LATE-BREAKING UPDATE! AGT officials have just announced that Kameron Ross will appear on the Judges’ Cuts episode on Tuesday, July 28, at 8 p.m. on NBC to learn whether he will advance to the competition’s live shows.
Dallasite Kameron Ross is looking to reignite his country music career as a proud gay man
Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
Kameron Ross was still a teenager when he recorded his first album, “When I’m Done Lovin’ You,” produced by country music heavy hitters Kelly Lang and T.G. Sheppard. But not long after, Ross started coming to terms with his own sexuality, and his budding career in country music was put on the back burner. Now, Ross has long since come to terms with who he is — a proud gay man — and thanks the TV show America’s Got Talent, his music career is heating up again.
Ross started making headlines immediately after his July 14 AGT audition: He started out singing “Red Dirt Road” by Brooks and Dunn, one of his childhood favorites. But about halfway through, judge Simon Cowell interrupted, asking Ross to instead choose a different song to sing a cappella, telling him to “prove the point you’ve been trying to prove.”
So Ross launched into Chris Young’s “If I Stay,” with no backing track, and the crowd —and the judges — were wowed. All three judges — Cowell, Howie Mandel and Sofia Vergara (Heidi Klum was not there) — voted to send him through to the next round.
Ross sat down this week to answer a few questions for Dallas Voice.
Dallas Voice: Where in East Texas did you grow up? Do you have any brothers or sisters, or maybe cousins, that you grew up with? Are there others in your family who are performers? How did your parents and family support you in performing? Kameron Ross: I actually grew up in Houston. After school on the weekends, me and my family would pack up and head out to performances. A lot of my performances were in East Texas. A lot of the times once the gig was complete, we would drive back home (sometimes hours) the same night. I grew up with two of the best sisters, one older and one younger. We are all very close in age and very close to each other.
Growing up, I remember being around cousins at our family reunions sitting around the fire and house playing the guitar and singing. My grandfather when he was younger used to work for a recording studio. One of his sons — my uncle — played the guitar and wrote music. So, there is definitely a passion for music within the family.
My family has been one of my biggest support systems. They’ve always encouraged me to never give up on my dream of performing.
You have said that it was seeing Shania Twain perform at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo that made you realize that you were meant to be a singer. What was it about that performance that affected you so strongly? Was it Shania Twain, or was it more about the feeling of what it must be like to perform in front of so many people? Or was it something else? I went to my first concert when I was 8 years old to see Shania Twain and I remember it so well. I recall the lights, the extravagant stage, the passion in every single song, the audience giving so much energy, and then Shania Twain giving amazing energy back. I instantly knew that is what I wanted to do!
You started playing percussion — drums? — and then guitar during those early years on the opry circuit. Did you teach yourself, or did you have teachers? I started playing the percussion in elementary school. I expressed interest in the instrument, and my mom allowed me to take some classes on top of playing/learning it in school. My guitar was gifted to me by the producers of my first album, Kelly Lang and TG Sheppard. Everything that I have learned on the guitar has been self-taught.
How old were you when you put out your album, “When I’m Done Lovin You”? And how old when you performed at A Day in the Country music festival? That was when, you have said, you were beginning to “become more in tune with who I am as a person” and started coming to terms with the idea of being a gay man in country music. Talk about the struggle you went through in deciding to be openly gay and trying to maintain a country music career. Were you struggling to accept that you were gay, or was it more external, struggling against homophobia in the industry? Or was it a combination? I put out my first album “When I’m Done Lovin’ You” when I was 16 years old. I sang at A Day In The Country in my early 20s. Around that same time is when I began to come to the realization that I was gay or when I was starting to accept it. Coming to that realization puts a million different thoughts through your mind. I was in the prime of my music career, and, at the time, I did not know of many openly gay country music singers.
The openly gay country music singers that I knew of had been through many struggles during their careers after coming out. I remember at times being afraid to go play some gigs because I was worried that someone might know I’m gay and react negatively towards me. I wanted to be able to go play a concert like any other country music artist and not feel like that I’m being judged for being gay.
In my mid 20s, I decided that I wanted to become more in tune with who I was without worrying about anything else. That’s when I was decided to take a break from music. Today I can 100 percent, with all confidence, say that I am extremely happy with who I am as a person, and I am still chasing my dream to make it in the music industry.
While understanding that there is still room for growth I do have to say that I believe that the country music industry has evolved to become more accepting to new ideas, people and cultures sharing the same love for what country music stands for.
At the same time you were coming out, you were battling a family illness. Can you tell me more about that and about your family? I am sure that as a younger boy and then as a teen, you must have had a great deal of family support to be able to do so much traveling and performing. What part has your family played in your career? And how did you coming out affect your relationship with your family? How has that family dynamic changed through the years? My family is one of my biggest priorities. I could not be blessed with a better mom, dad, sisters, grandparents and more! I am a huge mama’s boy. My mom is one of the best and strongest people I know.
We didn’t start to see the family illnesses until my mid- to late-20s. One of my grandmothers has been through two types of cancers, and is now healthy and living her life to the fullest. But I lost both of my grandfathers within the same year. Then, within the same year, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully she is in remission now.
When things like this take place, everything else gets put on hold a little bit, because you start to realize you want to enjoy every moment you can with all of your loved ones. With that being said, my family members are my biggest supporters. Any and every performance I have, they’re right there, front and center, cheering me on. I couldn’t be more grateful for such a supportive family.
When I came out to my family, my sisters didn’t blink an eye. They did not look at me any differently. With my parents, it took just a little bit to adjust to the news, but it’s made my bond with my parents so much stronger. My parents are absolutely supportive and proud of me being gay.
You said that the internal battle between embracing and expressing your identity and your career as a country singer caused your “light in the country music world to dim and eventually fade out a little.” Do you mean that homophobia in the country music world hampered your career, or do you feel like it was your own internal struggle that had more of an effect? Maybe it was a combination of both? I feel it was a combination of both. I was not completely confident in being gay at first, but it is who I am and part of me. I am completely confident now with who I am as a person. But while discovering who I was as a person and trying to make it in the country music industry, there was this fear that I would never make it in the country music world.
[Being openly gay] is not something that was common in the music industry then, and certainly not in the country music industry. Then the artists that were openly gay in country music were met with many challenges. I was scared that I would lose everything that I worked towards for almost all of my life and that my dream would slip between my fingers.
But once I became comfortable with who I was as a person, I wanted to make sure I was still pushing forward, trying to make it in the music industry. I was ready to prove to everyone that I can be who I am and be extremely successful as an artist. I want to be able to open up doors for others like myself.
Chely Wright came out in 2010 and then Ty Herndon followed in 2014. They were the first “big names” in country music to come out, and Chely Wright has said that coming out hurt her career. Now, though, there are other people in country music who are openly gay and who are having successful careers — Brandi Carlile, Billy Gilman and even Lil Nas X. How have their stories and experiences influenced you in your decision to return to singing as a career? Who in the industry do you look to as role models? I have followed many of these artist who have come out over the years that are in the music industry. Chely Wright has said her career suffered some after coming out. I was questioning if I could be openly gay and still pursue my music career. I was worried that I was going to have to choose one or the other. Now I am happy to call Ty Herndon one of my friends and mentors. He is certainly one of those in the country music industry that I look up to.
I also look up to artists like Kacey Musgraves. Kacey is living and loving who she is without any regret. Kacey is a huge supporter of the gay community, plus she is from Texas, and I’m a huge supporter of people from the great state of Texas.
A lot of the artists who are out in the country music came out after having some success in the industry. I am so extremely proud of people like Lil Nas X, Brandi and Billy. Seeing them succeed lit a fire in me. I wanted to make them proud.
What is a little different with me is that I am trying to break through in the industry as an openly gay man. I would hope that people can accept me for who I am and enjoy the gift I was given and that I want to share with the world.
It’s been 10 years since your performance at the Day in the Country event and since you started coming to terms with your identity. What has changed since then that makes you believe it will be possible for you to have a career in country music as an openly gay man?
How do you feel the industry has changed, and how have you changed? The biggest change is that I am extremely happy with who I am as a person. I cannot change being gay, and I would never want to change that; it is who I am. I believe there are no restrictions to being whoever it is that you want to be — whether that is the president, a teacher, a country music singer or whatever.
The country music industry is starting to get introduced to people who are happy with who they are as a person and are supportive of others. I grew up singing with Kacey Musgraves, and to see her success with being who she wants to be as a person — that is something and she is someone to look up to! She’s a huge supporter of the gay community. I watched an interview with her some time ago where she said, “I love the gays,” and I remember getting the biggest and proudest smile on my face. A lot of the people who have had success in the country music industry have come out after they’ve had some success. I am coming back into the country music industry openly gay and happy. I feel that it is time for someone like me in the industry.
Win or lose, your appearance on America’s Got Talent certainly has the potential to change your life. How has it changed things so far, and what impact do you expect it to have from here on? What do you see in your future? I could not be more humbled, blessed, grateful and happy for my experience with America’s Got Talent. I am doing my best to try and respond back to everyone providing me feedback and reaching out to me. I want everyone to know and feel that I’m listening and loving their encouragement and support. Since my appearance on America’s Got Talent, I’ve had so many people reach out telling me their stories and wishing me luck. I’ve had celebrities like Leslie Jordan reach out to me, supporting who I am as a person and as a performer.
What have I not asked about that you want to talk about? My experience with America’s Got Talent has been amazing! They have such a great team to work with. There is so much long and hard work that goes into such an amazing production and every single person plays such an important role. I appreciate every single person on the America’s Got Talent team. Also, I want to say thank you! Thank you to everyone who has supported and believed in me. I am extremely grateful for having this opportunity with America’s Got Talent while being allowed and accepted to be my true self.