Johnny Manuel took the stage on 27 June 2017 during season 12 of the “America’s Got Talent” reality TV show and astonished judges and the audience with his amazing voice. Viewers at home were equally stunned, and predictions about his victory in the talent show subsequently flooded the YouTube comments and Reddit subreddit threads. This came as no surprise since his vocal training and on-stage experience were evident. However, Johnny’s confirmation that he recorded a demo at a young age and worked in the music industry since he was a young teenager convinced people he would take the crown that year.
Unfortunately, he didn’t win. He also failed to become an international superstar and sell millions of copies worldwide. So, what is Johnny Manuel from “America’s Got Talent” doing now, years after the astounding performance of a well-known song from “The Prom Queen of Soul,” Whitney Houston? We’ll delve deep into his journey to see how Johnny leveraged his prominence to compete in other singing TV shows. To fans’ excitement, he also recorded several singles and an extended play (EP) record.
- 1 Where did Johnny come from?
- 2 Getting signed as a young teen
- 3 Failure of Johnny’s first record deal and the aftermath
- 4 Auditioning for “America’s Got Talent”
- 5 Failing to reach the finale
- 6 Participating in Eurovision Song Contest
- 7 Touring and moving to Australia
- 8 Becoming a runner-up in “The Voice Australia”
- 9 Johnny’s first single release
- 10 Releasing his first EP
- 11 Love for fashion and design
- 12 Johnny loves jewelry, too
- 13 His style inspirations
- 14 Whom is Johnny dating? When did he get married?
- 15 People he finds inspirational or has a crush on
- 16 TV shows he still finds interesting or significant
- 17 Pet peeve
- 18 Johnny’s life in 2023 and the future
Where did Johnny come from?
Johnny Manuel was born on 4 January 1985 in Flint, Michigan, United States, where he was raised with his brother Jewan. He was musically inclined from a young age growing up near Detroit, one of the centers of rock n’ roll, also known as “Motown” and “Detroit Rock City”. He noted he ‘could not be pulled away from his radio’ and ‘mimicked every note he heard coming out of the speaker’.
Johnny got an early start singing solos in his parents’ church choir, where his mom was a director. His parents also had a singing group, with his dad playing the guitar and being a lead singer with his mom, and two aunts sang backing vocals. After announcing he would pursue music at roughly age seven, Johnny recorded his first demo song, a cover of a 1983 song, “It’s Like That” by the Run-D.M.C hip hop group. He recorded many other demos with local producers and sent them to record labels without expectations. However, at some point, six labels were interested at once.
Getting signed as a young teen
At 14, Johnny boarded his first airplane flight and signed a recording contract with Warner Music Group. He was nicknamed Lil’ Johnny before entering the studio and starting to tour. Interestingly, his dad is also named Johnny, and his mom called them Lil and Big Johnny during his childhood to distinguish them. Some notable artists he connected or collaborated with include Jermaine Dupree, P Diddy, Lil’ Bow Wow, and David Foster.
At one point, Johnny opened for NSYNC, Jay Z, and Destiny’s Child, and recorded a four-track album sampler entitled “I Got You” with Jermaine Dupree. An experience he particularly enjoyed during those years was tour bus rides. He took pleasure in sleeping in bunk beds on road trips, especially closing the blinds before going to sleep, and he could watch movies and play PlayStation 2 with his dancers. Nonetheless, he had a high school tutor to ensure his education doesn’t suffer.
Tongue tied Quarantine life Interview live with @justsmilemagazine Wearing @mrp from @mrporter @newbottega accessories baby
Posted by Johnny Manuel on Thursday, October 7, 2021
Failure of Johnny’s first record deal and the aftermath
Sadly, things didn’t work out the way Johnny hoped. He later commented he expected to ‘take off and see the stars’ after getting signed. By the age of 17, he was dropped from the recording label, leading to a dark period away from music. Johnny stated he felt depressed, would lock himself in his room, and began working menial jobs, including in retail. He never stopped appreciating music, and his early followers know he paid tribute to singer Prince on Instagram after his death in April 2016.
Auditioning for “America’s Got Talent”
Johnny Manuel auditioned in the fifth episode of season 12 of “America’s Got Talent” in 2017, hoping to get a second chance to show who he is and present his music to the world. Interestingly, he never watches reality TV and has never seen this talent show before appearing in it. Although judges and the audience were taken aback by his choice of a female song, Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing”, his vocal range impressed everyone in the theater. Mel B got goosebumps and exclaimed, ‘Oh my god!’ Heidi Klum called him ‘incredible’ while Simon Cowell said he could ‘nail and sell any song’. All four judges were in favor of him going through to the next stage.
Alas, the excitement died down during the Judge Cuts stage in August 2017 because his rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Lately” felt unoriginal to Simon Cowell. Thankfully, he asked him for a 30-second performance of the song he auditioned with. This time, all judges except Simon gave him a standing ovation. A guest judge in the episode, singer Seal, was left speechless at first. After praising his voice, Seal pressed the Golden Buzzer he could only use once in the show, and Johnny moved directly into the quarter-finals.
Failing to reach the finale
Johnny had an excellent time during his quarter-final round, singing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” by Jennifer Holliday. After receiving standing ovations from all judges again and enough votes from people in the audience and at home, he reached the semi-finals. In the semi-final round, Johnny took a leap of faith but remained true to his goal of presenting himself, and sang an original song entitled “Blind Faith” in the 18th episode of the season in September 2017. It wasn’t the best representation of his vocal abilities, and the lack of audience votes sent him home with his group member, Yoli Mayor.
Participating in Eurovision Song Contest
Things were relatively quiet in late 2017 and early next year. However, on 18 March 2018, Johnny publicly joined EQUINOX, a five-member supergroup that would represent Bulgaria in Eurovision Song Contest 2018. The only other non-Bulgarian member was a fellow American, Trey Campbell. The group performed “Bones” on the Lisbon, Portugal stage, and reached the finals, but ranked 14th in the end. Interestingly, Borislav Milanov, the songwriter that recruited him, won a composer award for the track.
Touring and moving to Australia
Although he didn’t win in “America’s Got Talent” or Eurovision Song Contest, Johnny didn’t lose hope. Quite the opposite—his demand only grew and he began touring worldwide. He toured Portugal, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and, what would turn out to be a significant location, Australia.
A friend, actor Hug Sheridan, was in a band entitled California Crooners Club and approached him in 2015 or 2016 with an offer to join them on an Australia tour. While doing shows with the group in Adelaide and Sydney, he was spotted by a scout Prinnie Stevens, a two-time “The Voice Australia” competitor. Prinnie urged him to audition in the upcoming season despite unclear visa terms.
Becoming a runner-up in “The Voice Australia”
He auditioned for the ninth series of Australia’s version of “The Voice” with the “Home” song by Diana Ross on 7 June 2020 and joined the team headed by judge Guy Sebastian after receiving four votes. After a long journey, he sang Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” and ended up in the runner-up position with three other competitors.
Curiously, the difference between the winner and the runners-up was 0.5% of votes, the show announced on its website. Also, due to COVID-19 restrictions, all three singers recorded a segment where they celebrated winning the trophy that would have aired if Chris hadn’t taken the crown. Finally, all grand finalists got the right to record and release a song, which is usually reserved for one person, and Johnny released a single entitled “Say It” in July 2020.
I’m extremely excited to announce my very first solo show in Sydney! I hope you all can join me. Ticket link in bio pic.twitter.com/6hWULmy9yk
— Johnny Manuel (@JohnnyManuel) September 15, 2020
Johnny’s first single release
Johnny released his debut original single “Lost in the Music” in March 2021. After an overwhelmingly positive response, he decided to spice things up and in June 2021 released his second single, “Sober”, paired with a one-shot style short film for a music video.
Releasing his first EP
On 7 October 2022, Johnny released his first extended play (EP) soul and R&B album, “Younger Skin”, containing four songs, “Crash”, “Out of Time”, “Again”, and “The Others”. He decided to base the sound on R&B because ‘that’s the core of who he is’ and ‘a foundational’ for him, he told WhoWhatWear.co.uk. Although he couldn’t pick a favorite song in all aspects, if people only listened to one, he wanted them to hear “Out of Time” because it ‘encompasses everything’ and ‘tells the story of who he is as an artist’.
However, the closest to his heart is “The Others” because he ‘felt guided’ when he wrote it, as both the lyrics and the melody easily came to him. His initial goal was for the song to represent anyone being told their ‘otherness’ erodes their value and is mistreated or discriminated against. However, it quickly turned into a song about his ancestors, and he decided to also film an enthralling purple-themed music video.
Love for fashion and design
Johnny is a big fashion fan and his style has evolved, though he enjoys things that ‘stand the test of time’. The first designer piece he ever bought was Prada boots with Velcro straps for the winter. He has mixed taste, professing love for designers such as Halston and Tom Fort, having business connections to Gucci, Georg Jensen, Bassike, and Ralph Lauren, but also enjoying somewhat underrated brands such as Acne Studios.
Despite all that, he is mainly into streetwear and loves wearing hoodies and regular tee, preferably white, and jeans. Additionally, after he moved to Australia, his style became far more laid-back and he found himself liking fewer layers and wearing sunglasses. In late 2022, he bought Tom Ford espadrilles to wear on the beach and got muted yellow and brown tinted glasses from L.A. Eyeworks.
Johnny loves jewelry, too
Whether he wears comfortable clothing or dresses up in designer wear, he has to have some form of jewelry and is usually ‘covered in it from head to toe’ by his admission. His signature piece is a cuff he bought at Tiffany & Co. when he was 16 and wore nearly every day of his life thereafter.
His style inspirations
Although he doesn’t have an idol, Johnny finds two musicians to have a style he loves; Harry Styles and Maxwell. He admires that Harry’s style seems ‘effortless’ and fits him well, yet he knows the whole team of stylists combines the pieces. As for Maxwell, he enjoys how the way he dresses fits perfectly with who he is as a person.
Whom is Johnny dating? When did he get married?
Being invited to audition for the Australian talent show wasn’t the only life-defining thing about his tours with California Crooners Club. During a visit to Central Coast in Australia, he met and later fell in love with an Australian man named Chris from Terrigal, New South Wales, and moved there in 2019. The two were previously living in London, but because his then-boyfriend had family, a nephew and two nieces, they decided to relocate to be closer. He added that being near the beach and having the ability to meditate, read and get food nearby also played a crucial part in moving.
As of 2023, Johnny is openly queer and moved from Terrigal to Sydney, New South Wales at some point, where he lives with his husband.
People he finds inspirational or has a crush on
Although he is loyal, his celebrity crush in late 2022, according to a Queerty interview, was Evan Mock of “Gossip Girl” reboot fame. Johnny also revealed he remains captivated by the 1983 performance Diana Ross had in Central Park. Seeing the diamond earrings she wore, the constant rainfall, and her hair and cape fluttering in the wind always affected him emotionally.
However, if he could collaborate on any song and with any singer, he would pick Marvin Gaye and the song “The Shadow of Your Smile” from the 1985 “Romantically Yours” cover song album. A realistic collaboration choice would be H.E.R. At karaoke nights, he enjoys singing Stevie Wonder, especially “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”.
Interestingly, he loved pop music growing up, especially from Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears and still loves Ariana Grande. He is also inspired by other openly queer people such as Lil Nas X, Sam Smith, and Frank Ocean.
TV shows he still finds interesting or significant
Johnny remembers how much the movie “Child’s Play” scared him as a child to this day.
Moreover, the TV show that contributed to his coming out as queer was the American version of “Queer As Folk” which aired from 2000 to 2005. Johnny stated he ‘must’ve watched every episode at least 10 times’ and that he was frenetic about snatching the $100 box set delivery so that his parents don’t find out. He found the TV show to be ‘his window into a new world’ because he was from a small town and didn’t know any gay people. Watching the gay friend group on-screen made him want to have one, and he idolized Brian Kinney for his lifestyle of being ‘fearless and unapologetic’. Shortly after that series ended, he began watching “Noah’s Arc” until it stopped airing in 2006 and noted it had a similar empowering effect.
He maintains an obsession with “The Golden Girls,” an American sitcom that ran from 1985 to 1992, and claims he can quote any line from any episode and brings the show up all the time. In 2022, Johnny ‘couldn’t get enough’ of “Elité”, and binge-watched the Spanish high school drama TV series that aired in 2018.
His biggest pet peeve is people who are oblivious that they are blocking passage on pedestrian roads, especially if they are staring at their phone screens. He wishes he could yell and remind them they should move aside because ‘they don’t own the sidewalk’.
Johnny’s life in 2023 and the future
Johnny enjoys meditating, reading fashion magazines, and traveling. As for food, despite living in Australia, he misses eating lasagna Bolognese and meatball pizza from Crossroads Kitchen in Los Angeles, California.
He listens to music constantly and always looks for inspiration for new songs as he enjoys writing lyrics. His songwriting process starts by collecting songs that he feels are ‘in the direction he wants to go in’ before entering the studio. After they begin playing around with instruments to get the rough melody, he starts mumbling on the microphone to find lyrics that go with it. A few words he utters frequently remind him of something from a movie, his life, or a story he heard, and it gets the ball rolling.
He tries his best to co-write everything he works on because he loves collaborating. Johnny also plans a music genre shift in 2023. He announced a dance project entitled “The Hyups”, and recorded his portion of a jazz album awaiting a release in Belgium by the end of the year.