In 2012, viewers of NBC’s hit show The Voice heard Jamar Rogers blow the roof off his version of “Seven-Nation Army” by the White Stripes, earning him a spot on judge Cee Lo Green’s team and a journey that took him to semifinalist. Viewers also heard the story of how Rogers rebounded from a longtime crystal-meth addiction and an HIV-positive diagnosis in 2006 to a new life as a pro singer. His brave disclosure made headlines around the world.
But the story the slickly packaged show didn’t have time for was just how the brutal addiction led the 31-year-old belter to getting HIV—and how, since he tested positive for the virus, he has had to struggle daily to keep drugs out of his starry new life.
“My biggest hurdle is still pot,” said Rogers from his new home of Los Angeles, where he keeps busy with numerous appearances and the release in February of Projector, his latest album. His single “High” was inspired by his struggles with addiction. “My one goal is to get off [marijuana] completely. I don’t want it to be the first thing I run to anymore whenever I get stressed out.”
Rogers shared with POZ how his itinerant childhood and early sexual abuse led him into heavy drug use as young as his teens. By the mid-2000s, when he was living in Atlanta, daily crystal-meth injections had reduced him from a fun-loving club kid to a hollow-eyed scarecrow living in a crack house, covered in boils he later learned were MRSA, a dangerous form of staph infection. When he showed up for the birth of his wife’s child by another man, he went into the hospital bathroom to get high. He emerged with his hands shaking so badly he couldn’t cut the baby’s umbilical cord.
Only a few months later, deathly ill in the hospital, he was finally diagnosed with the virus. He had a paltry five CD4 cells. “I was freezing cold, I had thrush in my mouth—I had some 1980s shit going on!” he laughs today. Rogers, who identifies as bisexual, says he doesn’t know if he got HIV from having unsafe sex or sharing needles, but the diagnosis was the kick in the pants he needed not only to get on HIV meds and regain his health, but also to finally get clean. He and his wife moved to Milwaukee, where he started singing for a church that knew and accepted his whole life story.
A few years later, single and aiming for fame in New York City, he plunged into a new church, volunteered for people with HIV/AIDS and attended 12-step meetings with other recovering alcoholics and addicts. “I found love and community in church, but in 12-step meetings I heard other people’s stories like my own—and I got to do service in the group,” he says.
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