(Getty) The day before I spoke to Jamar Rogers, one of the most inspirational figures ever to appear on reality television, he posted a photograph of an elaborate tattoo to his Instagram account.
The Voice's Jamar Rogers believes this is an image of freedom. (via Instagram)
Over a pair of scar-ridden wrists, a young woman had inked a beautiful depiction of a bird free of its cage beneath the branches of a deep-rooted tree. "This is what freedom looks like," Jamar had written. "Wounds from battle are so beautiful."
Rogers is in a rare and wonderful position to hear stories of pain and triumph. Earlier this year, he stunned viewers of The Voice with his courageous admission that he'd been living with HIV for years, having contracted it during a period of heavy drug use.
"You have to understand, for five years I didn't talk about it. It was my deepest, darkest secret, and I carried so much shame and guilt and now I just feel so free," he tells me. "There's a certain power and freedom that comes when you tell the truth and stand up and say, 'Hey, I'm no different than you are, this is what I'm living with, and I'm still going to keep going.'"
Rogers was stunned by the outpouring of support after he revealed his secret. "I thought that they wouldn't want anything to do with me," he admits. "But it's actually been very much the opposite. They're ready. I think that as a society we're ready to talk about this. So I'm really excited to be a part of that."
Rogers is doing all he can to keep the conversation going. He maintains an intensely close relationship with his fans, whom he lovingly refers to as his "fam." He performed at the International AIDS Conference 2012, an experience he describes as "completely surreal." He travels from city to city, promoting his message of freedom. "I want to let people know that your past does not predict your future, and that you can really live out your passion," he says. "Live your passion, nothing can stop you from that."
It was during a visit to a teenage shelter in Blue Springs, Missouri, that Rogers encountered the girl with the tattoo. He found her inspirational: "I love the fact that it's a tattoo on top of a scar she has from cutting herself. It says, 'You know what, my scars are beautiful. Yes, I inflicted them on myself, but I did overcome this. And I want people to know — don't be ashamed of your scars, don't be ashamed of your past. Let's talk about it. You don't have to carry that shame."
Now that's he's free, Rogers is pursuing his passion with relish. He and fellow Voice
alum Vicci Martinez slated a number of summer tour dates together, including a very major gig at Universal CityWalk Hollywood on August 18. "I'm doing only two covers, the rest is going to be my own songs," Jamar says of the performance. "My songs are full of struggle, but they're also full of triumph."
Among them is his debut single "Where Would I Be Without You," an infectious love letter to his supporters. "I felt like I owed them something because they kept me on The Voice
as long as they did. I wanted to give them a song dedicated to them, thanking them for their support, thanking them for their love."
Rogers isn't sure when he'll release his first full-length album. At this point, he's focusing primarily on building his brand. "My brand is just the brand of love and acceptance, and letting people know that they belong here."
Jamar Rogers is performing on Friday, August 18 at Universal CityWalk's main stage with Vicci Martinez. Be sure to check his official Facebook
pages for more updates on future performances and upcoming releases.