By Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn
“A friend of mine took me to The Cork, and man—I had some fried catfish and chicken. It was sooo good!” cheers The Voice contestant Jamar Rogers on the phone from Los Angeles shortly after his elimination from the season two competition (Jermaine Paul eventually took the title). And yet the soulful crooner is having the time of his life.
Six years ago the recovering drug addict from the Bronx, N.Y., was near death in a hospital emergency room in Atlanta. “I had made the decision to stop using crystal meth about two to three months before I discovered I was HIV positive,” he says. “I got really sick, and it felt like it came out of nowhere—but obviously it didn’t just come out of nowhere.”
Although coming out as HIV positive to a national television audience wasn’t in his plans when he decided to make a run on The Voice. “Initially, when I decided to audition, I just wanted to shake Cee Lo’s hand,” he says with a laugh.
Then Rogers made it past the audition—and to his surprise survived each battle round, week after week. The higher his profile got on the show, the more the 30-year-old wrestled with the decision to come forward with the truth about his disease, determined to prove to everyone watching that you can accomplish any-thing if you put your mind to it.
“I felt like I wanted to do my part to eradicate prejudice and stigma,” Rogers says, “and finally I called the producers and said, ‘Hey, there’s something I’d like to talk about,’ and they were completely receptive and treated me with so much respect.”
Viewers embraced him, too. “I’ve had people private-message me [on Facebook and Twitter] and tell me that they’re talking about the disease with their families for the first time,” he says, acknowledging a particular young lady who told him that she had been living with HIV for years and no one knew.
“I can just imagine the heaviness, the burden,” he sighs heavily. “I know what that feels like.”
And the former teenage run-away knows what it feels like to be afraid. “Fear is what keeps a lot of people from going to get tested,” he says, “because they think once they find out that they’re positive, it’s going to be this black hole that just swallows you up—and for me it was just the opposite. I found out just in time, and I was able to get on medication immediately, and because of that, I’ve been symptom free for almost six years now. I don’t even get a cold.”
Rogers hopes one day to open a clinic to help counsel HIV/AIDS patients. But for now his plate is piling up with more than just great soul food. “I just got invited to the International AIDS Conference in D.C. in July, which I feel like is a complete honor,” he says. “Two years ago I couldn’t really say out loud that I am HIV positive. So it feels like I win! Yes, I’ve won!”
Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, author and documentary filmmaker.