Growing up in Westlake, Louisiana, modern-day soul crooner Joshua Ledet dreamed of showing his vocal skills to the world by being a competitor on American Idol. Westlake is a small town in the Calcasieu Parish of Louisiana, with a population of about 4,500. “I used to tell my friends in school that I was going to be on American Idol. Most of them just thought I was crazy,” he recalls.
“The first and second time, I didn’t make it. And the third time, I wasn’t going to go but something just told me to try again. The auditions were in Houston, which was less than two hours away, so I just got in my car and drove to Houston, and the third time, I got picked.”
Perseverance is in Ledet's blood, and part of why the public responded so strongly to him and his soul-stirring renditions of “When a Man Loves a Woman” and Sam Cooke's “A Change Is Gonna Come” on Idol's 11th season. The show claims that he racked up more standing ovations from the judges than any other contestant in American Idol history. Ledet, at the tender age of 20, finished in third place, disappointing many fans but making his family — including eight siblings — very proud.
“Being on American Idol was life-changing and it all happened overnight; being recognized on the streets and singing for the president. Good or bad, it has definitely furthered my career,” says Ledet.
But being a finalist on American Idol isn't the guarantee of success that it once was. After self-releasing an original song, “Here to Die,” on YouTube, despite praise from a Rolling Stone critic who wrote, “I’ll give whatever label that puts it out a standing ovation,” Ledet was still living in Westlake, with no record deal in sight.
But again, he persevered. “I had gone too far and I know I couldn’t give up. I couldn’t stay in Louisiana anymore, I had to get out and experience the world. Me and my best friend got up one day and decided to follow our dreams and moved to L.A.”
Now 23, Ledet is represented by legendary music manager Brian Avnet, whose clients include David Foster and Josh Groban. Avnet believes in developing American R&B singers in the international market, even in territories where few listeners can understand English lyrics. Already, the strategy seems to be paying off: After a March 2015 performance on Indonesian television, Ledet later played a concert in Indonesia that mushroomed from about 80 people to over 10,000.
“Their eyes get so big with they see black people,” Ledet says of his new Indonesian fan base. “It’s a rarity, so they appreciate just the color of my skin so much more.”
Visiting Indonesia was an eye-opening experience for Ledet, too. “Parrots sing along with you in your window sill; four- or five-member families [ride] on a scooter built for one, stacked like Legos on top of each other. You think Americans are poor; people in Indonesia are very, very poor. Music is healing in a way that makes me appreciate everything that I have.”
Though now signed to an international distribution deal with Warner Bros., Ledet still considers himself an independent artist. He's been steadily releasing new music, working with Grammy-nominated producer Bernie Herms on new single “Love Can Do” and producer-songwriter Gorden Campbell on his latest track, “City Falls,” which he co-wrote.
“I’m sharing more of my music this time,” he says. “Before I did mostly covers and people really responded, singing along with the words. I feel like my voice is touching people and helping [them] to make it, even if it’s just till the next day.”
Ledet feels his journey to international stardom is just getting started. After speaking with L.A. Weekly, he's hopping a plane to Finland to perform for a festival where, as in Indonesia, few in his audience will speak or understand English. But it doesn’t matter. “'Clothes on my back, shoes on my feet,'” he says, quoting the opening lyrics of “City Falls.” “People all over the world may not understand those words, but they can feel those words.”