Winning Houston Pride’s Pride idol talent contest, singer AJ Cabrera draws inspiration from his past, but has his eye on the future.
By Donalevan Maines • Photos by LeeRoy Holmes
At 23, this year’s Pride Idol, AJ Cabrera, already knows he would like to be father to three daughters. Since talent runs in his family, I see a trio of singing senoritas, The Cabrera Sisters!
Actually, Cabrera plans to adopt. “I have a wonderful stepmother [Kristi] who has always been my biggest supporter, so I know how great parents can be even when you’re not their biological children. And my two favorite interests I got from my stepmother—singing (she was a music teacher) and playing volleyball (she’s a coach).
“There are so many kids in the world who need a good home, and I think three little girls would be ideal. I think they would be a lot of fun,” he says.
“Also, my stepmother would make a great grandmother,” he adds.
Cabrera grew up in Nebraska, but his parents divorced and his mother moved back to Texas to be near her family. Cabrera was only 10 when his father died suddenly in a car accident. “My stepmother was pregnant, but she overcame that [tragedy], and she raised my little sister and me,” he explains.
“She is my inspiration,” says Cabrera, “and so is my sister [Karli, age 13]. It sounds funny to say that I look up to her, my little sister, but she is really an inspiration to me. It was hard for her, too, but she is a lovely young lady. She was raised to be a really good kid, and I hope one day that I will raise kids like her.”
Cabrera won this summer’s six-week Pride Idol competition with a mix of country, pop, and Broadway tunes, according to each week’s theme. He began the contest with the Clay Walker hit “Fall,” but says he faltered the next week with an ’80s song by Journey.
The next week, he bounced back with a Broadway show tune, from the John Waters musical Hairspray. Then came “Anthem,” a song from the Tim Rice show Chess, that the judges picked for him. He had never heard of it, or Chess, or that Josh Groban had recorded it.
Cabrera’s performance of “Anthem” was met with a standing ovation from a teary audience (“that was pretty nice”) and made him feel the true power of music.
“It meant so much to be on stage and connect with people like that. It made me realize that music can really help. It can help heal,” he says.
The next week’s assignment was to perform a personal favorite. Cabrera chose “Desperado” by the Eagles “because my dad and I sang the song when I was little.”
For the finals on June 25, before a packed house at Guava Lamp, Cabrera sang Barry Manilow’s “One Voice” and Garth Brooks’ “More Than a Memory.”
Among the judges was Houston Chronicle music writer/critic Joey Guerra, who blogged that “Cabrera’s winnings include $1,000 worth of studio time and a two-song demo recorded at Grammy-winning Urbana Studios in Houston, home of iconic group La Mafia” along with “a Halloween cruise courtesy of Gay Yellow Pages and Gayribbean Cruises and a prime slot in [the June 27] nighttime Pride parade.”
“That was a lot of fun!” says Cabrera. “I got to ride on a Porsche, and the driver and I jammed out to Michael Jackson,” who had died the day before.
“It was neat, how people I know would wave at me and I would wave back, and people I didn’t know would wave at me and say ‘good job!’ – it was a great feeling!”
Cabrera has already toured the studio where he will get to record a two-song demo. “The other finalists, Hoja Lopez and Shauna Wood, got to go, too,” he says. “It was my first time in a recording studio!
“Joey got the studio time for us. He is an amazing help—for all of us, lining up gigs and helping us get signed. It really means a lot,” says Cabrera.
“This is just the beginning for him!” says Guerra. “He has a lot of cool things going on and a lot of cool things coming up.
“AJ is a sweetheart and very talented. In fact, a good number of this year’s singers are genuinely capable of real careers,” Guerra says.
In addition to the studio times, Guerra has organized two Michael Jackson tributes featuring the Pride Idol singers.
“I plan to keep this group busy all year!” says Guerra. “This year’s Pride Idol was bigger and better than ever, and next year will raise the bar even higher. I’m so excited to see what happens next.”
Cabrera adds, “All of us have become really close—the other contestants and their friends, and the judges and their friends. We’ve gone to dinner together, we go to meet-and-greets. I have never entered a competition before, other than winning some karaoke contests, but nothing like this. I had no idea what it would be like, or that it would be like this.
“I was going into this for fun, so to win is amazing,” he says.
“Eventually, my big dream is to be on American Idol. I also want to audition for Nashville Star [on CMT], and someday I would love to sing onstage at the Grand Ole Opry.”
Meanwhile, Cabrera lives in Clear Lake and works as a waiter/trainer for Landry’s Seafood House in Kemah. He and his boyfriend, Adam (“a great, great guy”), enjoy hanging out at Zone 504 Sports Bar in Kemah. Cabrera says that Zone 504’s owner Jesse and bartender Vanessa rounded up people to drive to Guava Lamp every Thursday and root for him during the competition.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Cabrera plays league volleyball (at almost 6 feet, he’s an outside hitter).
Although his stepmother lives in Nebraska, Cabrera says that she’s never far away. “She calls every week, and she helped me with my song choices,” he says. “She’s always there.”
Donalevan Maines also writes Lawanda Jackson and Linus Lerner in this issue of OutSmart magazine.