“Hollywood” Anderson, the guitar-strumming singer who made Jennifer Lopez cry, has the perfect name for an “American Idol” contestant. He also has a backstory that affects more young people than many realize: he knows what life is like for a homeless young person.
But Anderson's story serves as a reminder that homelessness doesn't have to be forever. After moving to New York, the young musician received help from the Covenant House, including his own (and very first!) guitar. He was ready for his “Idol” audition, and the help he received from the Covenant House was highlighted by the show. Now Anderson is getting mega love from Hollywood, and I’m not talking about his own name. The soulful crooner is ready to kick out stereotypes about homelessness and help homeless youth, and he's also got his eyes on the prize: guest-starring on "The Ellen Show" and singing for the First Family.
“I love Ellen, I want to be on ‘Ellen,’” he said. “Also, I want to sing for the Obamas and make Michelle and his daughters cry and say, ‘Hollywood did it.’” People can definitely rise out of homelessness, and they do so every day when they receive the right opportunities and help.
MTV: Can you tell us about the situation that first led you to being homeless?
HOLLYWOOD ANDERSON: I’ve dealt with it quite a bit. After my parents got divorced, we were displaced. Around the time I was fifteen or sixteen my parents got divorced and I dealt with it going forward. I once again found myself house hopping. I was homeless through my teenage years, quite a bit. By the time I came to New York at nineteen, I ended up at the Covenant House.
MTV: What are some stereotypes about being homeless that need to end?
ANDERSON: I think one of the biggest things is that they’re nobodies. But they’re such beautiful people. You know what I mean? They can tell you stories that will change your life, the way you do business, the way you write a song, sing a song. Just because they’re down and out doesn’t make them part of some other continent or something, where you can’t get to them. You can still reach out and try to help them and change their lives. Homeless people are people too.
MTV: How did Covenant House help you?
ANDERSON: When I came in, I didn’t even know Covenant House existed. I had just come to New York. I was staying at the Bellevue Men’s Shelter. I was actually walking around Times Square – I used to do this every day when I first came to New York. I was looking for somebody to sing to who could be famous or known and give me a chance. I’m a kid from the South; what do I know about New York? I walked with some other kid who was homeless; I didn’t know it at the time. He played the guitar; I could sing. We walked around like an hour, hour and a half, singing. He took me to the Covenant House. They asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, “I want to be the next great thing. I want to be this generation’s Sammy Davis, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, James Brown.” She [the worker at Covenant House] was like, “That’s so amazing.” Then I said, “Also, with a hint of Jamie Foxx.” She was like, “I can’t wait for you to come in and see what we can do to help you.” They got me my first guitar. I mean, they helped me with everything.
MTV: We love the song you auditioned with! What other kinds of songs do you write?
ANDERSON: I write music from a very personal place, even if it’s a more pop-y sounding record. All my songs are heavily emotionally drawn. I write records that are pop; I also write rap songs. I like to rap as well and not a lot of people know that. It’s a night-and-day difference. Me rapping, talking about my life in a way that might be too hard for me to put into a love song, per se. I talk about racism and the violence in communities and how I grew up seeing friends join gangs and get killed. I also write super uptempo records. I do soul music too; I’ll write about anything that comes from the heart.
MTV: How can people help Covenant House and homeless youth?
ANDERSON: People will label [homeless youth] and write off their future because they don’t have a home right now or don’t have family. But if you want to “feed” [the young people], you have to start with creativity. If the kid wants to draw, buy him pencils and pens. Contribute to the Covenant House’s music program. We really don’t have a budget; a donor came in and dropped off some equipment and we went into a room and made it our studio. Creativity is music and mind. I think giving to the art projects can have amazing results.
I want to give a shoutout to Kandi from "Real Housewives Of Atlanta" – thanks for the Facebook post! Kirko Bangz, thank you for the tweet. Adrian Broner, the tweets and Instagram post meant a lot! Thank you, Insidehoops.com for its awesome writeup! Brittani Bader, she’s such a beautiful person. And last but not least, Ashton Kutcher for making me cry. Also shoutouts to all my other fans who wake up in go to bat for me and my music!