Brian Justin Crum is best-known for his soaring tenor voice, and for re-inventing the emo hit “Creep” in 2016 to take fourth place on the nationwide “America’s Got Talent” competition.
But this past year, Crum’s stunning voice took him into territory that many LGBTQ+ people are having to navigate this year: religion.
Crum, who will perform in Carbondale tonight as part of Pride month, starred earlier this year as Judas Iscariot in “Jesus Christ Superstar” at San Diego’s Moonlight Theatre. For the role, Crum sought out the full historical record on Judas, labeled by fundamentalists as the greatest traitor of Jesus.
“I learned there is more to the story than is included in the Bible,” says Crum. “I came to understand that Judas was very confident that he was doing what he thought he was supposed to do, and what Jesus wanted him to do.
“Yet, he was the one who took the brunt of all that came from it.”
Experience portraying Judas inspired Brian Justin Crum to ponder empathy
The experience drove home to Crum the universal truth that things are not always what they seem on the surface. That there is almost always more to everyone’s story, and that what we assume about right and wrong may not be the truth.
At a time when so many LGBTQ+ people are feeling under siege because of laws that seem to target them, Crum’s experience playing Judas also helps highlight the concept of empathy, Crum says.
The lack of empathy is what Crum sees as a driving force behind the hurtful laws proposed or passed this year in almost a dozen states. The laws range from discouraging or banning open conversation in schools about sexuality or gender identity, criminalizing drag before minors, or forcing trans’ teens to be either outed or disregarded in different ways.
“I think we’re in a place where the idea of empathy has been completely removed from the vocabulary of so many people,” Crum said. “Empathy is gone. General care for humans is gone.
“People are angry, and they’re looking for someone, somewhere to place their anger. Unfortunately, queer people have been the brunt of people’s anger and fear since the dawn of time.”
Crum lives in Glendale, Calif., where a group of anti-LGBTQ+ protesters became violent outside of a School Board meeting earlier this week. He sees recent attacks on LGBTQ+ people as an anticipated, yet still painful, “pushback” for many years of progress by LGBTQ+ people in seeking rights such as marriage equality, domestic partnerships, and wider understanding of the experiences of transgender, nonbinary and gender non-conforming people.
“I wish people would just open their eyes and see people are just trying to live,” he said. “That’s all we’re trying to do, just exist and live our lives, and have happy lives. The idea that people think we don’t deserve that…”
Crum comes from humble upbringing, met life partner at the gym
Crum says that he himself found a greater happiness, and his life partner, unexpectedly.
Samer Fawaz was working out at the gym the same time that Crum was. He didn’t even realize Crum was a nationally-known vocalist and approached him through a dating app afterwards.
The two clicked immediately and have now been a couple for almost six years.”Brian has an infectious way of being so unapologetically himself,” says Fawaz, a therapist. “He’s extremely funny, just as funny as he is talented. He really knows how to make the best out of a situation, which is great for me as someone who has a hard time with that. He can be a light for me.”
Crum says he never expected to find a lifelong love and credits Fawaz with providing the healthy intimate relationship he didn’t see much of while growing up.
“I didn’t see a lot of gay relationships shown to me on TV, and I didn’t really know what a gay relationship could look like. This relationship is far more rich than I ever thought was possible for me.”
Crum grew up as the youngest of three children of a single mother who worked hard as a nurse. His family was also very religious, deeply involved in a fundamentalist church. And they always struggled financially, “We never took trips. We weren’t taking vacations. We didn’t travel.”
That’s why international travel, and performing at venues large and small all over the world, are now so important to Crum. Even traveling to southern Illinois is a new experience for him, Crum says, although he has performed frequently in the Chicago area and lived in the city for a few years.
“Every time I’ve performed in the suburbs of Chicago, I’ve had an amazing turnout. I’m excited to come down south a bit.”
He’s since found a new way to approach religion and spirituality, arriving at an appreciation of a higher power but most importantly, a belief that “doing good” is the ultimate spiritual act.
Performing at Pride is a long-time tradition for Crum
Pride performances have been part of Crum’s career since even before his 2016 nationwide breakthrough on “America’s Got Talent.”
Here are just some of the cities where he’s performed as part of Pride celebrations before: Austin, Chicago, Colorado Springs, Dallas, Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Montreal, Naperville, Orlando, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, St. Louis, Vallarta, and Washington, D.C.
His May run as Judas Iscariot just ended a few days ago. He’s portrayed Freddie Mercury twice in his career. He’s also appearing in “America’s Got Talent Superstars” in Las Vegas, will soon release a movie he has directed, and also will voice an animated character soon — all of which he plans to share more about within the next few months.
Brian Justin Crum concert part of three-day Pride weekend in Carbondale
Crum’s concert is at 8 p.m. tonight, at Hangar 9, 511 in Carbondale. Before and after his show, Pride in Action – Southern Il has almost a dozen events for you to choose from:
- This morning: a car Cruise and March starts at 10 a.m. with speakers, and the procession itself starting at 11. The route starts and ends at the intersection of North Washington and East Main streets.
- Today: The big Pride Fest, from noon to 5 p.m. featuring scores of vendors, live performances of drag and music all day, and speeches by Mayor Carolin M. Harvey, the city’s first-ever Black mayor, and City Council Member Clare Killman, Illinois’ first-ever openly transgender city council member.
- Tonight: Doors open at 8 p.m. for Brian Justin Crum’s concert at Hangar 9. The $10 admission benefits Pride in Action Southern Il.
- Tomorrow: interfaith service at 11 a.m. at Church of the Good Shepherd, 515 Orchard St. Also, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. PK’s at 308 S. Illinois Ave., will offer a drag brunch.
Event organizers emphasize that all Pride events in Carbondale are protected by a new “bubble ordinance” that requires protesters to stay at leasts 100 feet away from service providers. Daily protests at the growing number of reproductive health care clinics in the area prompted the Carbondale City Council to pass the statute. Since so many of the vendors at Southern Il Pride Fest are providers of health care services, they are protected by the ordinance, says Pride in Action president Tara Bell.
For more information on any of these events, see the Pride in Action-Southern Il Facebook page.
(cover photo is courtesy of Brian Justin Crum and features Crum, left, with partner Samer Fawaz and their dogs Pepper and Luna)