This Saturday, Jariko (né, Jared Yates) will return to Illinois to perform at C-U Pride Fest. Jariko has been performing both as an amateur and professionally since he was 12 years old. In 2005, he gained national recognition on American Idol, making it all the way to the semi-finals.


Since 2005, Jariko has moved to Los Angeles and signed with 0123 Entertainment. He’s also released his first solo EP and launched an anti-bullying campaign called “Choose Love,” which will culminate in an upcoming tour. He hopes to eventually introduce this awareness campaign into schools.

Jariko’s eponymous EP contains four songs, plus a radio edit of “Angels,” the album's single. Three of the songs — “Contagious Love,” “Sick Obsession,” and “Miss Rollercoaster” — are fun, catchy pop songs, perfect for dancing in clubs. Their topics are just what the titles suggest: love, relationships, sex, and all of the emotions that come with those experiences.

“Angels,” however is the EP’s stand out song, and its first single. It is different in every way from the other tracks: slower in tempo; more production; deeper singing register; and a much more serious topic. In the song, Jariko encourages us to act as good Samaritans, to never turn away from those in need:

Peace has been ending
No use pretending it’s alright
We gotta move it along
Back to the beginning
When we were winning
With one voice, one song

In popular music, every single must have a video, and "Angels" is beautiful.


 

Jariko has another video on YouTube that I vastly prefer, however. It was made back in 2008, in his room in Danville, Illinois. No production, no studio enhancements, just him singing a song he loves. This performance, like most that are live, is not flawless, but (to me) it's a hell of a lot more honest. Unfortunately, most music fans have become used to pitch-perfect, unblemished performances — performances that don’t actually exist in the real world. This performance? It’s real. And Jariko doesn't need the enhancements. So here’s my preferred video of Jariko, a video that (both in song choice and posters) also reveals his good taste in music. Additionally, it proves that his live performance on Saturday will be fantastic.


 

Jariko has big plans for "Angel," which is tied to the "Choose Love" campaign. He very kindly agreed to an email interview with me to discuss them.

Smile Politely: Thank you for interviewing with us.

Jariko: Thank you for interviewing me.

SP: You’re a Danville native. Before moving, had you lived there your entire life?

Jariko: I actually moved to Danville when I was very young from Fort Walton Beach, Florida. I lived in a little beach house by the ocean. My mother and I left Florida for Danville after a traumatic event which I’d prefer not to go into at this time. That is a story for later down the line. Sorry folks! I love you, don’t be mad.

SP: Did you ever visit Champaign-Urbana when you lived in Illinois? If so, what were your favorite hangouts?

Jariko: Of course! The last time I was in Champaign, I tried on a flamingo head in Dallas & Co. I have been addicted to flamingo heads lately and confetti cannons! Dallas & Co. always feeds my addiction to stage props.

SP: You’ve said that your name Jariko is “representative of who and what [you] identify with now.” I’ve read also that it’s based the Biblical story of Jericho, and is symbolic of tearing down walls in the music industry. Can you elaborate on what you mean?

Jariko: The biblical story of Jericho describes how music was used as a weapon to bring down the walls of a city that was thought to be impenetrable. This story is very symbolic for me because I want to use music similarly to break down barriers in our society and inspire change in people’s lives.

SP: Tell us about your latest album, Jariko. You wrote all of the songs on it, correct?

Jariko: Jariko was a collaboration of ideas between me and my creative team. I came up with the concept for the material and wrote the songs, and my team helped put it in a more commercial format where necessary. I’ve been blessed by being able to work with such talented individuals.

SP: And your first single is a song titled “Angels.” The video is gorgeous. Can you tell us more about the song?

Jariko: When I wrote “Angels,” I wanted to share with my listeners the power that small acts of kindness can have in people’s lives. We can all be Angels for someone by paying forward the kindness we are shown by others, even if it is as simple as helping someone up off the ground if they’ve fallen, which happened to me not too long ago on an AmTrak train and it was not pretty, let me tell you!

SP: I think it's great that you're working on an anti-bullying campaign, "Choose Love." Is a bullying awareness tour still being planned?

Jariko: Yes, the "Choose Love" tour is still being coordinated. Right now we are looking for sponsors for different aspects of the tour. We plan on using entertainment and celebrity endorsements as a means to encourage tolerance and respect for individuals in all walks of life. Helping even one struggling person would be a success in my eyes.

SP: Did you experience bullying in Danville? If so, can you talk a little about it? How you overcame it?

Jariko: Well, I’ve always been considered “different” by my peers — favoring arts and entertainment over sports. The next big pop hit on the radio was more interesting to me than watching a good football game, so, of course, like so many people that were considered “different,” I was bullied and picked on.

I want everyone to know that being different is what makes them beautiful. Be confidant in who you are and own your uniqueness. One of the worst things in the world is feeling like you can’t express who you really are.

SP: Well, thank you for interviewing with me. We look forward to seeing you on Saturday.

Jariko: Thanks so much for interviewing me. It was a pleasure to update you and all the readers out there!

You can find Jariko’s album on iTunes and his official website. He'll perform this Saturday, September 8, 8:45–9:30 p.m., on the Main Stage at 88 Broadway. Sharing the stage with Jariko will be Madonna backup dancer, Cloud.

Photos from Jariko’s Facebook page, courtesy of 0123 Entertainment.