When American Idol contestant Hollywood Anderson came to New York three years ago, he was in search of the one thing he couldn’t find in his hometown of Orlando – fame.
Far from the tourist attractions that draw millions of people to the city each year, Hollywood was living a different life. “Growing up in downtown Orlando, life was rough. We lived in some bad neighborhoods with gang violence,” he commented.
Fortunately for Hollywood, he not only has a great voice, he has a kind voice too. “I had a knack for being funny and being personable, so that helped me. I could deal with people for who they are. I’m the same person with everybody,” he said.
Homeless in NYC
His people skills would make all the difference when, at the age of 19, he made his way to New York and found himself without a place to live. Hollywood commented, “I was supposed to stay with the only relative in New York, but when I got there, that person flaked on me.
I ended up at a men’s shelter. There were people there who were ex-cons; had addictions; people who made bad decisions in their lives. It was crazy. So I went to Times Square every day. One day when I was there, I saw this kid playing a guitar and we did a few songs together.
He was homeless too and was staying at Covenant House, a shelter for youth ages 16-24. He told me about a program they have called “Night of Broadway Stars” that gives kids a chance to perform once a year. We went to Covenant House and that’s where I stayed.”
The shelter’s annual performance had already taken place. But it was OK. Hollywood was in a better place.
On a walk down a hall at Covenant House, Hollywood passed by the office of Norm Lotz, VP of Development. “He was playing Stevie Wonder on his guitar during his lunch break. I said, ’Who is this guy?’ I went into his office and he asked me if I could sing,” he said.
So Hollywood did what Hollywood does. He sang with the soulful voice he discovered in himself at the age of five while mimicking the sounds of the Gaither Vocal Band on television.
Norm gave Hollywood a guitar. And Hollywood taught himself to play. Now, he would have an instrument that would allow him to play and write songs. It would be another talent to discover he had.
Hollywood commented, “I can play one set of chords and shapes 50 different ways. When I was in Orlando, I hung out at Austin’s coffee Hip-Hop nights. When you sing, it’s about how fast can you switch words. I can literally write the same song twice and people think it’s a different song because of the way it’s played,” he said.
One of the places he could practice his craft and earn money was at the NYC subway. Against a backdrop of rattling train cars and thousands of people walking by, the platform became his stage.
It takes more than courage to perform in that arena. Hollywood remarked, “Do you want to starve or do you want to eat? You get over pains real fast. From there you get out of your own way. The longer you sit on the platform and wonder about singing, the more opportunities you’re missing to reach people and make them smile.
You really have to be confident in your artistry. There is the random guy that can be rude. You’ll figure it out fast if it’s for you.”
Where does this strength come from? “Personal family struggles are part of the reason I fight for everything I do. Growing up back in Orlando, my family was living paycheck to paycheck. We were poor and two months behind in rent,” he said.
But the family is rich with musical talent. “My mom, Debbie, and aunts – Lisa, Janet, Rose, and Michelle sing Gospel music in church. They touch souls with their beautiful music.
It was a blessing to grow up the way I did. I don’t want material things for myself. I just want to create,” he remarked.
It was his creation, “My Best Friend”, a song he wrote and sang at the American Idol audition in NYC that earned him a “golden ticket” to Hollywood and millions of new fans. He made it to the “Top 48” in the competition in a city he seemed destined to find.
New Doors Opened
While his journey on the show has ended, new doors are now opening.
He remarked, “I spent the weekend recording a song with Bootsy Collins for an album. He played for James Brown and Jimmy Hendrix. I told Bootsy, ‘I want to play bass but I don’t want to mess up. He said, ‘There is no wrong way. People may call you crazy because they don’t understand who you are. Do what you feel is right.’”
Hollywood is listening to that advice. He remarked, “I’m an artist and it’s my job to express myself in songs. Whether I’m singing Pop or R&B, I’m being honest. Every song is different. And that’s the message. Be different. Be yourself. That’s how you grow as person.”
As Hollywood grows as an artist, his goal is to have his songs top the music charts. “I want all my records to be wildly successful. I want my first album to go Diamond and to win Album of the Year,” he said,
There’s a reason Hollywood wants all of this to happen. “It’s to take care of the people in my circle, like my man, Greg, who shot my web video series. I want to buy my mom and grandfather a car and house; take care of my brother, who is now clean and my sister, who is a single, teen parent. I want to bless the people who supported me in the barber shop in Orlando. This is what I think about,” he said.
Talent in the House
There are a few more people Hollywood hopes to bless through his music- the 3,000 youth served each year at Covenant House.
He commented, “I want to continue to bring awareness to this private shelter. I hope to one day put a state of the art music studio in all of its 32 locations and have the kids be able to put their own music on iTunes.
They all have different talents. One kid can design a dress every bit as good as Vera Wang. He just doesn’t have the same resources she has. My goal is to put Covenant House in a position where people are coming to them looking for talent.
He added, “Some of the kids there are as smart as those who go to Harvard. I want to give them the best tools to get their GED so that they can leave there prepared.”
The Journey Home
Hollywood knows that for these youth and others, an obstacle can be the very launching pad for success. “In every situation there is a blessing. If I hadn’t been homeless, a lot of great things wouldn’t have happened.” he said.
On this journey to fame, he’s learned that having a home isn’t always about brick and mortar. It’s about finding shelter in the hearts of people who remind him to never stop believing.
With an attitude of gratitude and his heart filled with love – Hollywood is home.