Chasing a dream

Toben Shelby

JR Aquino hasn't quit. Years after being ousted from "American Idol," the Anchorage native continues to chase success in the music industry.

The Dimond High School graduate hopes to get a step closer to making it big with the release of his debut album, "Exposure." An independent project not pressed up on CDs, the work was just released digitally on Amazon and will be on iTunes soon.

Aquino, who goes by J.R.A. on the new album, has been interested in music since he was a young kid, something he credits his family with -- especially his dad.

"It was classical, it was funk, it was R&B, it was soul, it was rock," Aquino said during an interview at a Midtown bagel shop.

He cited pop, rock and R&B as the mixture of styles that show up on "Exposure's" 11 original tracks. Managing a variety of musical tastes has been something Aquino's

dealt with over the years. He said part of growing as an artist has been coming to terms with the idea that, "the stuff that you like the most, might not be what you're best at."

His album was produced by ON G.P. Music of New York. Aquino said he was noticed by the producer after he posted several videos on YouTube of himself singing cover songs.

"I just turned on my Webcam and it was horrible quality -- it was lagging and everything," he said of his first YouTube post.

He got some responses to the post and continued putting up more videos. About a year later Aquino was contacted by ON G.P., who ended up flying him out East.

Now an album of original songs has materialized and some of his YouTube videos have more than 800,000 views.

Before the opportunity to put together an album came around, Aquino's biggest chance to make music his profession was "American Idol." As a 16-year-old Dimond High student, Aquino made it to the top 44 of the show's fourth season before being eliminated. He said being cut was rough but he soldiered on.

"I get eliminated -- I literally just bawled for that whole night," he said. "And then my parents turn on the TV and American Idol comes on and was like 'turn it off, just turn it off now.' "

Once he returned home, he decided he wouldn't let being eliminated from "Idol" stop him from chasing his dream. Aquino, now 21, said he was grateful for the experience and the exposure it gave him, but these days he gets more recognition from being on the Internet. Some of his YouTube videos have more than 800,000 views.

"It's crazy -- the first time I went to New York I got stopped in the middle of Time Square," Aquino said. "I wasn't even facing anybody and (this lady) taps me on the shoulder and says 'I just came from work and was watching you on YouTube.' "

Using the Internet to market the album and maintain a relationship with fans is something Aquino sees a lot of value in. He's on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and many other social sites.

"The fans are the people that are going to buy your music, so you've got to show love to them first and foremost."

"Exposure" contains many songs Aquino said were inspired from personal experience, such as the single "Closure." Others, like "I Luv Myself," are more broad club style songs. Aquino said he found writing from personal experience to be easier for him, but the challenge for some songs was finding the right melody.

With the release of the album, Aquino is now planning for the future. He recently relocated to Las Vegas so it's easier to travel for shows. Aquino hopes to have a tour set up by the summer and he's also preparing for two music videos.

He said his main goal is to get signed by a record label, although that's something he didn't feel he needed to get his album out. He wants "Exposure" to be proof of what he can do.

"I need to put the music out first, especially for the people that have been supporting me for this long."

Daily News correspondent