Within the space of a year, Jehlad Hickson ’17, a neo soul musician, went from being booed off the stage at a music club talent night to performing three times on America’s Got Talent before 10 million viewers on each occasion.

A member of the Voices of Our City community choir in San Diego, Hickson, who studied criminology and psychology at Stonehill, made it to the semi-finals of the hit television show. 

Although the choir did not reach the final or win the $1 million prize, they still achieved something special through their inspirational performances. 

The choir is comprised of singers who have been or are homeless—something Hickson experienced in his childhood and early teens. Each of the choir’s AGT performances highlighted homelessness and the abilities of those who have been unsheltered.

Jehlad Hickson ’17 sings on America's Got Talent.

Jehlad Hickson ’17 (sixth from the left in the front row) performs on America's Got Talent.

Sidewalk Sounds

For AGT’s golden buzzer round, they performed one of their own compositions, Listen to the Sounds of the Sidewalk, that moved 3,000 audience members in the Pasadena Auditorium to tears.

For the quarter and semifinals, they sang Ben E. King’s Stand by Me and David Bowie’s Heroes both with uplifting themes of togetherness and solidarity. On that musical journey, Hickson learned a lot about the depth of human ability in the world.

“In the choir, we found our own voices and on a national stage showed our humanity, what we could achieve and how we could stand out,” recalls Hickson who adds that the performances were not all about them.

“We chose our songs carefully. When we sang Heroes, we were also thinking of others, the firefighters battling the wildfires across the state and the healthcare workers trying to contain COVID-19. In a group, we are often a lot better,” he adds.

Even though AGT is a competition, Hickson says that the atmosphere on the show is not one of intense rivalry but of opportunity to make connections and learn new skills from the experts.

“There was a spirit of collaboration there that I found encouraging,” says Hickson.

Hollywood Bootcamp

“Contestants were soaking everything up, learning from stylists, assistants, publicists, and vocal coaches. It’s a Hollywood bootcamp, a chance to obtain an entertainment education and a way to find your own path in life,” he adds.

Now back in San Diego, where he has been based since 2018, Hickson says that he and his fellow choir members, “can finally be us again after the crazy, wonderful journey we have had with AGT.”

Jehlad Hickson ’17

Jehlad Hickson ’17 performs at a club.

Hope and Connection

He thinks being on AGT could translate into a higher profile for the choir and more work opportunities. Their post AGT plans, he says will be guided by their belief that, “every human being deserves hope and connection, which can lift us from our circumstances.”

His time preparing and performing on AGT has also boosted Hickson’s professional confidence, something that was lacking in his younger days. 

Today, he plays guitar, electric bass, piano, bongos and drums. He also writes his own songs, is learning to play the saxophone and has ambitions to own his own recording studio.

He is considering more auditioning but this time as a solo artist with AGT or the Voice. He is also eager to be performing regularly live on stage again with his Moonshine Soul Band, post pandemic.

Until then, he wants to be in the studio every day, balancing what makes him happy while supporting himself in life. 

“Being part of music is what I want, and, fortunately, I have the same work ethic as Prince,” says an assured Hickson.