dance improv in front of a talent show’s unimpressed judging panel. In real life, however, the Justin Tranter-co-penned synthpop bop is a real winner — a contender for song of the summer, or maybe even for the best single of 2024. So, art is definitely not imitating life in this case.

Or is it? Shortly after the “Loser” video dropped, Rogers, now 27, snarkily posted on Instagram: “When I was on America’s Got Talent at 15 [I] lost to a bunch of poodles, but they’re probably long gone now so who’s the real winner?”

The teenage Rogers — as charismatic back then as he is now, if utterly unrecognizable with his Buddy Holly pompadour and spectacles — became an early favorite on AGT Season 7, thanks to his flamboyant piano covers of Adele and Britney Spears. After his shock elimination in the quarterfinals, he was summoned back to the show by sympathetic judge Sharon Osbourne as her personal wild-card pick, but his risky performance during that comeback round, of his idol Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory,” sadly edged him out of the competition for good. Rather than get discouraged, however, Rogers says the double-rejection “made me really commit to being an artist.”

“I was literally 14 when I auditioned, and at that point I kind of felt like that was the only [way to make it] in my 14-year-old brain,” says Rogers, who grew up in Springfield, Mo. “I was like, ‘Well, this is what you do, if you love music — you audition for one of these shows.’ And you have to be 16 [to qualify] for a lot of them, and [AGT] was the only one that was all-ages. So, my parents were like, ‘Yeah, we’ll drive you to St. Louis and see where it goes.’”

Rogers admits, “Ultimately, I would say [AGT] was a negative experience,” because the show was “produced in a certain way where they want you to say certain things… they do these weird reverse therapy sessions where they’re trying to get you to throw up all your traumas.” But, he stresses, “In the negativity, I learned some of the most important lessons about this industry: that the long road is always more gratifying and steady than something you think will get you to the top really fast.”

Hence the proclamation in “Loser’s” chorus: “Every beginning begins at the finish line/That’s when the loser wins.” Almost exactly a decade after his “disorienting” AGT experience, Rogers found himself face-to-face with Osbourne again, under very different circumstances: when he was invited to duet with Brandi Carlile at Elton John’s 2022 Oscar night viewing party in West Hollywood.

“Sharon Osbourne was there. She had been so sweet to me when I was on the show. She was the one judge that really embraced me, and she brought me back to the Wild Card Round. I had not seen her since I was 15. I was sitting at a table with a few of my friends and I was like, ‘Should I go up to her?’ I don’t like to really bother people. But obviously, I had something to say,” Rogers recalls. “And so, I went up to her and it was a really sweet moment. I was just like, ‘I don’t know if you remember me, but 10 years ago I was on America’s Got Talent. You were just very kind to me, and I really hold that with me still.’ … And she gave me a hug.”

America may not have been ready for Jake Wesley Rogers in 2012, voting for the Olate Dogs (RIP) instead, but the public now seems to have caught up. “America’s Got Talent was my first experience of [bad press] — I remember I was literally 15 and there was some Rolling Stone article reviewing the episode I was on. I don’t even remember what it said, it was three sentences, but it was not very nice. I was literally 15, so I was like, ‘Oh, this is complicated. My first time in Rolling Stone, and it’s not nice!’ But I’ve been back in it, and it was very nice. So, there you go,” Rogers chuckles.

Rogers hasn’t quite made it to the finish line, so to speak — his career is in fact only just beginning, with his long-awaited debut album dropping later this year. But to understand how he’s made this far — winning over famous fans like Elton, Tranter (who signed Rogers to their Facet Records label), and Mike Garson (who enlisted Rogers to sing both “Life on Mars?” and “Modern Love” for the 2022 all-star “A Bowie Celebration” livestream) — we have to go back to the beginning. Because it’s all connected.

Rogers’s “first kind of a-ha moment” was in 6th grade, when he discovered Lady Gaga — the NYC scene peer and tourmate of Tranter’s former glam/punk band, Semi Precious Weapons. “I didn’t really take a deep dive into Elton or Bowie or anything like that until later, but I sort of realized that I got into them through [Gaga], in a way, because what she was doing was in the same lineage of glam and androgyny and spectacle and pure pop,” says Rogers. “She was really massive for me.”

Growing up in a Missouri Bible Belt town, Rogers’s family “were Methodists, which I feel is, for the most part, pretty chill,” and he came out at a young age, while still in middle school. But he says religious fearmongering and homophobia were “still something that I sort of just soaked into my consciousness. I was pretty lucky that I had this group of friends and my nuclear family who were very supportive, so I felt safe in that regard, but I still think I’m letting go of a lot of the lessons I subliminally learned. Just the idea of shame and not loving who you are or allowing yourself to love what you love, I think, is a big thing. Internalized homophobia is a really confusing thing.”

After moving to Nashville at age 18 to study songwriting at Belmont University, Rogers quickly landed a Sony/ATV publishing deal; a year after graduating, he released his Spiritual EP and explored his semi-secret shame in the breakthrough single “Jacob From the Bible,” which was about his first boyfriend. “That was the first time I had gone really, really deep for me and sort of revealed things that I might have been afraid to say, as far as really opening up about my sexuality and past relationships and healing from traumas of those relationships and connecting it all in a spiritual way. And that’s why I called the EP Spiritual, because all the terror and horror and heartache is so deeply spiritual, and usually leads to such a deeper understanding of life,” he explains.

“Jacob From the Bible” soon went viral. “The message I really remember the most is this person reached out and they said they heard the song in a playlist or something, and liked it and saved it, and they listened again later, but really sort of listened to the song, and they realized like, ‘Oh, this is a gay love story,’” Rogers recalls. “They said it was a true turning point for them. They said they listened to it and thought, ‘How can something so beautiful be so evil?’ They said hearing that song and the story is what turned them around and made them rethink this. And that still blows my mind.”

And then Rogers’s mind was blown once again, when “Jacob From the Bible” grabbed the attention of superstar songwriter Justin Tranter, who has crafted hits for everyone from Imagine Dragons and Fall Out Boy to Halsey, Selena Gomez, Gwen Stefani, and current queer pop sensation Chappell Roan.

“When I was still in Nashville, I was just singing independently and I did a live performance of [“Jacob”] in a church. I was just at a grand piano and wearing this jumpsuit with pearls on it and singing a song about the Bible,” says Rogers. “[Tranter] heard it and sent me a DM and was like, ‘I can’t stop watching this video. You’re just really special.’ And that blew my mind, because I was also a really big Semi Precious Weapons fan and had been following their career up until that point. [Tranter] was someone who was kind of always on my list of people I wanted to work with and write with — and, very convenient timing, they had just started a record label. We started writing together, and the second song we wrote together was ‘Middle of Love.’ It was very clear that we are creative matches, and now [Tranter has] all the power in the world to support up-and-coming queer artists, which is really cool.”

Jake Wesley Rogers


It was “Middle of Love” that then caught Elton John’s attention, when on a whim in May 2021 Rogers decided to up stakes and move from Nashville to a new town. “I put all my stuff in storage. There was just something in my gut that said, ‘Go to New Orleans!’ And I don’t really know why. I’ve always just been obsessed with the city. … But now I know, when you have a weird gut feeling that doesn’t make sense, I implore you to listen to it!” It was in New Orleans that Rogers “quickly became friends” with another pioneering queer artist — and a close friend and collaborator of Elton John’s — former Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears.

“I found this group of people there so fast that had my back, and Jake was one of them,” says Rogers. “I was playing my music, sitting in his living room, and he’s like, ‘Elton needs to hear this.’ It was ‘Middle of Love’; I had just released it.” Just as Shears had expected, Elton, a fervent champion of young talent, adored the song. Elton eventually not only invited Rogers to guest on his Rocket Hour radio show and perform at his Oscars afterparty, but declared Rogers to be pop’s next big thing. “It was pretty mind-blowing, and still is pretty mind-blowing, to me,” Rogers marvels. “I think I disassociated the first time Elton said that huge affirmation. And I think afterwards I was like, ‘Well, I guess I don’t suck!’”

Rogers definitely does not suck, despite what closed-minded AGT voters might have thought back in 2012 (or how the fake talent show judges, portrayed by Jessica Yellin, Mike Sabath, and Facet recording artist Shea Diamond, behave in the “Loser” video). And as Rogers releases “Loser” — which, incidentally, includes a cute nod to Elton John with its mention of “tiny dancers” — and readies his debut LP, he understands the power that his anthemic, deeply personal yet universally relatable music holds.

“[My music is] celebrating queerness in particular, but I think just love in general. I feel like it doesn’t always have to be so heavy. I don’t always have to make people cry. Sometimes I just want to make people have a good time too — dance, and maybe cry while they dance, because I like doing that,” Rogers quips. “I think what I am really trying to say and connect as I work on my first full-length album is basically [ask] what is love, what is my experience with it, where is it taking me, and why is it so hard? And those are the questions we all have, no matter what our point of view is.

“And if you have the answers, let me know. Slide in my DMs.”

This interview is taken from Jake Wesley Rogers’s appearance on Lyndsey Parker’s SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Full audio is available on the SiriusXM app.

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