A Pensacola teen has sung his way into America’s heart and won BET’s “Sunday Best: Race to the Stage” competition.
DeWayne Crocker Jr., 19, beat out more than 15,000 other entrants to win the online contest — but it almost didn’t happen.
“I uploaded my video on the last day, June 19,” said Crocker, a 2015 Escambia High graduate. “I was in Memphis recording my single, ‘I Don’t Know,’ and decided to go ahead and do it. At first, I wasn’t even going to do it.”
But he did and his rendition of “Precious Lord,” garnered him one of 10 spots to New York City for the “Race to the Stage” preliminary competition. The finalists were selected based on vocal ability, vocal creativity, stage presence and gospel ministry.
From there, it was left up to online voters nationwide to push the young man who first started singing duets in church with his sister, Selina Jones, when he was 5 years old, on to the next level. The finalists’ videos were posted on the contest webpage for users to vote for their favorite. Crocker is unsure how many votes he received, but it became clear early on that his smooth yet emotion-filled voice was a fan favorite.
Crocker’s delivery of “It Is Well With My Soul,” pushed him into the Top 5 and “I’ve Seen Him Do It” garnered him a Top 3 spot. His cover of Marvin Sapp’s popular “So Glad I Made It” won him — at age 18, the youngest of the 10 initial contestants — the overall competition. He was announced the winner during the Sunday episode of “Sunday Best” — a day after his birthday.
This Sunday, he will perform live during the “Sunday Best” finale. He’s doesn’t know what song he’ll sing yet, but will fly to Atlanta on Thursday where “Sunday Best” hosted by Kirk Franklin is taped. Celebrity judges for the reality talent show include gospel music greats, Donnie McClurkin, Yolanda Adams and Kierra Sheard.
Growing up, Crocker sang at area churches but it was after he won a Pensacola High talent show at age 13, that he became serious about music.
“There was a grand prize, I think $750 for the talent show, and I was so surprised I won. There was a group competing that I felt was much better but they did an R&B song and I sang a gospel song that just moved the audience,” he remembered.
Crocker continued to perform around Pensacola and entered more talent contests. While in high school, he even auditioned for the “X-Factor” once and “The Voice” twice where he made it as far as the second round each time. When the “Race to the Stage” competition came around, he threw his hat back in the ring.
He said after submitting the video to BET, he didn’t hear back and assumed he hadn’t made the cut.
“I went out and got a job at Alorica, but I also was the minister of music at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. About a week after I was supposed to hear back from BET, I got the email that said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been selected for ‘Race to the Stage.’ I just screamed, it was such a shock,” Crocker said of the email he received in early July.
His advocate and manager, Elrico Tunstall, attributes Crocker’s appeal to his personal philosophy — “Young, Fly and Saved.”
“Everything that he does — from his choice of music to the way he dresses is to appeal to all ages — from a 6-year-old fan to one in their 70s or 80s,” Tunstall said. “He’s also proof that the kid who loves the arts can achieve his or her dreams. You may not be the greatest athlete but maybe your gift is the instrument of your voice, an ability to deliver a music note on a piano or another musical instrument or be a visual artist.”
Tunstall also credits Crocker’s parents, the Revs. Rodney and LaTasha Jones, to keeping him grounded and involved in church throughout his childhood.
“He first started singing in church being nurtured by supportive parents and his family,” Tunstall said.
Devin Tucker, Crocker’s stylist and longtime acquaintance, said he’s not at all shocked with the singer’s success.
“I already knew he had the talent, and knew he would make it if he got the right exposure,” said Tucker, who has been working with Crocker for nearly a year. “There’s no doubt, he’s very talented in his own right. I am surprised that he’s taken off so quickly but he has worked and done what he needed to do be successful.”
When asked how he developed Crocker’s signature style, Tucker, 2005 Tate High graduate, said it was easy.
“It follows the concept of ‘Young, Fly and Saved,’ we wanted it be youthful, trendy and fashionable — hence the leather jackets and hats — but it needed to appeal to all of his fans,” he added.
Crocker also has an impressive social media presence. He has more than 35,000 followers on his two Facebook pages, 4,000 on Twitter, more than 3,500 his YouTube channel and just over 2,700 on Instagram.
“Michelle Williams (formerly of Destiny’s Child) and comedian Rickey Smiley have both shared DeWayne’s cover of ‘I’ve Got It’ by the Soul Seekers,” Tunstall added.
Crocker, on the other hand, said he is most thankful to God for his gift and the fans who have supported him through his “Race to the Stage” competition and even before.
“I’ve stayed rooted in gospel, I’ll do some contemporary music but I love the old hymns,” he said. “Miss Sue Straughn (WEAR-TV news anchor) told me ‘To stick to what got you here,’ and that’s what I’m doing.”
Crocker offers this advice to other young artists: “Don’t give up on your dreams, just when you think it’s almost over, that is when the breakthrough is coming.”
DeWayne Crocker Jr.
•Winner of BET’s “Sunday Best: Race to the Stage” competition.
•Family: Son of the Revs. Rodney and LaTasha Jones, pastors of New World Believers Ministry; siblings: Selina Jones, 20; Rodrico Jones, 16; Ranajia Jones, 14; Romeo Jones, 12; and Radageline Jones, 10; grandmothers: Linda Nobles and Sylvia Stewart.
•Education: 2015 Escambia High School graduate; enrolled in music and business classes at Berkley College Online.
•Career aspirations: Become a gospel singer, entertainer
•DeWayne Crocker Jr., has won BET’s “Sunday Best: Race to the Stage” competition. He will perform live on the “Sunday Best” finale at 7 p.m. Sunday on Cox channel 52 in Pensacola.
•The Young, Fly and Saved Experience featuring DeWayne Crocker Jr., and Craigh Franklin is set for Sept. 11 and 12 at the Rex Theatre. For tickets, visit eventbrite.com, 5 Star Cuts Barbershop in Pensacola or call (850) 760-7872.
•DeWayne Crocker Jr., will perform during the Sister II Sister Expo on Sept. 21 at the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center, 1 S. Water St., Mobile, Alabama. For more details, visit the Sister II Sister Expo Facebook page.
•The Young, Fly and Saved (nine-city) Tour featuring DeWayne Crocker Jr., is scheduled for the first three weeks in November.
Facebook: DeWayne Crocker Jr.