"It was the only Olympic sport that took open tryouts..."
Anthony Watson is not your typical young performer. Musically talented for sure, but this New Jersey native will also appear in Sochi, Russia as part of the 2014 U.S. Winter Olympics Skeleton Racing team. Did we also mention he’s a cancer survivor? We got a chance to talk with Anthony before he left for the snowy peaks on the edge of The Black Sea, to find out just how, through God’s grace, he puts it all together.
Tell me about yourself. How you grew up, where you grew up.
I was born and raised in NJ. I lived in England with my mom for a bit and then in Jamaica with my Dad (they’re still married). I’ve been into sports since I was a kid, so I decided to pursue that. But I always had a soft spot for performing, too.
I went to college at NYU and played soccer on a scholarship for a year, then got two teeth kicked out of my head. I lost my scholarship because I couldn’t play for the rest of the season with a head injury, so I went to art school. I graduated from Philadelphia University of the Arts. Then, I heard about AMTC.
I had always wanted to be a performer. When I was 14 or 15, I kept asking my parents and my family members to help me, and they kept telling me I wasn’t ready. When I was 21 when my uncle heard the AMTC commercial and he said right then and there that I should audition, and I did. I auditioned and came to SHINE Winter. Now I’m working with agencies in Los Angeles and New York, being able to do music and being able to do the Olympics. It’s just amazing.
Amazing that you have time and talent for both at the same time!
When I was at SHINE I told people that I was trying to do that and nobody believed me! I just waited to tell everyone that I was serious.
Why the Skeleton?
It was the only Olympic sport that took open tryouts. For all Summer Olympics, most of the sports are professional sports that are played in the United States, so most of them already have leagues that take professionals and put them in the Olympics.
For Winter Olympics, every sport other than hockey are all amateur athletes. So I went to an open tryout and they tested me in speed, stamina, strength and endurance. I did well and got invited to a school where I got to learn to ride the sled, learn the track, and the rest is history. I stuck with it for a year and a half, went to a few tournaments. And now I’m an alternate for the Olympic team for 2014, meaning that I’m someone who’s there just in case someone else gets hurt.
The week before I flew here to SHINE, my teammate pulled his hamstring so he’s in intensive therapy. So, it all depends on what happens to him. I still get to go to Russia either way. I’ll get more excited when it’s over and I’ve accomplished something. When it’s going on I’m just focused.
Tell me about your life in entertainment.
My first album in 2012 was Dreaming Wide Awake. The song that I played during orientation was about my experience when I went through SHINE.
What do you remember most about SHINE?
A lot of things. I spent a lot of time in the prayer room. I’m a people person, I love people and talk to everyone, so I was just hanging around people all week. By the end of the week I had made the the Talent Finale for Singer-Songwriter and had made the Acting Finale for On-camera. I was also a Finalist for for Overall Actor, Overall Singer-Songwriter and won a Star Award for being a good role model and a helping hand!
I felt really blessed because when I was at SHINE I got 18 callbacks and I saw that as God’s approval that I was doing the right thing.
What about after the Olympics? Will you come back to performing?
Absolutely. I’m working on my new album now called Cities of Love and I’m going to start working on that this summer (2014). And I really hope I get to come back here this summer to SHINE [as a guest star]. I’ve actually put it in my clause for the the next three years to be available to come to SHINE in Winter and Summer!
You are always welcome here. But now music isn’t your only interest or passion, correct?
I do modeling too. I’m signed with agencies in New York and Los Angeles. I was a little slow at booking after SHINE. It wasn’t until March or April, so it was a little nerve wracking because I didn’t know the industry. But I know it better now and I’m much more aware. And being an athlete has kind of spiked my career in that area as well. We’ll see what happens next.
What about faith? Faith in the industry, faith in sports?
When you choose not to go along with what people do as “normal” you find yourself standing alone. Even with some jobs in the industry, the ones they wanted me to go audition for, I had to tell them no because of spiritual conviction. I just couldn’t.
It’s definitely more difficult when it comes to work because when people offer you money to compromise yourself it starts to make you think. It comes down to that choice of: “Are you really going to stand up for something, or are you able to be bought for a certain price?” I’ve lost a lot of jobs. Lost a lot of friends. I’ve been looked down on by other teammates and athletes. But there have been people who respect me for it and who support me through it.
And you’re working through that now. Has anything else happened in your life that you’ve had to work through and overcome?
I’m a cancer survivor. In 2010 I had a large malignant tumor in my neck. They gave me the option of chemo or chemo injection and I chose chemo injection because I didn’t want radiation and I didn’t want to lose my hair. But after my first or second chemo treatment I came home and I scratched my head and a whole chunk of hair fell out.
It was scary. I’m a singer and they were telling me that the cancer was located right near my vocal chords. They’d have to cut them to get to it or they wouldn’t be able to take it out at all. So they said they could cut it and I may not ever be able to sing again, or I could shrink it and i’d lose my hair. I didn’t want either, but my whole family: mom, dad, sisters, aunts and uncles-– they prayed for me for a good week, every day. I went to my doctor, they X Rayed and they said it was gone. That’s why I haven’t cut my hair in three years. My hair is a testimony in itself.
That’s just an amazing miracle.
My hair is what got me a bunch of jobs, too.
What about other kids who want to get into the industry or sports. What would you say to them?
I’d tell people to pray about it. People have good intentions, but if they’re not prayed up then it can easily get twisted and can easily be about themselves. Make sure your intentions are clear; that it’s not something you’re doing just for yourself but that you’re called to it, because God put this on your heart.
I tell people that if they want to affect change they have to be the change themselves. God has a specific plan for everybody and you can either spend your whole life running from it, or you walk in it.
How do you keep your own spiritual walk strong?
I stopped making my spiritual walk about what I thought God wanted me to do. Because for a while I thought God wanted me to do more, when really what He wanted was more of me. So that’s what I tell people. A lot of times we feel we have to do this because this is what God wants us to do, but all He wants is just more of our heart. And when you give Him that, everything changes – your speech changes, your lifestyle changes. Not because it’s a chore. It’s out of love.
It’s like a relationship that you have with someone that you really care about. You make sure that you don’t do anything to hinder it. You stay in contact, you talk, you say good things, you socialize with each other. It’s the same thing with God.